425 Northwest Market Street in Ballard
We have a couple of friends in Port Angeles who used to live in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle. For years, they steered us to try Le Gourmand, a small French restaurant in an otherwise Scandanavian part of town. Not being from Seattle ourselves, Ballard might as well have been Siberia, without the pelmeni. Our friends finally took matters in to their own hands. They made reservations at Le Gourmand, and they invited us to join them.
Soon thereafter we found ourselves in a taxi headed north by northwest, out through the barrens and wild country that surround downtown Seattle. From our window, we could see Canlis, another restaurant we have been informed is quite excellent. Our cab made a hard turn down a residential street. More miles of terra incognita, and then we spied Le Gourmand on the street corner.
We stepped out of Seattle and into a charming French country house. Our friends were waiting for us with big smiles on their faces. With little more preamble we settled down to try the tasting menu, and we were well rewarded.
One can tell a fair bit about a restaurant from its rolls, or bread, if they don't have rolls. Bad rolls, bland and puffy, indicate a certain indifference. Sourdough bread signals a less formal, American style. A good bread basket, like the one at the old Campton Place, can be a meal within a meal. Good chewy, yeasty rolls are the gold standard, and that is exactly what we found at Le Gourmand.
The meal began in earnest with a quince and cranberry soup. Fruit soups can be sweet and cloying, but quinces and cranberries have strong flavors. Quinces look a lot like apples, but are too tart and tannic to be enjoyed raw. They have to be cooked and usually sweetened. They go very well with meaty stocks, as was well proven with this dish.
Since this was a tasting menu, the well timed, well sized portions continued their parade with a hearty wild mushroom saute and then a plate of foie gras with huckleberry sauce. The mushrooms were rich and woodsy. The foie gras crisp outside and tender inside. The huckleberry sauce was a tart contrast to the fat of the liver.
We relaxed briefly with a green salad adorned with rose petals and pansies, but the intense flavors continued with the grainy mustard dressing.
Then came a dish, which in the wrong hands could have been a disaster. It was a combination of steelhead, halibut and dungeness crab, with a white sauce, served in a large scallop shell. Such dishes lunch room horror stories are made of, but the version at Le Gourmand was more of a fantasia, with the flavors of the fish and crab meat coming through clearly, and the sauce augmenting, rather than muffling, their fresh flavor.
Another break followed, this time with powerful fruit flavors - a wonderful sorbet of montmorency cherries and plums, with their tartness set off with a bit of bay leaf. It sounds an improbably combination, but it worked. We decided that bay leaves are much underused with sweet flavors, and we vowed to experiment at home.
Our meat course was venison, a fall and winter dish, served with yellow and blue potatoes, and a selection of winter greens including some of our favorites, savoy cabbage and lacinato kale. Le Gourmand uses ingredients from local farms, and the Pacific Northwest is the home of the best winter greens one can find.
We wrapped up our meal with a French classic, profiterole with chocolate sauce. The puff pastry was as light as air, and the custard delicious. We actually finished every scrap, and we made a good dent in our Basque cake with a scoop of rice ice cream.
All told, it was a magnificent meal and a pleasant surprise. Imagine, finding such a wonderful French restaurant out in the wilds of Seattle.