The view at À La Bonne Franquette is incredible. You might not be able to quite believe it, especially if you haven't spent much time on Mount Baker—which, from the vantage point of À La Bonne Franquette, really feels mountainlike. The restaurant is perched on the west side of the crest, with windows in the back overlooking what feels like the whole city. But because it's viewed from the southeast of downtown, it's a whole different city than the typical postcard one: Rainier Valley, showing its autumn leaves; the stately Northwest African American Museum, seen from the side; Pacific Tower perched on Beacon Hill, stoic after its abandonment by Amazon; the beaconing spire of the train station; a sparkling scoop of Elliott Bay; and the buildings of downtown, lined up all businesslike, and, at night, twinkling. The Olympics, on a clear evening, are the improbably cinematic backdrop to this ridiculously lovely view. As the days get shorter, to sit at À La Bonne Franquette's tiny bar, or score one of the two tables right up against the windows, is something done the earlier, the better. They open at five, which is a proper time for a cocktail and gives the greatest amount of daylight to marvel at the view.
Inside, À La Bonne Franquette has the butter-yellow walls of a typical bistro, but atypically, it has African art on those walls. Owners Hamed Elnazir and Pascale Brochier met in Kenya and have lived all over the world; when they opened the place a few years ago, Elnazir was the chef, and he occasionally mixed North African flavors in with the French food. Now he's got Rich Coffey—formerly of Madison Park Cafe (and, incidentally, Washington's first certified cicerone, which is like a sommelier for beer)—in the kitchen, and the menu is a traditional Gallic one, with the braised and roasted meats, mushrooms, apples, and gratins that sound better and better this time of year.
There are very few dining options in Mount Baker, and the neighborhood loves À La Bonne Franquette. One night there was a big celebratory tableful of friends, as well as a couple toasting their anniversary; the crowd skews older, but there might be a young couple on an awkward date, or another talking about looking at apartments nearby while having a drink and a snack at the bar. "À la bonne franquette" is a French expression that means something along the lines of enjoying unfussy food with friends or family, maybe a potluck. The service at À La Bonne Franquette hits the right balance of formality and friendliness, the open kitchen provides a hospitable soundtrack, and the room gets convivially noisy, like a good dinner party.
If the view at À La Bonne Franquette is incredible, the French bistro food is credible. The chicken liver mousse ($8) was unimpeachable—two big quenelles of earthy-tasting, creamy spread, presented on a platter with chutney, cornichons, two kinds of mustard, and plenty of crusty baguette with a tender, bubbly interior. A beet salad ($9) was the different colors of autumn leaves; one or two slices were not quite roasted until tender, but it was good nonetheless. One evening's rillettes du jour ($9), duck, was perfectly palatable, though they could've used more salt, pepper, and herbs.
The pan-roasted whole trout ($23), butterflied open with its head to the side, was piled with a lemony mix of shallots, bits of speck, mushrooms, and brown butter. The flesh was just right, the skin underneath was still crispy, and the flavorful autumnal heap on top was an ideal contrast to the mild fish. The daube d'agneau ($24)—a winey, rich braised lamb stew—was not as stewy as it should've been, leaving the chunks of lamb on the tougher, dry side. But several big hunks of St. Helen's hanger steak ($28) were grilled exactly to medium rare, served with a mushroom sauce, a delicate potato gratin, and a handful of green beans. The roasted chicken breast was also a fine version of the bistro favorite—crispy skinned and not at all dry, stuffed with mushroom duxelles for a feeling of fall. While the accompanying butternut squash bread pudding was underseasoned, the chicken also came with unadvertised green beans, and the portion was so big, you'd either have leftovers or an early bed.
The only real letdown at À La Bonne Franquette was the dense, dry, bland sweet potato gnocchi ($15). Otherwise, to find fault here is a matter of degrees; almost everything is tasty. At the end of dinner, the chocolate pot de crème and crème brûlée were just as picture-perfect as the view.