Despite the fact that I was under the weather, three of us ventured out to have dinner and attend a one-night performance of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe at The Paramount. Our choice for a restaurant was Thierry Rautureau’s new dining venture, Loulay Kitchen & Bar, which opened months after his closing of the legendary Rover’s in Madison Park. Located adjacent to the Sheraton in downtown Seattle, formerly occupied by Alvin Goldfarb Jewelers, Loulay serves the kind of food that the famed chef grew up with in the commune (the administrative designation given to a French township) of Saint-Hilaire-de-Loulay in western France. The evening didn’t start off well with the worst downtown traffic I could remember encountering in a very long time, causing us to miss our reservation time by about 15 minutes. If it weren’t for the Sheraton’s valet parking (Loulay gives you a $10 credit toward the first three hours), we would have been even later. Once we were seated, I began to unwind. Our waiter, Thomas, handed us our menus and asked if we wanted wine.
“Yes,” I said. “But we only want individual glasses since we have to make a concert shortly.”
“We’ll get you out of here, don’t worry,” Thomas assured us. “Red or white?”
“I’d like a red.”
“I don’t want any wine,” said my daughter, who was recovering from a bad cold. “It’ll make me cough.”
Thomas looked puzzled for a moment, trying to hear above the rising restaurant noise. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Wine will make me cough.”
“Oh, I thought you said it would make you talk. I would’ve bought you a glass myself,” Thomas smiled.
So began our very nice meal, hurried somewhat by our compressed time schedule before The Paramount. The interior is very sleek, clean and modern yet casual, a far cry from the linen and “private home” formality of Rover’s. The emphasis is on shared plates, offered in categories of small, medium and large. We were seated in the more intimate section of the main floor, separated from the open dining area by a half wall. Each booth along this stretch had comfortable seating for four. Besides the main floor, the restaurant also gives the diner a choice of sitting at the Chef’s Counter, the 24-seat bar, a mezzanine area or the balcony.
My wife and I opted for a half carafe of house red wine (☆☆☆½), a sangiovese-merlot blend produced by Piccola, a winery in nearby Woodinville. It was clearly the best house wine we can remember ever having had.
The kitchen brought us our complimentary basket of bread (wonderful) and amuse-bouche, a small glass of cold vichyssoise (☆☆☆).
Our house salad was a fine combination of red oak leaf lettuce, endive and chevre cheese, dressed with a tart huckleberry vinaigrette (☆☆☆).
Five sliders of duck confit (☆☆☆½), sandwiched between profiteroles no more than 1½ inches in diameter, packed a lot of flavor in bites so small, unapologetically unctuous from duck fat. Delicacy and knife aside, I popped one into my mouth and savored it. The other small plate we ordered were crab beignets (☆☆½), fritters of Dungeness crab, served with harissa aioli and dressed sprouts. These somewhat lacked the inspiration we were expecting.
My favorite were the clams (☆☆☆½), a medium-sized plate. The broth was infused with saffron, butter, and fennel, the clams partnered with chunks of tasty, mild chorizo. While the grilled bread slices were tasty enough on their own, for sopping up the skimpy but divine broth, the complimentary bread was far better.
Our large plate was a Pacific cod poached in a miso broth (☆☆½), then roasted to crispy-skin stage, and served with what on menu was described as a celery root purée but was more like sautéed celery root paysanne.
Time prevented us from sharing a dessert.
Our family will miss Rover’s. We’d gone there on special occasions, and everyone marveled at how delicious everything was and how fastidiously the dishes were prepared. But, it was expensive, which is the reason why we went only when some occasion was being celebrated. Rather than the public’s shifting dining priorities as a result of the recent economic meltdown, it was the fact that Chef Rautureau wanted to do something new, a concept as simple as serving well prepared, simple food in the spirit of what he grew up with, using fresh Northwest ingredients. He also moved away from Madison Park, a quiet neighborhood of expensive homes (though his other restaurant Luc still operates there), into a space in the downtown core. With these changes in venue and pricing, I suspect that Loulay will attract more diners than frequented Rover’s.
Loulay Kitchen & Bar
600 Union Street
Seattle, WA 98101