Le Grand Bistro Americain in Kirkland offers sweeping views of Lake Washington that are bound to lure customers to this casual-chic bistro. The food has French accents and is served by a friendly staff.
Steak frites. Salade Niçoise. Bouillabaisse. Charcuterie. The menu at Kirkland’s Le Grand Bistro Americain speaks French, certainement, but what exactly makes this bistro Americain? Smiles, for one thing.
The staff’s cheerful mien is as de rigueur as their uniform of bluejeans, crisp white shirts and long white aprons. They differ widely in experience — from pros to those literally shaking with first-day jitters — but customer contentment is their raison d’être.
One waiter shared this story: A woman wanted him to recommend a glass of white wine. He suggested his favorite: sauvignon blanc. Anything but that, she said. So he brought her a taste of four other wines but she didn’t care for any of them. “I have one more you can try,” he ventured. She loved it and much to his relief she laughed when he confessed it was the sauvignon blanc.
Another waiter shifted effortlessly into damage-control mode when told there was an off flavor in a side of bean ragout and potatoes. He removed the plate instantly and offered a choice of any other side dish on the menu, saying, “I want you to have something you like.”
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I found plenty to like on Le Grand’s classic bistro bill of fare, starting with a ramekin of chicken liver mousse sealed under port wine geleé. “Smooth and suave” is how the menu rightly describes this Don Draper of charcuterie. Swiping the last sumptuous bit with a crust of house-baked bread was neither smooth nor suave on my part, but deeply satisfying.
Local oysters are frigid, fresh and skillfully shucked. Robust onion soup gratinée will please cheese-lovers. Salads are likable too, especially salade Niçoise showcasing a gently poached fillet of fresh albacore. Croutons, crisp bacon lardons and a perfectly poached egg are fine accouterments for frisée dressed in brisk vinaigrette. An egg toupee also topped hearty smoked chicken and cabbage soup du jour, serving as emollient to the bracing broth.
Trout Amandine sported the ideal ratio of brown butter, lemon, and brittle toasted almonds. Braised chicken willingly fell from the bone into the arms of a rich, dark Riesling sauce enhanced with butter and bacon. But not every dish was as pulled together as those.
Poppy seed speckled scallop crudo was overcome with lime and shoyu. A raw quail egg, cupped adorably in its cracked shell, comes nestled in rather tame steak tartare. I caught the tang of Worcestershire but missed the bite of Dijon. Under-seasoning was a recurring theme. I welcomed waiters wielding the pepper mill and dipped frequently into the salt cellar.
Chubby, house-made pork sausages got the seasoning right but were a little dry. L’entrecote, cooked far short of the requested medium-rare, was cool and bloodless; yet it was a rich rib-eye, handsomely crisscrossed with grill marks. A bowl of béarnaise, thick as mayonnaise, worked better as a dip for slender, golden frites than it did as a sauce for the steak. Both meat and frites needed salt.
Petit Bouillabaise is indeed small, but packs a lot of seafood. I plucked tiny mussels, squid, bits of salmon and a rangy prawn from a saffron-scented, fennel-thick sea whose delicate balance was nearly upset by a dreadful saffron rouille plopped on its shore. I scooped the rouille out of the bowl and the bouillabaisse was better for it.
Le Grand opened in late December with Scott Emerick (of the defunct Cremant in Madrona) as executive chef. Former sous chef Jeff Slemaker now helms the kitchen, but the true Maitre d’Hotel is owner Ted Furst. He co-founded Campagne and was corporate chef of Schwartz Brothers Restaurants when they opened a Cucina! Cucina! at this same Carillon Point address nearly two decades ago.
Furst is omnipresent: in the kitchen one minute, behind the zinc-topped bar the next or roaming the window-wrapped restaurant’s casual-chic environs chatting with customers inside and out. Le Grand has an enviable location. That sweeping water view is bound to lure customers and servers will keep them smiling. If the kitchen develops more savoir faire they could become regulars.
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