Le Coin is a promising new bistro that replaced the New Orleans-themed Roux in the two-story building that some will forever remember as The Buckaroo Tavern.
At Le Coin, a man in a plaid flannel shirt greets customers at the door. A bubbly waitress wears a blouse that slips fetchingly off one shoulder. The bartender looks rumpled and somber. A guy sitting alone at the end of the bar nurses a beer. Nope, it’s not Sam, Diane, Coach and Norm — the gang from “Cheers” — but if you were to update that 1980s-era sitcom for 2018 you might well set it in a place very like Le Coin, in a locale very like Fremont.
Le Coin (translation “the corner”) is a promising new bistro that replaced the New Orleans-themed Roux in the two-story building that some will forever remember as The Buckaroo Tavern. Jordan Melnikoff is among them. Back in the day, he downed some of his first drinks in this corner spot. Now he owns the place, along with a group of investors that includes chef Josh Delgado, who was most recently in charge of the kitchen at Alderbrook Resort on Hood Canal. Le Coin is comfortable and relaxed, with a middlebrow menu of European-influenced cuisine. For it to thrive in a neighborhood with a lot of competition in the genre, the food needs to be a little more on point.
Delgado and his team execute several things well, especially seafood. Take note of what’s in the iced display case on the end of the chef’s counter — sablefish on my visits — and order accordingly. A swoosh of carrot soubise rimmed an impressive sablefish fillet, while charred lemon brightened its entourage of baby artichokes, onions and potatoes. Salmon tartare was also very good. The rigid strips of salmon skin poking from it made perfect little pushers for the raw fish and finely diced cucumber, bound with aioli and crowned with roe.
A slender arm of octopus was as faultlessly cooked as a fat pork chop. Both deserved livelier companions though. The chop came with succotash, never the life of the party, but this one, composed largely of chopped green beans and onions, was especially unimaginative, given what’s available in late summer. Corona beans and chicken pulled from a braised thigh accompanied the octopus — a threesome very alike in texture. It needed more than citrus jam and limp, chicken-skin cracklings to make it interesting.
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Dishes tend to skew sweet, sometimes tediously so, as with steamed mussels. A poached egg on toast enriched the chorizo-spiced broth, but a little more vinegar would have offset its brown-sugar sweetness. Puréed parsley and oven-cured tomatoes checked the natural sweetness of grilled rainbow carrots that were scattered with barley — an odd, if wholesome, garnish. A very busy beet salad also found equilibrium: crème fraîche coated the ruby chunks, anchovy vinaigrette dressed the greens and pungent herb pistou pounded the perimeter.
Sometimes too-muchness was a problem. Pickled Fresno peppers punched back against smoked mayonnaise that swamped slices of raw albacore. Arugula pesto with hazelnuts and cherry tomatoes was a light, summery sauce for ricotta-daubed ravioli, but chopped hazelnuts in the filling was overkill, making the pasta weirdly crunchy. Crisply fried sweetbreads strongly resembled chicken nuggets; this is a good thing only if you don’t like organ meat.
You’d expect to find a burger on this menu and it’s a good one, arriving alongside well-seasoned, lanky fries. It was rarer than requested but with truly caramelized onions on a glossy, sesame-seeded bun made by Fremont’s Sea Wolf Bakers. Le Coin’s bread board features slices cut from various Sea Wolf loaves served with a rotating selection of fruit and herb butters. It is well worth four dollars.
The new owners have refreshed the space. They repainted and installed new lighting, put up knotty wood paneling on one wall and on another hung bold contemporary paintings by Seattle native John Sarkis. The layout hasn’t changed. The open kitchen with its chef’s counter lies back-to-back with the bar. It is very well stocked with spirits, but cocktails took a long time getting to the table. The France-meets-Northwest wine list is affordable; guidance was sketchy.
Menu advice is spot on, however. The bubbly waitress proved to be smart, efficient and shrewd at reading her customers. For dessert, she gave the pistachio-espresso-chocolate-chip ice cream her strong endorsement, saying, “I had three scoops for dinner last night.” Chocolate malted-milk-ball crunch was terrific, too. In my experience, you really can’t go wrong with any of Olympic Mountain Creamery’s flavors. The house-made lavender shortbread cookie is a bonus. With more servers like that woman, Le Coin could indeed one day become the kind of neighborhood place where everybody knows your name.
Le Coin ★★
4201 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday; brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
Prices: $$$ (starters $8-$26, mains $16-$28)
Drinks: full bar; Northwest and French wines; local and imported beers
Parking: on street
Sound: moderate to loud
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles