1933 1st Avenue
Seattle WA 98101
On the Cobbled Belltown Streets a Taste of France
By: Grant Y
In front, the first thing I saw was classically styled baby blue wooden panels, framing windows looking out to the street. "Open", reads the paper sign, hanging loosely from a chain behind the recessed door. To the left, a bricked-lined, vintage archway leads with tiled steps to residences above. Outside, sets of metal chairs and tables linger emptily, waiting warmer months. Above, a simple black awning beckons simply "Bar Le Pichet Caf".
If you fancy the true experience of France, be it the rows of boutique cafes, quaint styles, clustered seating, endless wines, outdoor smokers or aloof servers you might just get all of that and more at Le Pichet. Our experience started much the same as would a wanderer down the streets of Montparnasse. We walked, we saw, we talked, we entered. (We might have driven also, but in keeping with the feeling of a Parisian experience, we will pretend it never happened.)
Upon entering, we were greeted with a scene of a chorus of diners, sipping coffees, nibbling on desserts and conversing over baguettes. Our hostess directed us to table by the six-seater bar. Wall seating ran along one whole side of the restaurant, with a parallel iron rod that perhaps doubled as a coat rack. Stealthily stuffed underneath the seats were boxes upon boxes of various imported wines. The walls were plaster painted a light yellow, and were adorned with few decorations apart from three long mirrors in the dining area and a few French advertisements toward the back. "Shabby chic", is how Robin describes Le Pichet, with its style emerging from its attempt to not over-style. Each table even comes with its own mustard container, ready for use.
Handed a well-used menu, I clumsily attempted to decipher phrases such as Le Casse Crote, Les Salades, La Charcuterie, Nos Plats, Les Fromages and Les Desserts. English is provided on the menu, almost as an afterthought, in small italic font beneath the French titles. This is good, as my ability to decipher Rillons tourangeaux sur salade aux haricots blancs et chicoree rouge (crisp pork confit on white beans, capers and radicchio with pomegranate vinaigrette) would go down in flames faster than Jean-Claude Van Damme's acting career.
After some wait and even returning once to refill our bread, our server did finally take our order. Robin went with the Brandade de morue nmoise ($10) warm salt cod, garlic, olive oil puree, with marinated olives and grilled bread. Steve opted for the classic Gratin lyonnais ($10) French Lyon-style onion soup with crouton and gruyere cheese. I wanted to try what sounded like a common breakfast, the ufs plats, jambon et fromage ($8) two eggs broiled with ham and Gruyere. As a group, we also ordered the Saucissons schs l'huile ($5) air-dried country sausage marinated in garlic and chilies, along with an Apple Walnut Tart ($8).
The dish came out basically like it was described, with two slices of ham, layered with two broiled eggs, sunny side up, layered on top with a thin layer of Gruyre. Much of the taste comes from the Gruyre, which unleashes a sharp, earthy flavor. Gruyre is a hard yellow cheese from cow's milk, used in French and Swiss cooking and fondues. It had the same type of intensity as of an aged, oak red, which is powerful but smooth in doses. The Gruyre made this dish unique, though the slices of fairly sweet ham were a bit dry and didn't stand out particularly. I would say this is good, simple food.
The sausage had a strong, pepperoni flavor, with less fat and more fennel and game taste. I would have liked it, but being soaked in olive oil was a bit too much for my personal preferences. The apple tart also suffered from some preference issues, as it felt a little too bland in terms of the apple flavor (delivered only as thin, wilted slices), though the walnut flavor carried through nicely. The crust was also annoyingly hard, even when soaked in a gentle cream.
The Brandade made for a perfectly enjoyable meal, being warm and savory, with yummy pungent bits of salt cod dispersed throughout. Rich flavors like cheese, olive oil and mashed potatoes were subtle but mixed well together. It was a pleasure to try something new like this.
The Saucissons schs were also a new experience-not only was the meat of a pleasantly dry and gamey-tasting variety, but the oil the sausages were immersed in was flavored with star anise, an interesting and unexpected find in French food.
Lastly, I thought it was a little odd to have lengthy names dish names in French on the menu, since I'm guessing the average patron won't know "salt cod" in French. Having French as the primary language on the menu made reading it and ordering a little tricky, however, it does do a nice job of adding to the shabby-chic French caf atmosphere of the place.
The menu simply says onion soup, but if you take into consideration that Le Pichet is a French restaurant then you'll realize that what you're really ordering is what we would call French Onion soup. I have to give out a small warning about this dish: IT IS VERY HOT. That being said, it was a very enjoyable bowl of soup indeed. The broth was semi-sweet, with tons of onions and lots of Gruyre cheese that was drippy and delicious. The croutons consisted of two gigantic pieces of thick bread that soaked up a lot of the broth. If you are a big fan of French Onion soup, you're sure to enjoy Le Pichet's version.
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