A small kitchen overperforms on Queen Anne.
On a Saturday night in June so warm the butter was melting in its bowl, young women in pretty summer dresses flocked like birds-of-paradise to Entre Amis. Their effortless style perfectly matched the simple, chic contours of this boutique French bistro on the top of Queen Anne.
Some made straight for the small bar that adjoins the even smaller kitchen. One courting couple, she in a tight sheath, had scored one of the deuces in the windows that flank the front door. A woman in a floaty coral frock, seated at one of two banquettes, toasted her birthday with friends, raising a sparkling Aviation cocktail, the drink’s hazy blue-violet hue a liquid reproduction of the color on the textured walls around her.
Entre Amis ★★½
2209 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday; happy hour 5-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
Prices: small plates $6-$14; large plates $18-$30
Drinks: full bar; French wines
Service: pleasant, punctilious
Parking: on street
Who should go: an intimate, relaxed venue where locals can sip, sup or celebrate
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
To be sure, there were plenty of us in khakis and cotton shirts, too, beating the heat with a glass of rosé or a tart French 75.
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As the name suggests, Entre Amis is a place to gather informally with friends. It was conceived by Benjamin Bernard-Luneau, a French-born entrepreneur, not many years out of Seattle University. The chef, Matt Cyr, hails from Omaha and previously cooked at Chicago culinary hot spots Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner.
Thus the short, French-leaning menu bears a homey, American Midwestern influence. It changes a little from week to week, but one constant is its flexibility: It allows you to eat as hearty or as light as you wish.
Start with a selection of house-made charcuterie and pickled vegetables. Add some cheeses to make it more of a meal. It will come with slices of crusty baguette and the house-cultured butter, which has a ripe, almost cheesy tang.
Among the charcuterie, lamb liverwurst captured my fancy for its smooth, gamy richness. Pancetta-wrapped pork terrine was sweet and mild, with a surprisingly refined texture for a country pâté. True cod rillettes beguiled with notes of orange and saffron, but the flaked fish lacked the voluptuous texture one expects from rillettes. It tasted more like the “Cooking Light” version.
Steamed cauliflower and broccoli led a list of small plates. The duo was dressed up as if for Sunday dinner with toasted breadcrumbs and a near-weightless Mornay sauce (béchamel bolstered with cheddar and Gruyere). Starter? Side? You decide.
Cyr is fond of stuffing things. A whole bell pepper farci concealed a savory filling of minced ham, herbs and breadcrumbs. Splashed with a fresh, tangy tomato sauce and served with tender lettuces dressed with fruity vinaigrette, it was a wonderful warm weather starter to share, but would work just as well as a light main dish.
Stuffed Cornish hen, its boneless breast plumped with herbs, breadcrumbs and Toulouse sausage, looked like a diminutive Thanksgiving turkey. A tour de force intended for two, the bird rested on aromatic, wine-braised lentils and had a bundle of greens and edible flowers tucked next to one of its crisp, golden wings.
Beef tartare $14
Summer vegetables $18
Prime chuck flap steak $28
Dungeness crab ratatouille $30
A stuffed and trimmed hen is perhaps not what you want on a warm night, but whole roasted trout, with lemon slices and dill sprigs tucked inside its boneless belly, was ideal for the weather. The fish was dressed like a hula dance, with more dill draping its flank and tiny pink-and-orange blossoms dotting its oven-bronzed skin.
Since the small kitchen lacks a grill, some meats and fish are pan-seared and oven-finished. A fillet of arctic char could have used a better sear to crisp the skin, but the flesh was uniformly pink and moist, and not the least cowed by a pungent sauté of mustard greens, haricots verts and pancetta.
Prime chuck flap steak, a full-flavored cut that is surprisingly tender when not cooked past medium, hit just the right level of rosiness plus sported a well-seasoned, crusty exterior. It came with pureed potatoes that were a bit too salty, garlic and herb butter and a lively fresh herb salad.
None of those dishes, however, prepared me for the astonishing complexity of roasted vegetables, which seemed wholly inspired by the Northwest landscape. The transformative power of caramelization converted carrots into soft candy and coaxed umami from wild mushrooms. It tamed sharp radishes and bitter turnips, making brittle twigs of their root ends. Buttermilk became a thick, creamy, sweet sauce that gave the dish cohesion. A sprinkle of gremolata — minced green garlic with parsley and lemon zest — took it aloft.
It made me think that 30-year-old Matt Cyr is a chef to watch.