Food & Drink

Le Good-Bye

If You Possibly Can, You Should Go to Le Gourmand Before It Closes Forever

Le Good-Bye

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Even if you have money falling out of your pockets, it's more and more difficult to spend it on fine dining in Seattle. Lampreia became Bisato, which is still lovely and absolutely delicious, but less ceremonious and less expensive. Mistral moved, and it now has "Kitchen" appended to it and is divided into sections, some of which permit the dropping of a proper stack of cash while others accommodate the hoi polloi (with a relatively downmarket menu). Campagne turned into, lamentably, just another French bistro. Now, furthering this first-world problem, Le Gourmand is closing forever on June 2.

Bruce Naftaly came to Seattle in 1976 to be an opera singer and ended up the head chef of Rosellini's Other Place. At that time, he says, the city's fanciest cuisine came out of cans; it was standard practice to have the restaurant supply company truck pull up and "disgorge stuff, then put it together and call it continental." He had to hunt down good ingredients ("You couldn't even get a leek in the grocery store," he says), befriending local farmers and developing nearby sources for wild game and organically grown beef. When he opened Le Gourmand on a nowhere Ballard corner in 1985, he grew vegetables in the back; in August, the Corn Festival involved him stepping outside to harvest ears to order. He and his wife, Sara, lived in the little attached apartment that's since become Sambar.

Twenty-seven years later, when you give your date a bite of your food at Le Gourmand, they're liable to get a look on their face as if something almost terrifying is happening, then laugh incredulously. That was the case the other night with my roasted local wild steelhead with sorrel and black trumpet mushroom sauce—the palest peach-colored fish imbued with the faintest smokiness of the oven, the sauce rich with crème fraîche and a little tart from it, too, or from the sorrel, or maybe from the champagne reduction. Naftaly put together two separate French techniques for the sauce, just something he thought up—the depth of knowledge and insight that Michelin gives stars to, in cities it bothers to visit. The boeuf a la ficelle—organic tenderloin poached in stock, almost butter-textured and as delicate as meat can be—made seared beef seem commonplace and coarse. It came with a quivering cylinder of bone marrow, housemade mustard good enough to eat all alone, and a sauce of cabernet pressings that was deep and sweet and savory and sour all at once. When you put this food in your mouth, everything makes sense, even the $40-plus entrée prices.

The sommelier at Le Gourmand, David Butler, regales the curious with thrilling (really) details about soil in France, tells sly little jokes, whispers descriptions like poetry—his expertise might fairly be described as hypnotizing. For added entertainment, you can watch him assess other tables, watch him see how his overtures go, watch him leave the boring people to each boring other. When Le Gourmand closes, he intends to open a wine bar, which will be approximately the best wine bar ever.

Distasteful people on a distasteful review site complain that dinner at Le Gourmand takes too long. Love takes time, and Bruce Naftaly is in the back, in a kitchen like a submarine's, making your dinner with love. Sara is doing the same with the stellar desserts. Between courses, there's wine to drink and anticipation to build and your cushioned chair to sink back into. The room is elegant, intimate, unstuffy—every bit as lovely as the sweet brick exterior of the building makes you hope it will be. There are also three arguably ugly puppets on one wall—there, possibly, to demonstrate the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi: the one wrong thing that makes the rest even more right. The menu says to allow three hours for the seven-course tasting menu, and you might as well. You only live once, and you'll never be able to go to Le Gourmand again.

Five Times Cheaper: Veraci Pizza—Le Gourmand Recommends It!

Veraci Pizza is kitty-corner from Le Gourmand, and the latter gets its staff dinner from the former pretty much every Saturday. “They’re very nice,” says Le Gourmand’s chef/co-owner Bruce Naftaly. “I think they only deliver to one place, and that’s us.” You can actually get Veraci to come to you, too—they started out as a traveling operation, making their excellent Neapolitan-style pies in portable apple-wood-fired kilns, and they’ll still cater your party. But for single pies, you must find them at a farmers market or go to their Ballard pizzeria. They hand-mix their secret dough recipe, use local ingredients, and blister the pizzas for 90 seconds at around 1,000 degrees. Naftaly likes the pies with lots of meat on them; he gets pretty hungry on Saturday afternoons. (500 NW Market St, 525-1813) recommended

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Comments (18) RSS

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Bruce teaches awesome classes, and I've read that he'll keep doing so after the restaurant closes. I like that it's theoretically possible to make food as great as his at home.
Posted by alight on March 29, 2012 at 3:10 PM · Report this
Think you know how to cook? Try this: Create an unforgettably great menu without using meat or alcohol. Yeah, I didn't think so. Le buh-bye.
Posted by Mr. J on April 3, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 3

What brought that on?
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on April 3, 2012 at 1:03 PM · Report this
biffp 4
This is a sad event. I love a place that so bucks the status quo. I felt like I was in another city my first time in Sambar. Anyway, a nice story, and adding Veraci is a great touch.

As a side note, I don't know why anyway goes to that review site. Half the people on there have some grudge to air against the wait staff and/or the owner. Inappropriate comments are flagged, but never removed, and half the information is way out of date. Shocking that site might have an IPO.
Posted by biffp on April 3, 2012 at 1:28 PM · Report this
@2 because if youo can't pander to people with first world eating can't cook?
Posted by soggydan on April 3, 2012 at 1:56 PM · Report this
My ex's husband is a chaired French professor, and so she's had multiple occasions to try French food in its many versions and varieties.

We went to Le Gourmond once around 1989-90, celebrating a visit of a friend from Chicago. We were very, very impressed, but ex most especially so.
Posted by palamedes on April 3, 2012 at 2:05 PM · Report this
I'm just a little tired of people for whom food=meat (among other hangups). There are many technical things I could rant about here but, seriously, don't you find it curiously limiting to have meat in every dish? If you want to show mastery of cooking then show me a menu with plate after plate, each with 8-12 non-animal foods, all of which are properly cooked, and which combine to produce a balanced, exciting plate. That's hard. Waving a hunk of cow at the grill to achieve a seared exterior/ undercooked interior is something any rube at Sizzler can accomplish. Nothing you do with a squeeze bottle will mask that issue. Ever had an excellent well-done steak? No? Think it's by definition impossible? It's not. I've had one. I respect the chef who knows how to do that.

Vegetarianism is not an eating disorder. It was the norm in the USA not that long ago. It would be more accurate to say that such an assertion makes one a shill for the meat lobby. Take a moment and visualize the staggering variety of edible plants as compared to the variety of meats you're likely to find in a restaurant. Why isn't a minimum of half the menu meatless?

The alcohol comment stems from the radical theory that if it's a cardinal rule that you add wine at a specific point in the cooking precisely so it doesn't end up in the final dish, then why add it at the table directly in the diner's mouth. Just wonderin'. I think it dulls your tastes and addles your brain, but you know, whatever, enjoy!
Posted by Mr. J on April 3, 2012 at 3:48 PM · Report this
@7: Mr. J, when was vegetarianism the norm in the USA?
Posted by Just curious. on April 3, 2012 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Agreed. I never went to Le Gourmand (even though I wanted to enjoy the raved about skill of the kitchen there) for one simple reason: the menu disgusted me and offered nothing, NOTHING to vegetarians like me. Sorry they're closing -but only because they blew it. Maybe more animals will get to live now :-)
Posted by OurLeadersAren'tLeaders on April 5, 2012 at 7:47 AM · Report this
@3 -"What brought that on?" Ummmm, humanity, compassion and intelligence. See, you've been brainwashed into thinking your more highly-evolved or of some better culinary tastebud that you eat foi-gras, rabbits, dead cows (who are herbivores for crissakes!!!). Us vegetarians are sick and tired of the foodie press towing the same meat-laden lines and almost ignoring the real trends toward healthy, vegetarian, vegan and even raw food.
Posted by OurLeadersAren'tLeaders on April 5, 2012 at 7:52 AM · Report this
There is hardly a deficit of restaurants in Seattle with vegetarian items on the menu, not to mention flat out vegetarian only restaurants. Launching a criticism based on the wacky notion that every single restaurant in town should cater to the dietary restrictions of one and all is exactly why we have a reputation as an enclave of uptight douchebags. Thanks for helping perpetuate the stereotype.

That said, my problem with the place wasn't with Le Gourmand but the bar in back. My last experience there involved being completely ignored by the servers. Sure, "love takes time" but when a table that was seated 10 minutes after us was served their entrees before we even had a drink order taken your staff has sharted the bed.
Posted by HugoSTiGLiTZ on April 5, 2012 at 1:29 PM · Report this
@2- you stink. you and your whole operation stinks.
Posted by ohmygodidranktoomuchwineandatetoomuchmeat on April 5, 2012 at 7:53 PM · Report this
$7, 9, 10 - your self-righteous, judgmental, obnoxious comments are a prime example of what I hate about Seattle (a town I love very much nonetheless).

And I say this as someone who was vegetarian for 15-plus years but didn't try to push my approach to eating onto other people. You might try doing the same.
Posted by Compass Rose on April 9, 2012 at 8:58 PM · Report this
jesus. it's french cuisine. when the hell have the french ever done anything without duck fat or meat? if you want mac and yeast, go elsewhere. no one is pushing their beliefs on you. you are the ignorant ones here.
Posted by eataDICK on April 12, 2012 at 12:18 AM · Report this
McGee 15
Yeah there was a time when vegetarianism was the norm in the U.S. It was called "The Great Depression." And even then people wanted to eat animal product so badly they ate their boots.

@9 The didn't blow it because of an animal heavy menu. The were in business for almost 30 years, shit-for-brains. They are closing of their own accord not because business is down but to engage in other ventures.
Posted by McGee on April 23, 2012 at 2:15 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 16
@2: Dietary arrogance is so charming.
Posted by undead ayn rand on April 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM · Report this
edie murphy beverly hills have eyes cleary 17
lol @2,7 - I would hate to be your children or your friend.
Posted by edie murphy beverly hills have eyes cleary on April 24, 2012 at 10:25 AM · Report this
undead ayn rand 18
@7: "The alcohol comment stems from the radical theory that if it's a cardinal rule that you add wine at a specific point in the cooking precisely so it doesn't end up in the final dish, then why add it at the table directly in the diner's mouth. Just wonderin'. I think it dulls your tastes and addles your brain, but you know, whatever, enjoy!"

Fermentation produces a complex set of flavors in the process, that you seem to take your complete ignorance about all aspects of cooking as a sign of a distinguished palate is just sad.
Posted by undead ayn rand on April 24, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Report this

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