I ate two lunches today. It started with a text message from my friend Dawn proposing dim sum at Purple Dot in the International District. The dumplings were disappointing. Unsatisfied, we walked to Fu Lin Chinese restaurant, improbable but rumored home of superior pork ramen. It was closed. Remembering that Takohachi, stalwart Japanese restaurant with the charming octopus sign, would be closing soon, we headed up the street for a final chance to share tonkatsu and fried chicken while discussing episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, my job, her cat, and her upcoming lunch at French Laundry.
Dawn is a chef, and a constant, necessary presence in my life. We eat together. Our first meal was a four-and-a-half-hour, 14-course dinner eaten at the bar of a swanky, romantic restaurant. (More recently, we plowed our way through a pound of fried catfish.) With Dawn, I always come to the table hungry and open. Even in the face of a sub-par meal, I leave sated, more knowledgeable about food (as a trained professional, she knows a hell of a lot), and hopeful. Last week, I took her to Entre Nous ("Between Us"), a new French restaurant serving small plates "designed with sharing in mind." Chef/owner (and Nice native) Stephane Ohayon's restaurant is based on the earnestly articulated belief that "food is intended to be enjoyed and each dining experience is meant to bring you closer to one another."
Entre Nous is awash in earnestness, which is both its most compelling strength and most painful flaw. Located just around the corner from the Bergman Luggage sign, a window table provides a strangely cozy view of Macy's and a towering, round parking garage. The décor—black-and-white-painted tile floor, burgundy walls, mirrors, and votive candles—strives for romanticism, but its untidy edges feel more like a high-school-musical set than a French love nook. Entre Nous has an undeniable intimacy that's easy to like—dishes from the varied menu certainly feel like they're lovingly offered straight from someone's home kitchen, but they also bear the flaws of home cooking rather than requisite restaurant polish.
Ohayon takes advantage of his proximity to Pike Place Market—these are quality ingredients, rendered honestly, if imperfectly. The moment sautéed green beans with shallots and pine nuts ($5.95) arrived at our table, Dawn and I exchanged a knowing, worried look—the paleness of the beans indicated that they were overcooked and soft, a problem that could never overcome the delightful caramelized sweetness of shallots and smoky crunch of pine nuts. (Also, a squeeze of lemon for contrast would have gone a long way.) Slices of housemade pâté ($7.50), both pork and chicken, were also tragically overcooked, no trace of gorgeous fat (and flavor). Thankfully, marinated baby lamb chops ($10.95), juicy grilled-meat lollipops fragrant with rosemary, arrived next, eliciting an approving eyebrow raise and the joyful sucking clean of bones. Deep-fried zucchini fritters ($5.95 ) sounded promising, but were thoroughly forgettable. Shrimp in pastis and fennel sauce ($9.95) were pale and underwhelming, with all anise flavor delivered by fresh fennel fronds and no discernible pastis presence (though while peeking into the kitchen, Dawn swears she saw the chef reach for the bottle).
Entre Nous did deliver two knock-out dishes—provincial roasted duck ($13.95), slices of rich moist meat and crispy skin served with a small heap of even richer ratatouille that held an incredible depth of flavor, and crème brûlée ($8). I was blown away by the little ramekin filled with a wondrous thick custard topped with hard-as-glass caramel, while Dawn offered only one thought: "This is perfect."
I like Entre Nous—probably more than I should. During our meal, we saw Chef Ohayon bustling behind the kitchen curtain, walking away from the stove to wash his own dishes, which caused a surge of affection in me that negated any bad feelings about overcooked green beans and dry pâté. Maybe with a little time (and an extra hand in the kitchen?), Entre Nous will hit its stride. Dawn and I have decided to give it another try with a late-night visit for Kronenbergs and fondue. We remain hungry and hopeful.