The attractive, quiet space in Madison Valley could so easily tip into twee but the restaurant’s French-inflected, contemporary American food prevents that.
From across the room at Petite Galerie, I watched a very young lady in a spangled black dress have her first taste of foie gras. Not yet too cool to be dining with her parents, she was obviously enjoying this very grown-up evening. Wait until she’s old enough to order the Pink Vespa, I thought, sipping the pale pink cocktail made with gin, vodka, and a splash of Lillet rosé. It’s a twist on the Vesper martini, made famous by James Bond, who preferred his shaken, not stirred. It goes down easily, exactly like Petite Galerie.
I was both shaken and stirred by chef Rob Sevcik’s Madison Valley restaurant. It’s unlike any to have opened here in recent memory. The attractive, quiet space is a throwback to an era when restaurants put the diner’s comfort first and foremost. Sevcik credits his wife and business partner, Megan Sczcesny, for the restaurant’s look. The dining room’s color scheme is borrowed from a misty sunrise. Blown-up floral prints coupled with tall, mullioned windows conjure a garden conservatory. The high ceiling is handsomely coffered. The bleached-wood flooring has acoustic backing. The kitchen is entirely concealed.
Chandeliers and sconces cast light that’s subdued but bright enough to read a menu printed in the sort of curly font used on formal invitations. Layers of white and ivory cloths drape each table. Chairs are not only upholstered but tufted. The hostess held mine as she seated us. I half expected her to unfurl the napkins and lay them across our laps.
Petite Galerie could so easily tip into twee but Sevcik’s French-inflected, contemporary American food prevents that. His style is both classic and approachable. The dinner menu’s dozen savory plates — and four sweet ones — range from slight to substantial. They can be as simple as a Dungeness crab salad bound with crème fraîche and tucked into butter-lettuce leaves dressed with tarragon vinaigrette and speckled with a fine brunoise of pickled apple. (Worth noting: The crab salad appears on the lunch menu too, along with seasonal soups and creative sandwiches.) A miniature bread salad with albacore tuna was more intricate. The raw fish and croutons, seasoned with fish sauce, were tucked into a spool of brined cucumber along with salmon roe, radish and chives.
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Potato croquettes, wild mushroom duxelles and quail roulade were just as fastidiously prepared. A cloth napkin swaddled the fancy, finger-length tater tots. Beneath their golden crust they were almost as creamy as the piquant romesco and ultrarich aioli provided for dipping. The duxelles filled a trio of puff pastries that remained shatteringly crisp amid Madeira velouté and a burst of yellow yolk from a poached duck egg. Classic chicken-and-herb mousseline stuffed the crisp-skinned quail, arranged in a rustic tableau that included mustard-tinged demi-glace, quinoa and pickled kumquat.
Sevcik mapped out a career timeline as a young chef. He wanted to have his own restaurant before he turned 50. He’s well ahead of schedule; he’ll be 40 in July. At 18, the Wisconsin native moved to the West Coast bent on being a chef. He went from San Francisco to Portland and arrived in Seattle 10 years ago intent on working for James Beard Award-winning chef Thierry Rautureau at Rover’s. In short order, he became Rover’s chef de cuisine, and later held the same position at Loulay. His sous chef, Sam Thompson, worked with him at both restaurants.
The menu here changes a little daily. A spot-on pan-seared halibut with steamed clams and sweet-pea flan in beurre blanc sauce was a recent ode to spring, as lyrical as golden-beet risotto crowned with asparagus. In other dishes, a stellar supporting cast compensated for flawed execution. Amazing bite-size sweetbreads, sautéed with carrots and a touch of garam masala, were paired with overcooked rockfish. Braised wagyu beef cheek was less tender than it should have been, but butter and dark chocolate enriched the sauce, cambozola sharpened the accompanying gratin, and a crisp rasher of speck capped the dish. Duck breast was dry around the edges, but calçot ash (from charred Spanish scallions) gave the meat a smoky edge, the sauce merged balsamic and foie gras, and black garlic bolstered the side of polenta.
The dinner menu is organized into four categories: land, sea, earth and heaven. Desserts come under the last heading. It’s where you’ll find the foie gras and its sweet accompaniments: a berry compote and a tiny tower of bread pudding layered with fruit. The dark-chocolate mousse, dainty Parisian flan with preserved strawberries, and kaffir-lime panna cotta with roasted pineapple and a pinch of Szechuan peppercorn were all pleasing denouements.
Sevcik hopes to bring on a pastry chef in time. They could use a bartender too, especially now that they’ve introduced a bar menu (six snacky items, available all evening). The staff is lean. Waiters also make drinks, and when it’s a full house, that slows things down.
Dinner ends with mignardises, a custom dating back to 18th century France. The sweet little bites are gratis, as are the bread and butter with radishes, and the opening amuse-bouche: one night chilled beet soup with cucumber and minted yogurt; another night rabbit and walnut confit.
The short, eclectic wine list has some eyebrow-raising prices. Check the glass pours for something more affordable. Any of them also can be ordered by the bottle (multiply the glass price by four). While it lasts, they are pouring the 2017 Betz Rosé Cache. Less vroom than the Pink Vespa, but just as pretty in the glass.
Petite Galerie ★★★
3131 E. Madison St., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Prices: $$$ (plates $16-$34)
Drinks: full bar; short, eclectic wine list
Parking: free on-site lot in front of the building; garage in rear
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles