People often ask Thierry Rautureau what he would have for his last meal. For the first time, his answer involves a dish he’ll serve at one of his own restaurants.
“I say it would be the meal I used to have every morning sitting at the farm table in the kitchen of my grandparents’ farm,” he said.
His grandfather would bring milk in from the stables, the cream rising to the top. They would simmer some on the wood stove for cocoa, while his grandmother sliced a few pieces of thick country bread for Rautureau to toast with a long fork in the fireplace.
“Slather some homemade salted butter on top of that and dunk it in the hot cocoa — man, that is a living memory in my brain, that smell, that flavor,” he said.
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At Loulay, the 100-seat restaurant and bar he’s scheduled to open Dec. 4 at the Sheraton building in downtown Seattle, diners will see contemporary versions of the country-style French food the chef grew up eating. But the restaurant will have many “entry points,” as he and wife and co-proprietor Kathleen Rautureau put it. Breakfast will be served starting in a few months, once they hit their stride. There will be burgers and soup at the casual bar, tables without tablecloths to avoid an intimidatingly high-end air, but also cushy high-backed booths made for romantic dinners or private business meetings, and a marble chef’s counter looking into the expansive kitchen.
The frites from his bistro, Luc, will be available — as will some of the upscale classics that first made Rautureau famous in the grand 9-course dinners at his Rover’s restaurant in Madison Valley. One of the best seats in the house, if details work out as Rautureau plans, may be the final mezzanine table, meant for a solo diner.
“This is the restaurant that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now,” Thierry Rautureau explained. “We’re going to have a blast.”
Rautureau named his new place after the small agricultural community where he was born in southwestern France. He took on the space at Sixth and Union after closing Rover’s when his lease was up last summer, saying that after 25 years, he was ready for something new. Rautureau also still runs Luc, named for his father, a casual bistro near Rover’s that he opened in 2010. His bonhomie and cheer — and refined cooking chops — also helped him (always sporting his trademark fedora) become a recurring favorite on “Top Chef Masters” and other TV shows.
Loulay is a striking change from the neighborhood settings where he did business for decades — but downtown itself has dramatically changed over those years, Rautureau said. Jerry Anches, a local owner of the Sheraton, said original plans for the hotel expansion years back had called for another restaurant there, and as soon as he heard Rautureau was looking he had no doubt he wanted the chef’s dream restaurant on the flagship corner.
The 4,000-square-foot space, which used to house Alvin Goldfarb Jewelers, was completely remodeled. It’s now a casually elegant oasis with an airy feeling from the 20-foot ceilings, and classy but whimsical touches — the elaborate gilded decorations on the 12-foot wall mirror, for instance, include hats, Rautureau’s trademark, along with a deer’s head, grapes and fleur-de-lis patterns. Five globe-shaped chandeliers liven up the ceiling space like glam disco balls. Out went the built-in wall safe, in went a wooden floor and a dumbwaiter and an upstairs mezzanine that converts into a private dining room. The couple brought in a sound engineer to make sure noise levels stay under control.
Robert Sevcik, chef de cuisine at Rover’s, will hold the same job at Loulay, and beverage manager Scot Smith was also among the many Rover’s employees who stayed on. (“Chef’s Christmas!” one of them said Tuesday, unwrapping stacks of new china and mixing bowls upstairs.) Robert Larcom, who worked for many years with a high-level restaurant group in Manhattan, is director of operations.
“A bigger space will allow us to spread our wings,” Rautureau said. “There is something to be said about the beautiful thing about (having) a small tiny restaurant, it’s great that you can do everything yourself, blabbity blah blah — but believe me, that gets old,” he said. Now he’ll have enough room and volume to do projects that have been on his wish list — for instance, hiring a full-time butcher to prepare the meat and fish at Loulay and to train the other cooks to cut meat.
Look at Loulay for some favorites carried over from both Rover’s and Luc as well as from Rautureau’s memories. Dishes will be as basic as a burger and a beer and as highflying as the caviar and scrambled eggs that customers never let him take off the Rover’s menu — but mostly options that are somewhere in the middle, like the pot-au-feu or the rabbit Rautureau’s mother made on some special Sundays. “We’ll have her rabbit on the menu,” he said — just not exactly the way she did it, “more like what I think it should be.”
Rebekah Denn writes about food at seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat