Nous Gourmands

We’ve explored a respectable swath of the eateries in Seattle these past six months, everything from food truck vendors to lunch counters, bakers, a chocolate factory, and German tavern fare. We’ve also pursued ethnic food from local Indian buffets to authentic Chinese food and Ethiopian shared plates (injera, mmm). So we jumped at the chance to have dinner at an upscale classic French restaurant, Le Gourmand in Ballard. Susanne made our reservation, since attempting to dine there as a walk-in is a long shot at best, and we drove over on a typically cold, rainy early winter Seattle evening.

The room was done in shades of white, with accents of color and whimsy dotted throughout, the most notable of which were puppets on the wall and which I was glad to have been seated in such a way that I did not face them. I suppose I’m easily distracted, and given how most of the food tasted, I was happy for the opportunity not to defray my attention.

Le Gourmand has a tasting menu for a reasonable price, but that wasn’t our mood that night, so we went with a less robust approach, sharing an appetizer and each eating our own entree. We began with sheep cheese blintzes, served neatly side by side and mingled with a fresh burst of chive and  butter. The restaurant was ahead of the curve of locavorism and sustainably grown or produced food, and this is only evident now in that they don’t overtout this distinction. The blintzes disappeared quickly, as they were perfectly crisped on the outside while warmed through.

We’d each chosen a different glass of wine, and while we were disappointed not to see any Oregon pinot noir on the list (Susanne’s favorite, which they had a little of by the bottle), I was more than pleased with a Vincent Girardin from Bourgogne.

We looked around at the other diners, and were a little perplexed at the mix of people who’d joined us at this hour. An older couple, the woman bedecked in a hand-knit Christmas sweater, who seemed to be regulars. A young couple on a romantic encounter who spoke very little to each other, out of awe or something else, and a very loud, chatty woman who arrived on the arm of a man and who wore a to-the-floor length fur coat. It is a brave or ignorant soul who walks the streets of a lefty, PETA-loving city like Seattle in a coat that furry. Or maybe she owns stock in a red paint removal company, I’m not sure.

Service was slow, as there was one waiter for the restaurant. We didn’t mind so much, because the appetizer had lulled us into a persistent state of comfortation. We took rolls served to us that had no fancified presentation whatsoever, and I appreciated the non-pretentiousness of them.

Susanne received a warm plate of roast rabbit leg and loin, served underneath a rustic chop of chanterelle mushrooms, which I imagine grow very well in the west side rainforest. The rabbit was as tender as rabbit gets, and the mushroom sauce earthy and nutty, just as it should be. I’d ordered beef tenderloin served with a thumb of marrow and in a cabernet-pressings sauce, which paired beautifully with my wine. The meat was a touch more cooked than I would have expected with an order for medium-rare, but it was still buttery in texture, and the sauce did a good job of standing out on its own but not wrestling with the flavor of the prime cut of meat.

I’d waffled between the tenderloin and the lamb dish, which changes nightly and was that evening a roast shank. I have a shank preparation recipe I make all the time, so while I’m sure this would have been different—and by different I include “better” in my meaning—I wanted to eat something I don’t typically buy for myself. My only less than positive response about the plate itself was the celeriac, but I’m not a fan of that even on its best day.

Where Le Gourmand seemed to phone it in was with the vegetables, winter kale and cabbage, and red potatoes, all steamed with butter and salt. I have nothing against butter and salt in theory—we just bought fancy black lava flake salt this weekend—but all of the diners were served this vegetable preparation, no matter their entree order. While I also appreciate season-specific food, I imagine a sous chef in the back room can come up with something more interesting for kale, which to me is as versatile as chicken as holding a sauce and not upstaging its friends.

We ended the evening without getting dessert, and perhaps we owed the restaurant a hungrier appetite than we brought with us, but the meal was delightful, and our server was about as enthusiastic as he could be without a ton of TGIF flair buttons on a pair of red suspenders. And by that I mean he was informative, cheery, and authentically interested in us having a good experience.

We appreciated Le Gourmand, and give it two thumbs up for meat eaters. Vegetarians, unfortunately, need not apply. But if any herbivores are considering going over to the dark side, there is a beef tenderloin out there for you.

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