On his first visit to France, Jef Fike discovered the town of Cassis. He loved it so much he decided he would name a restaurant after it someday, and he did — not once, but twice.
Many, me included, fondly recall the original Cassis. It thrived on the north end of Capitol Hill from 1997 to 2004 and spawned a short-lived sibling, Bandol, in the Smith Tower, that never quite found its footing in the Pioneer Square of a decade ago. Some customers who frequented the first Cassis persuaded Fike to resurrect it in a building they own in West Seattle.
Opened in February, the new Cassis is a sophisticated, sepia-toned refuge amid the rowdiness of Alki Beach. Blown-up, ’60s era, black-and-white French movie stills and street scenes from Paris and Cassis hang in the front of the house, where Fike presides with his customary dry wit and meticulous eye for detail.
Chef Andy Dekle, who was chef de cuisine at The Ruins before moving on to The Local Vine and Portage Bay Café, executes a menu rooted in the French bistro style. It changes a bit every month, which perhaps is why some dishes work better than others.
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Overall, entrees were more successful than starters. Roasted pork short ribs, moistened with sweet onion and sherry jus, yielded willingly to knife and fork. Robust shallot demi-glace sauced poulet confit, a chicken leg joint, bathing its crisped skin and seeping deliciously into the toasted farro underneath.
Dekle has a laudable habit of offsetting rich ingredients by including something bitter or sharp on the plate. With the chicken, it was a spray of dandelion greens; for the pork, it was sautéed rapini.
Charred scallions and lemon butter performed the same service for a deftly pan-seared salmon filet. The composition was marred only by sautéed fava bean gnocchi that were heavy and dull. Thick, spicy rouille stirred into fish soup, stocked with salmon, mussels and fennel, gave its saffron broth a welcome pick-me-up.
First courses were weaker, except for two standout salads. A breaded goat cheese crouton — warm, crisp and melty — adorned lettuces so fresh they might have been moistened with dew rather than vinaigrette. A quivering poached egg crowned frisée, lavish with warm bacon vinaigrette and big, crunchy bacon bits.
(My visits were at dinner, but it’s worth noting that both salads are on the brunch menu. The poached egg and house-cured bacon also bodes well for the Cassis Benedict and other items on the weekend roster.)
Bacon bolstered one night’s soup du jour, a thick, chilled peach purée as bland as baby food. (The fruit fared better in a warm, ice cream-topped peach crisp crunchy with pecan streusel for dessert.)
Chicken mousseline, wrapped in arugula and sliced to reveal a heart of black garlic, had curiously little flavor and the mousseline was too firm. Smoked fish roe and tart crème fraîche simply overwhelmed limp, not-quite-caramelized endive.
I reached for the salt shaker to perk up braised baby artichokes, but there was plenty of salt on the excellent frites. They make a fine bar snack with a glass of rosé or the house martini — citrus vodka blushing with the black currant liqueur crème de cassis — or a bracing, bittersweet tequila and ginger beer cocktail dubbed the Alki Sunset.
At Cassis you get front-row seats to the actual Alki sunset. Most tables and many of the bar seats are positioned to take advantage of the water view. The mood, aided by engaging servers, tends to be convivial. With a drink in your hand, sunlight dappling the dark-stained alderwood banquettes, and the garage-door front rolled up to catch the balmy summer breeze, Cassis is at its most enticing.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.