Tag Archives: Bruce Naftaly

A Seattle Gem Turns 25: Le Gourmand

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the passage of time. You’d think I’d get used to it at some point, but I never do. I often joke in an overdue email reply to someone that “I blinked twice and a week went by!” Honestly, it does feel that way sometimes.

Last week my husband and I were talking about something that happened in 2000 and I was stunned by the realization that the turn of the millenium was over ten years ago already! Remember when Y2K seemed to be the thing that was going to bring the world to its knees? It seems like such a simplistic, naive concern now.

So I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that I was surprised to hear that Le Gourmand is celebrating its 25th year. Chef and owner Bruce Naftaly called recently to share the news with me. Twenty five years in that charming, nondescript brick building that everyone rushes by making their way down the hill from Fremont into Ballard. It’s like a century in restaurant-years. And it’s a milestone made only more notable because of the oddly low profile Le Gourmand has held in town. Bruce is happiest in the kitchen. Though he surely enjoys making the rounds in the dining room to chat with guests but even then he seems a tad out of his element. He rarely makes appearances at the usual chef-o-rama grazing events. I was thrilled when he agreed to be one of the chefs that joined the celebration of the 2001 release of the Best Places Seattle Cookbook I did with Kathy Casey. He contributed a few recipes to the book, including my introduction to cooking with shiso leaves by way of his Savory Nectarine and Shiso Soup.

Bruce only launched the restaurant’s web site in this past year or so, and sheepishly admitted that he’d recently gotten himself a cell phone. He certainly doesn’t blog or tweet or otherwise go out of his way to trumpet his restaurant. Every year or so I get a phone call from him with some bit of news he’d like to share. It’s his very understated way of keeping me–and surely some other writers in town–in the loop and keep Le Gourmand on their minds.

All that to say that you kind of have to seek out Le Gourmand. It employs the “whisper” method of making itself known. I imagine many people know it as “that restaurant alongside Sambar,” the wonderful cocktail destination that Bruce and his wife Sara added about six years ago. Which is maybe not a bad thing! Hopefully some of them will slip through that doorway and treat themselves to the riches of dinner at Le Gourmand one day.

Maybe  just the motivation they–and anyone who hasn’t been to Le Gourmand, or hasn’t been recently–need is the 25th anniversary menu that’s available now. And based on what Bruce told me, should be available at least through the summer. For the first-timers, the menu is a great introduction to the restaurant, offering as it does dishes from the LG hall of fame, some of which were on the menu in the first year. Dishes that have been foundations of the restaurant over the years. Rabbit liver pâté (which he used to serve with housemade poppy seed crackers, the seeds collected from garden poppies). Blintzes filled with Sally Jackson sheep’s milk cheese. Boeuf à la ficelle with cabernet-pressings sauce. And of course, ending with the salade in true French style, mixed lettuces with a colorful scattering of edible flowers in a pitch-perfect vinaigrette.

Bruce’s call was inspiration enough to get me and my husband back there for dinner last week. Though we couldn’t limit ourselves to the 3 courses of that anniversary selection, instead opting for the seasonal 7-course tasting menu. Which means returning another time for the Whidbey Island mussels with lovage and steelhead with gooseberry and dill sauce. Instead, we sipped at a fascinating and delicious radish and rose soup. Tucked into seared foie gras with aprium and yuzu leaf sauce. Relished a ragout of morels and asparagus. Devoured steelhead wrapped in fig leaf (from their garden) in a vin de noix sauce. And, heaven help us (a generous menu!), beef tenderloin with housemade jowl bacon, cèpes, and crispy spaetzle. The latter course served, in quintessential Le Gourmand style, with a pretty side dish of buttery baby red potatoes, kale, and cabbage. Salad was all the dessert we needed after that feast. Delicious.

I suppose it’s pretty obvious by now. I love Le Gourmand. Enough so that I deemed it to be worthy of nod as the “millenial Seattle restaurant” that I covered in the December 1999 issue of Seattle Magazine, an honor I got to bestow not long after starting my stretch there as food editor. A couple small changes since then. Where once a garden plot rested at the south edge of the restaurant, that’s now where contented cocktailers sip their Vespers and Sangue Amaros on the garden patio of Sambar. And the once French-garden colorscape of pinks and greens of Le Gourmand’s interior has given way to bold white walls and whimsical marionettes.

Otherwise Le Gourmand is the same gem is has always been. Ridden the waves of booms and busts and restaurant trends that come and go. “Naftaly has every reason to be proud of what he creates at Le Gourmand,” I wrote back in 1999, “and the significant role he has played in defining what it means to eat locally and eat well in Seattle.” With another ten years under his belt, to me that still very much holds true. As does Bruce hold true to what matters to him most. His kitchen, his garden, seasonal foods, local producers. His family, his customers. His cooking.

Le Gourmand Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under chefs, Northwest treasures

Drinking Well: Sambar

It was the perfect refuge for a hot summer’s evening. Eight of us gathered onsambar5 the cool, shaded garden patio of Sambar in Ballard for drinks, some snacks and some wonderful quality time catching up with friends. Few places make me quite so happy, eating and drinking so well in such a lovely, calm, engaging setting.

Sambar is the younger, hip sibling of the beloved Le Gourmand restaurant next door. Chef/owner Bruce Naftaly first opened the doors at Le Gourmand in 1985, helping set the stage for the delicious melding of “eat local” and “fine dining” that was just a twinkle in a few chefs’ eyes back then. From day one, Bruce was noting on his menus the sources of ingredients he used, whether it was plums from a backyard tree in the neighborhood or grape sambar6pressings from Chinook winery that he used in a sauce. There are a lot of stars in Seattle’s current culinary firmament. But Bruce was among the first to wrench Seattle’s fine dining scene out of the Continental motif and into a celebration of local bounty. In fact, one of the earlier articles I wrote while food editor of Seattle Magazine was one for the January 2000 issue, challenged to pick a chef worthy of millennial props. I chose Chef Naftaly.

Bruce and his wife/chef/partner Sara opened Sambar five or six years ago, adjoining Le Gourmand, with a mod, colorful, contemporary decor in contrast to the (then) pretty sort of Monet-style French motif of the elder (since updated to be clean, bright, white, with cool mirrors and artful puppets on the wall). The cocktail menu is outstanding, distinctive, taking best advantage of premium and seasonal ingredients. On this recent visit, with so many of us around the table, we had occasion to sample a number from the current list. I startedsambar4with a cocktail of gin, Dubbonet rouge, grapefruit juice and a touch of cardamom; outstanding, Ravana I think it was called. Others tried La Rose (Hendricks gin, rose syrup, Champagne and rose petals), Celeste (light rum, rosemary, cassis, lemon, Champagne) and the Vercour (Hangar One Citron, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, jasmine blossoms).

We nibbled too, of course. The swiss chard gratin was out of this world, with garlic and a rich cheesy sauce. Mussels simple and perfect, “just like Paris,” said one of my friends. Another had passed on sampling the mussels, figuring they were pretty basic and not far from what she could make at home. But we prodded her to give one a try and her eyebrows involuntarily rose while taking in the glorious sambar2flavors. I waited a bit too long to take a picture, but this tells how much we loved them! Extra bread, please, to sop up those amazing cooking juices. And frites! Can’t come to Sambar with out an order (or two, or three) of the great frites.

Couldn’t have been a more perfect Friday evening out in Sambar’s garden with the gals. Come winter, we may just have to do it again, buoyed against the grey and chill by the color and dynamism Sambar holds inside as well.

Sambar on Urbanspoon

2 Comments

Filed under Food and Drink, Northwest treasures, restaurants, spirits