Bastille Café & Bar in Ballard should draw Francophiles from across town.
Ensconced in an oval booth spooning luscious béarnaise sauce from a silver ewer amid the gleaming white-tiled glamour of Bastille, I couldn’t help recalling the line uttered by a giddy Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the movie “Julie & Julia.” “French people eat French food every day. I just can’t get over it.”
Seattle Francophiles seem just as gaga about Deming Maclise and James Weimann’s new Ballard brasserie. It’s been so warmly embraced by a stylish urban coterie that reservations are advisable.
Bastille looks like an outsize Le Pichet. Rivet-trimmed black beams arch above the soaring space that once housed Obermeier Machine Works. Handsome old clocks, chandeliers and other vintage accessories scavenged from here and abroad contribute to the authentic Parisian air. So does a rack of crusty Grand Central baguettes, waiting their turn to be sliced and tucked along with sea salt and Plugra butter into napkin-lined baskets. They are well worth the $3 charge, which includes refills.
Bartenders shake French 75s behind the zinc-topped bar that edges one wall. Doors along the opposite wall open onto a covered patio. The Back Bar, tucked at the end of the hallway behind the open kitchen, is a moody den prompting visions of scruffy artists sipping absinthe.
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A number of experienced hands are running the show. Heading the kitchen brigade is former Veil chef Shannon Galusha, whose résumé includes The French Laundry, Rue Balzac in Paris and Campagne in Seattle.
Consummate restaurateur and Campagne founder Peter Lewis oversees the dining room. Though his polish hasn’t yet rubbed off on all of the staff, it likely soon will. Lewis doesn’t miss much, including this reviewer, who was spotted each time.
Lewis acknowledges popularity has had its downside in the first weeks. “We’ve had hits and misses,” he said. “We fix the misses and take it one day at a time.”
I hit some of those misses on my first visit. An impressive pan- roasted demi-poulet came with an off kilter Dijon gravy that was unpleasantly sharp. Chevre and pistachio-flecked arugula and beet salad found perfect balance. But beets steeped in Banyuls vinegar were harshly acidic, more bully than boon companion to Coquilles St. Jacques, deftly pan-seared scallops planted in dainty cauliflower purée.
Iodine marred shrimp in an appetizer special, but they were stacked in an enthralling, gazpacho-like pool of yellow tomato, onion and cucumber thickened with ground almonds.
Another evening — and at Sunday brunch — everything was on point. Croque monsieur packed with sweet ham and nutty Gruyère was lush with Mornay sauce. Chard stuffed the buttery crust of a deep-dish quiche. Tahini and tangy goat’s milk yogurt moistened a satisfying lavash-wrapped falafel sandwich crunchy with carrot and cabbage.
The aforementioned béarnaise sauce accompanied terrific steak frites. The cut was billed as flat iron but tasted as rich as a rib eye. Grilled beef tongue, lolling among yellow haricots verts and cherry tomato confit, captivated even the most squeamish at the table. Tiny grilled octopus tentacles tossed with fresh chickpeas judiciously blended ingredients borrowed from a Casablanca bazaar: argan oil, harissa, tahini and preserved lemon.
Preserved lemon brightened fennel marmalade, too. I can almost hear Julia cooing over the condiment partnering grilled salmon, just as I imagine her approving of the crunchy bacon lardons and precise vegetable brunoise punctuating the savory Puy lentil stew that almost upstaged classic duck leg confit.
And surely she would be as enamored as I with such desserts as lavender crème brûlée, cognac-spiked chocolate terrine, and salted peanut butter crème glacée with crispy cocoa nip feuilletine.
The French-meets-Northwest wine list includes some midpriced gems, among them a bottle of 2005 Calvet-Thunevin Cotes de Roussillon ($36). Wines by the glass start as low as $6; a 500-milliliter carafe of house red or white is just $15.
If seeing “Julie & Julia” hasn’t already got you flipping through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” Bastille at its best just might.
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