Here is the best way to spend $20 in Seattle right now: Walk downtown at 4 p.m., whether through an unbelievably drenching downpour or the equally unbelievable springtime sunshine. Direct your feet to Le Caviste, on Seventh between Stewart and Virginia. Have a seat, preferably at the small, slate-topped central bar. Tell the gentleman behind it that you are interested in the poisson en papillote—any pronunciation will do, or you can just say "the trout." (This is half of the $20.) Then say you would like whatever wine he thinks you should have with it—what would he recommend? He will likely get a glint in his eye and say, "Well, the white Burgundy loves the butter in the trout..." He will talk about the white Burgundy like it is a friend who has a crush on another friend. He will also offer you another choice or two. You should probably take the white Burgundy. (Burgundy is "Bourgogne" on the chalkboard menu; this one is Domaine Matrot 2011, and, at $10 a glass, it is the other half of the $20. Okay, yes, you'll need six dollars more for tax and tip.) Now just drink and eat. I promise you will be unbelievably happy.
To pass the unbelievably happy time, you can also ask the man behind the bar—he is David Butler, of Campagne, Le Gourmand, and Le Pichet, which is a trifecta of local French greatness—about the white Burgundy, or the lightbulbs, or what's wrong with espresso shots in this town, or pretty much anything. He is a man of excellent taste, a storyteller extraordinaire, and funny as hell, too. If you think a wine bar sounds at best like an anachronism, at worst like a pretentious drag, prepare to have your mind changed. David Butler's Le Caviste—a caviste is a man who runs a wine cave or cellar, a man with a happy job indeed—is simple but stylish, urbane without self-importance. It is just great.
Up above your head at Le Caviste, three multitiered light fixtures celebrate the endangered incandescent lightbulb: There are 102 of them, 25 watts each. If that sounds fancy or overly designed or retro-too-cute, it is not so. The walls are a difficult-to-describe very pale green: not exactly mint, nor cucumber, definitely not sage. Butler says it's insane-asylum-wall green; you might not even notice it, but once you do, you may lose your mind. The tables are small, simple cafe-style ones. During the daylight (now once again available after 4 p.m.), the high ceilings and huge windows give the narrow space a tremendous airiness; at night, candles make everything effortlessly friendly, or romantic if you like. And why not? Spring is in the air!
When it's hot outside, Le Caviste will be ideal for drinking rosé. Right now, for the sunbursts, there's a sparkling one to tide you over for $9 a glass—it's crémant, which you should also drink as needed to get you through the pouring rain. Don't be intimidated by the French-only wine list in Butler's continental handwriting; you are thoroughly encouraged to ask for a recommendation or more information (then you will be treated to Butler's brief bursts of poetic description, maybe with something about violets). It would also be hard to go wrong with the dartboard method here, and glasses of wine range from just $5 to $10 each, so nothing ventured, nothing gained. Butler prefers wines made organically and sustainably by independent farmer-producers; you can also buy them by the bottle to improve your life back at home.
Butler downplays the role of food at Le Caviste—the menu (again on chalkboards, again all in French) is short, the napkins are paper, the silver is mismatched. There are only two hot dishes on offer. But the two chefs who trade off days in the minuscule kitchen, Maya Frame and Tamsyn Steel, come from Renee Erickson's excellent Boat Street Cafe, and their food may be simple, but it's pretty much perfect. That trout cooked in parchment paper is shockingly good. It's steamy-soft-delicate, with some bites more salty, some with more fresh-herb sauce, some more lemony, exciting to eat and balanced overall. Underneath are the thinnest slices of tenderest potato. The compound butter bathing it all, which Butler will urge you to mop up with slices of baguette (complimentary), is of the sort you'll find escargot immersed in, rich with shallot, garlic, and parsley. The portion is notably generous for $10: a whole half-fish, more than enough for a filling supper. You should share the lentil salad, too ($6).
The other hot dish is champignons rôtis ($8): mushrooms roasted in France's best Brittany butter with bread crumbs, thyme, and salt, topped with a six-minute egg. The eggs come from chickens that roam the pasture of a Vashon Island farm, and the yolks are unbelievably orange. You will need bread to get every bit of this, too. If a vegan at another table asks for this dish made with oil instead, Butler will just say, not unkindly, "That would be wrong." (You're as likely to encounter actual French people here as vegans, and while everyone's welcome, the former will feel more at home.)
Then there are three plates with different kinds of smoked fish, various pâtés, slices of duck sausage, and cheese, $15 for small (which isn't that small), $25 for large. More cheeses are available by the ounce—beautiful cheeses that sometimes were in Paris 36 hours ago. There's a dish of verdant Lucques olives ($6). That's it. And that's all you need for a marvelous hour, or two, or three.