At Vuong and Tricia Loc’s new Fremont restaurant, Pomerol, there is an excellent cocktail called the “Ginger Sensation.” Blushing with cassis and speckled with mint, the gin-based drink is crisp and ginger sharp. I remember enjoying something similar at their short-lived Madrona restaurant, June.
Pomerol is the couple’s third from-scratch venture (not counting their brief takeover of Greenwood’s Pig ’n’ Whistle) since they opened the elegant, 30-seat Portage on Queen Anne in 2006. The Locs closed Portage late last year. Lease negotiations loomed and they’d already secured the Fremont space and were making plans for Pomerol, which opened midsummer.
In the interim, Vuong Loc and bar manager Rocky Tiegen (creator of the Ginger Sensation) bought a cache of reclaimed pine planks and built Pomerol’s striking, whiskey-hued tables. They are lined up along cushioned banquettes, with plenty of space between them, under the wooden rafters of the low-ceilinged dining room that feels intimate even though it’s double the size of Portage.
The front door opens onto an L-shaped bar. Beyond it is the open kitchen where Vuong expedites and inspects each dish, adding a sprig or leaf or petal from a bouquet of fresh herbs and flowers in a vase on the counter.
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At Portage, the Vietnamese-born, CIA-trained chef executed highly refined plates from a closet-sized kitchen with little more than an oven, two burners and a Vita-Prep. He’s got more elbowroom here and fancier equipment, including an oak-and-maple-fueled Argentine-style grill.
He uses it well. Meats and seafood benefit equally from the taste of char and the scent of smoke. A variety of seasonal vegetables accompanies the proteins. Potatoes are offered as sides. (Fingerlings roasted in goose fat are a worthwhile indulgence.)
Whole grain mustard, shallot confit and cauliflower prepared two ways — grilled and puréed — had the right stuff to counter the sublime richness of a hefty beef short rib, cut from the bone then reconstructed. Slices of juicy pork flank steak were well met by bitter Treviso (purple chicory) sautéed with sweet carrots and lobster mushrooms. A nugget of breaded, deep-fried pork belly is a nice bonus.
Cured black olive vinaigrette lifted a gorgeous hunk of true cod vigorously seasoned with salt, pepper and dried fenugreek leaves. Slender, tender green beans and sweet roasted beets were its simple, satisfying sidekicks.
When a dish faltered, it was in the details. Grilled corn and basil-mint pesto accented rosy slices of lamb leg steak, but bland “baby anise” dominated the dish. Tough, stringy green beans turned up with seared yellowfin tuna that had two warring sauces: a harshly bitter sunflower seed emulsion vanquished the more pleasant garlic crème fraîche.
Perfect aioli cushioned tender grilled octopus ruddy with chili oil, one of the standouts among the small plates that serve as starters on the short, seasonal menu.
The priciest (and worth it) is seared foie gras alluringly sauced with nuoc nam caramel and sided with a toasted brioche crouton, a sunny-side-up quail egg and ember-roasted fruit (berries on my visit, but lately pears). As the liver liquefies on the tongue it leaves a sweet-funky trail of fish sauce and burnt sugar in its wake. Every bite tastes utterly luxurious.
Hamachi was also spectacular, with translucent slices of green cherry tomato and finely diced pale melon steeped in a piquant, chili-lime dressing arranged just-so over slices of raw fish. Yet an escarole salad was sloppily presented, indifferently dressed and lacked texture.
Lamb belly “pie” felt contrived. A vivid green river of pistou ran through the dark, aromatic braise of meat and cippolini onions, but it was stacked between two disks of undistinguished pastry.
Late-summer desserts focused on fruit: roasted peaches ringed a quivering goat cheese panna cotta; a sweet, sesame tuille topped vibrant fig sorbet.
The staff sometimes struggled to describe dishes. It took three queries to ascertain the type of cod that was being offered one night, beyond “wild” and “Alaskan.” Their command of the short, French-leaning wine list is limited, too. Energetic and accommodating as they are, service can be fitful. The dining room could use a managerial eye.
Fremont’s restaurant universe is expanding at a crazy pace. Pomerol has glimmers of greatness but needs to play a more consistent game.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.