People in the aisle kept bumping our champagne bucket. This is beyond a first-world problem—more like the kind of thing that might prevent the complete, glossy satisfaction of the one percent. My friend and I enjoyed some mock outrage, but in reality, it was exciting just to have a champagne bucket, standing on one silver leg, vigilantly keeping the sparkling wine optimally cold and right on hand without crowding the table. There aren't a lot of places in Seattle that indulge in this old-school flourish; Loulay does. But our two-top was definitely crowding the two-top next to us—the couple at the next table were seven inches away, and they were in hand-holding romantic-date mode, and we were uncomfortably close to being on their date with them. The bucket-bumping, on the other side, was because the aisle was so narrow, the servers were threading the needle getting through.
Loulay is a pretty place, with updated-classic decor that feels luxurious but not pretentious. It's downtown, near ACT Theatre, and it feels like a proper, citified, pre- or post-theater place. There's a marble-topped bar, a marble-topped wait station, a marble-topped kitchen counter with six seats, and lots of cushy-looking booths; there's a huge, ornate, gorgeous mirror by Tamara Codor (whose work also hangs at Bar Sajor). On one wall, the word LOULAY sits inside a lurid, sexy red neon box. Up the metalwork stairway, a balcony has cream-colored upholstered chairs and an excellent view of the whole place, including what's on other people's plates directly below. High up above, there are five crystal globe light fixtures, like classy versions of disco balls.
Our valiant server had the charm of an old pro, and it wasn't his fault that our bucket's personal space had been compromised by the decision to shoehorn in two more paying customers. But, eventually, the gap before our entrées arrived was so very long that he thanked us for our patience (which barely still existed) and took $20 off our bill (an arbitrary but welcome number). The bubbles, a crémant rosé that was listed at $35 a bottle, showed up on the bill as $40. (It's now listed as $40.) At a second dinner, a different server expounded at length about a dish that he had just told us they were out of and, later, the desserts we had already declined; he also rebuked me for ordering a glass of muscadet with sweetbreads, forcefully suggesting a different, more expensive wine (saying, nonsensically, "The sweetbreads are very sweet").
Again, to call such things problems is absurd. But Loulay is the new restaurant from Thierry Rautureau, aka, famously, "the Chef in the Hat" behind the vaunted, haute cuisine Rover's, which closed in 2013, and the bistro-style Luc. People coming to Loulay—named after his hometown of Saint Hilaire de Loulay in France—will have certain expectations.
When it comes to Loulay's food, expectations will probably be met, if not often surpassed. The veal sweetbreads ($15), soft and delicately savory, were served with bits of caramelized turnip in a rich Madeira sauce and toasted brioche for dipping—a French favorite done just right, and the best thing I tried at Loulay (even with the "wrong" wine).
The crab beignets, $8 for three airy puffs, were not at all greasy; the crab flavor was delicate, possibly too much so, but still, they were good. The richness of seared foie gras ($17) was successfully complemented by a very sweet blood-orange gastrique and golden-raisin bread pudding—nothing any one-percenter could get exercised about here. The smoked salmon appetizer ($9) was rillettes-style, which would not have been inherently disappointing, but it tasted flat rather than smoky and lavish.
A duck entrée ($19) had slices of breast meat on the medium side of rare with a good depth of flavor, and a smoky, salty confit drumstick that was tasty but dry, some of it verging on duck jerky. The accompanying flageolet beans were slightly underdone. Pappardelle with braised rabbit ($14) had not been handled with care; in places the pasta was gummy, in others cooked folded over so that there were tough, underdone parts, and the broth was doused with too-sharp vinegar.
More successfully, a beef rib eye ($32) was an inch thick and plate-coveringly gigantic, a veritable landmass of steak; it was well marbled, nice and rare, and thickly carpeted with bitter greens and strong goat cheese. And Loulay passed the brasserie litmus test: The roast chicken ($18 for a generous three-piece portion) was flavorful and notably juicy, with a whole grain mustard sauce to provide interest.
The two desserts I tried were more experimental than much of the menu: A tarte tatin ($9) was less like its standard caramelized-apple-and-pastry self and more like a mushy apple cake, and, in a sort of carpet-bombing approach that my sweet-toothed friend thoroughly approved, a chocolate truffle cake came with praline bar, lemon cremeux, and roasted white-chocolate ice milk ($8.50).
Loulay, on the whole, is okay. Depending on what you order, if you see Rautureau touring the dining room to greet guests in his signature headgear and manner, you might wish for more chef, less hat. (One night recently, he had a Seahawks hatband.) If you're looking for a hand-holding, special gourmet night out, you might want to look elsewhere. If you're lucky enough to be able to afford a place like Loulay on a regular day, might I suggest you request a booth, or a table up on the balcony? You don't want your champagne bucket bumped.