Friday, March 5, 2010

Le Gourmand and Sambar, Seattle

On the last night of my recent trip to Seattle, we elected to have dinner at a place called Le Gourmand. Our friend and host André arranged the reservation for us. He had eaten there five or six years ago, and based on his fond memories thought that Jill and I would enjoy it. He was right. The meal from start to finish was fantastic.

Le Gourmand, it turns out, is a Seattle institution, owned and operated by Chef Bruce Naftaly for 25 years. It is attached to a small but chic cocktail bar called Sambar that is manned by a friendly and capable staff, who will entertain the most ridiculous of requests, to which I can attest personally. Feeling like showing a flare for the dramatic, I decided to order my cocktail by saying something like this…

“I would like something with Gin, and maybe some St. Germaine. I like that Elderflower flavor. I’m thinking spring… The weather is just so beautiful and I want to celebrate how early it’s come. I know that when I return to Boston I’ll be missing the flowers in bloom and the lack of snow on the ground here in Seattle. What do you think the bartender can whip up?”

André and Jill followed suit with similar, but somewhat more direct and certainly less ridiculous requests. I think we made Katya smile in a good way, and she dutifully took our requests to Tina at the bar. I overheard part of their conversation and had to grin sensing their amusement at my elaborately vague order, which I had hoped would be entertaining for them. We all laughed together about it later in the evening after more drinks and wine had been enjoyed.

Even though we had quite ambiguously ordered our cocktails, Katya and bartender, Tina, ably delivered conjuring up some fabulous impromptu cocktails. I was treated to a mixture of Gin, St. Germaine, Hibiscus syrup, and Lime Juice. André got a sort of Manhattan/Negroni Hybrid that involved Rye and Campari, and Jill’s drink consisted of aged dark rum, artisanal vermouth, and chipotle pepper garnished with a bay leaf from the tree outside. All the drinks tasted great and perfectly fit the parameters that we set forth. I especially enjoyed my drink. It had a beautiful pink color and was light and refreshing. I could have easily had three or four. It was deliciously dangerous.

But on to dinner…

We were seated in the beautiful clean crisp white space that is Le Gourmand. I instantly noticed and admired the gorgeous Capiz chandeliers that softly lit the room. They reminded me of Dan, and I wished that he could have been there with us, but he had to return to Boston a day early to get back to work. Our table was neatly set with fresh, crisp linens, and the silverware and glasses were spotless and neatly arranged.

We studied the wonderful menu for a bit, and then noticed a seven course tasting for only $80. It seemed like the deal of the century, and we decided that we couldn’t pass it up then and there. Our server David was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the food and also served as our sommelier for the evening. His wine list was well chosen with plenty of small producers focused on quality rather than quantity. It was just the kind of list that I love to sink my teeth into.

We started with some Cremant de Bourgogne rosé that David recommended for the aperitif and first couple of courses. We had a Pinot Gris by Kubler, a producer that I had read about, but never seen in Boston. The wine was true to form for an Alsace white showing signs of a ripe vintage: broad and full flavored with lovely aromatics and a touch of sweetness. For our red, we chose a bottle of Joseph Roty Marsannay. It was a triumph with our fabulous meal. It smelled like a barnyard and had plenty of structure balanced out with bright cherry and red currant fruit.

The food was outstanding course after course. I liked Chef Bruce’s simple and elegant approach to the beautiful ingredients with which he was working. Everything was prepared in a manner that featured the main component, be it fish, meat, or vegetable. For example, our first course was a simple nettle soup made only with leeks, onion, a little potato, a light duck stock, and of course nettles. It was a revelation to taste the purity of the nettle flavor in this concentrated form. We sipped it from the funky porcelain cups that it was served in with great enjoyment.

The courses following were a breaded and friend farmer’s egg with roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, a terrine of foie gras with honey, huckleberries, and brioche, salsify in an herb cream, a gratin of local sturgeon served in a seashell, duck breast with black trumpet mushrooms, and a small green salad with vinaigrette made from local vinegar and edible flowers. The foie gras terrine was unlike any I had before. It was made with lobes of foie gras that were pressed together to form a “loaf” of duck liver. The texture was perfect and the balance of flavor was on the sweeter side, nicely accented by the honeyed sauce it was served with and contrasted by the huckleberry compote. David provided us with a little sip of Couteuax de Layon, a sweet white wine from the Loire, to go with it.

We added a cheese course on and shared three desserts for the grand finale: a sour cherry soufflé with chocolate sauce, a sort of caramel ice cream made from French candies, and a crepe with Meyer lemon ice cream. The meal overall was every bit as decadent as it sounded and took us about five hours to eat. We were full but not uncomfortable since Chef Bruce and David paced our meal appropriately. We really appreciated the fact that they indulged our luxuriant pace for the evening, it being a celebratory evening for us.

I should also make special mention of the delicious herbal “house” tea that we were served with our desserts. It was a blend of botanicals that had been grown by the chef’s son’s Montessori class. It included chicory, ginger, and lemon mint and tasted like a cross between coffee and herbal tea. Chef Bruce and his wife had blended it themselves, and it was perfect for the end of the meal. It helped settle our stomachs and made us relax even more. Chef Bruce personally told us the story about the tea when he made an appearance at the table as we finished up our meal. We heartily thanked him and congratulated him on his culinary tour de force that evening. He couldn’t have been more humble and he seemed legitimately pleased that we had enjoyed ourselves as much as we did. I think this serves as a testament to Le Gourmand’s twenty-five year success story.

When our tea and dessert were served, we told David that we were all classical musicians. Being an avid fan of the art form himself, he plugged in his iPod to the restaurant sound system and played the Brahms A Major Quartet and the fantastic Piano Quintet for us. It made me wish Dan was there even more, but it also made the evening that much more special for us. We had quite a discussion with David about music, who was very well informed and had strong opinions about Western art music. He was clearly a man of refined taste and passionate about what he loved, and I felt more than a little bit of kinship with him for that reason.

As the meal drew to a close and in need of a digestif, we wandered back over to Sambar for a final drink (or two) before we headed back out into the night. We ran into an old friend, Rob, who had given us quite a night at his bar, Oliver’s Twist, on our last visit to Seattle in June of last year. It was a pleasant surprise to see him there, and we enjoyed chatting with him again. We stayed and hung out with the staff and Rob for a while and chatted about travel, art, music, and life for an hour or so. We had Fernet Branca and eventually got around to some Hudson Whiskey Manhattan Rye – a delicious new boutique spirit made in New York.

It was hard to leave Sambar and Le Gourmand behind, but we knew that the staff needed to close up shop and head home, and all good things must come to an end. We certainly never felt rushed, on the contrary, everyone there epitomized hospitality and seemed to want to let us dine at a leisurely pace. Katya voluntarily filled our water glasses after she had already been off the clock for a while saying that she really took joy in doing that for us. I was touched by the sentiment and I felt it was a great example of how much the folks at Le Gourmand care about their guests’ comfort and satisfaction. I would certainly recommend Le Gourmand and Sambar to anyone looking for a great experience in Seattle and the surrounding area. They set a scene for a night to be remembered for me and my friends. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our time spent with them.

1 comment:

  1. Anytime I have guests from out of town, Le Gourmand and Sambar are 2 Seattle restaurants always on the list to go. I just love the ambiance and cocktails at Sambar and the staff is great! Le Gourmand is always the last stop, just so they can have an amazing meal to finish their trip with. I have been to both restaurants many, many times and each time is a new and wonderful experience :)