Thanks to the pros, this Place still pours on the charm
For those of us who've had a love affair with Place Pigalle for decades, it's a relief to find that new owners Seth and Lluvia Walker have...
Seattle Times restaurant critic
81 Pike St. (Pike Place Market), Seattle;
Prices: Lunch starters $6-$13, entrees $12-$19, dinner starters $6-$14, entrees $16-$34, desserts $7.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Mondays-Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays; dinner 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays (limited menu between lunch and dinner).
Drinks: An array of potent potions plus an impressive, all-encompassing wine list.
Parking: Pike Place Market Garage (1531 Western Ave.) complimentary with validation after 5 p.m.
Sound: Can get loud.
Who should go: Romantics, leisurely lunch-lovers, those who like their drinks with a (grown-up) twist.
Credit cards: All major cards.
Access: Many obstacles.
Food For Thought airs every Wednesday on KPLU's Morning Edition at 5:35 and 7:35 a.m, and again on KPLU's Weekend Edition Saturday, at 8:35 a.m. Listen to "Omakase sushi," her latest commentary. Or subscribe to podcasts.
For those of us who've had a love affair with Place Pigalle for decades, it's a relief to find that new owners Seth and Lluvia Walker have taken the old saw, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," to heart.
In addition, they've given Place Pigalle their soul, something that's apparent from the moment you step into this intimate hideaway, a French-accented Northwest bistro where one or the other is likely to greet you at the door and (if you're very lucky) escort you to a small table by the window, affording an Elliott Bay view and a stage set for romance.
The Walkers are pros who came off a decade-long hiatus from the Seattle restaurant scene to jump back in with a vengeance. What's more, they're surrounded by pros: chefs, servers and bartenders who all came as part of the package when the couple bought this 25-year-old Pike Place Market charmer from longtime owner Bill Frank early this year.
Today you'll find them hard at work, helping set, clear or deliver the likes of onion soup gratinee wafting with Gruyère, or petite steamed mussels whose shells sit upright in a ceramic boat: the better to capture the sharp and smoky essence of balsamico and bacon. As ever, those Pigalle must-haves ensure guests' comfort. Which, by the way, the bistro's old wooden chairs — built to accommodate guests with small padded "seats" — still fail to do.
Servers are as warm as they are professional, deftly making recommendations from the extensive wine cellar and modest menu — a mix of long-loved dishes, seasonal takes on meats and seafood, plus daily salmon and pasta specials.
Reading customers as they might a beloved book, this staff makes use of an intuitive sense that comes from years of experience, helping make tough calls like, "Saffron-orange bread pudding or Belgian chocolate pot de crème?" Or, "Which is better, the Alaskan halibut or the San Juan Island wild coho?"
As for that fish: Each is pan-seared till that magical moment when the fillet loses its translucence, but not before it sees the dark side of done. Butter and smoked tomato made just the right saucing for the halibut, whose promised Dungeness crabmeat came not as crown or stuffing but as a simple side. One that tasted as if it had been caught and cracked within moments of meeting my fork.
That crab, surprisingly but not inappropriately, came chilled. Chef Thomas Schultz — a five-year veteran of this cozy kitchen — plays hot and cold to great effect, bringing temperatures up or down to nurture the flavor of his Market-fresh ingredients.
Autumn announced itself as a room-temp mushroom ragout, rife with chanterelles, lobster mushrooms and fresh fennel — accompaniment to a thick slab of salmon with a port reduction. And again when fresh linguine came tossed with wild mushrooms, Uli's sausage and wild boar — the latter adding Gallic glamour when cooked to resemble deconstructed pot roast. Rosy-centered duck breast a la Chinoise came fragrant with five-spice, its fat properly rendered. And a thick pork chop, seared and succulent to the bone, flaunted fall at its finest with porcini-mushroom jus.
Vegetable sides might show up in a radicchio cup, bearing a variety of skin-on squash, roasted and cooled. Steam and cream arise from an earthy mushroom soup, and again from a delicate oyster stew floating a trio of plump oysters and a slow-melting butter pat.
Warm scarlet beets, roasted to bring out their "sweet," pair with goat cheese and broadleaf arugula — a simple, Dijon-dressed salad composé. That salad's a classic, and I love it. But I went nuts over the Green Goddess wedge: romaine hearts tarted up with a creamy, dreamy blend of parsley, tarragon and crème fraiche, a dish that — unlike so many vapid versions of the "Goddess" — actually lives up to the name.
Place Pigalle's bar, adjacent the kitchen, is (shhhh!) just the place to steal away some late afternoon for a flute of champagne and a half-dozen oysters.
The centerpiece of the room, the bar is presided over by experts who riff on — and allow one to sniff on — their sensational stock, gems like Pappy Van Winkle's carefully aged bourbons, and (jumpin' juniper!) Cadenhead's Old Raj gin.
Late last summer I sat at that length of polished mahogany sipping a Marianna Cocktail, a lime-stoked luxury whose measure of Campari provides its bitter blush. Pretty in pink, it's the adult answer to that girly-girl guzzle, the Cosmopolitan, and proved the perfect precursor to a solo dinner.
There, I was seduced by a plateful of Alaska weathervane scallops. Those elegant orbs wore a grapefruit-tinged butter sauce with a medicinal hit of pink peppercorn — and I wore a coy smile as I ate them.
I smiled with the knowledge that Place Pigalle stole my heart on my first visit nearly 20 years ago, and thanks to Seth and Lluvia Walker, the transition between old ownership and new has managed not to break it.
Steamed Mussels Pigalle $12
Onion Soup Gratinee (bowl) $8
Warm Beet Salad$7
Alaskan Halibut $18/lunch, $29/dinner
Pork Rib Chop $25
Chocolate pot de crème $7
Marianna Cocktail $7.50
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.