Artisanal at The Bravern shows French flair in delicious style
If you liked Artisanal in New York, its Bellevue sibling in The Shops at Bravern in Bellevue will please. Francophiles and fromage fans will enjoy many well-prepared meals.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Salmon rillettes for two||$12.50|
|Onion soup Artisanal||$11.50|
|Hanger steak frites||$21.50|
|Duck a l'orange||$24.50|
|Fondue||$24 petite/$40 grande|
Artisanal Brasserie & Wine Bar
11111 N.E. Eighth St. (The Shops at The Bravern), Bellevue
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays; brunch 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily.
Prices: $$$ (Hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads $3.50-$19.50; entrees $15.50-$35).
Drinks: Full bar; versatile international wine list offers many options by the glass, half glass and flights.
Parking: Free validated parking in The Bravern garage; valet parking $7.
Sound: Moderate to loud.
Who should go: Francophiles and fromage fans.
Credit cards: All major.
Access: No obstacles.
Terrance Brennan has wheeled his well-stocked cheese cart west. In September, the French-trained, New York-based chef/owner of Picholine and Artisanal, opened an offshoot of his fromage-focused restaurant Artisanal in The Shops at The Bravern, Bellevue's tony new residential/commercial complex.
Artisanal's grandly proportioned dining room and more intimate bar occupy a corner of the second floor, next to The Artisanal Table, a low-key Mediterranean cousin to the flamboyantly French brasserie, which cuts a stylish Belle Epoque figure with its creamy Camembert walls, pomegranate red accents and lavish mahogany trim.
Based on a sampling of the sprawling bill of fare, the kitchen shows considerable prowess, with just a few minor flaws among many resounding successes.
One guaranteed to amuse la bouche is salmon rillettes, made with fresh and cured fish packed into a small glass jar and sealed with a quarter-inch of clarified butter. It's ridiculously delicious and so rich it could afford its own residence at The Bravern. Meant for two, it easily could (and probably should) feed four.
A tasting trio of seafood cru, on the other hand, comprises three vibrant bites impossible to divide: raw tuna sprinkled with orange zest and black olive; scallop petals steeped in citrus, soy and sesame; and a single Kumamoto oyster in piquant mignonette.
Fish soup tastes like an entire ocean reduced to a bowl. It was a mighty briny saffron-tomato broth, but croutons spread with garlicky rouille helped correct the balance and smooth the rough edges. Sealed beneath a creamy, slightly nutty crust of grilled cheese, onion soup was both beefy and beguilingly sweet thanks to plenty of caramelized onions.
Almost anything that involves cheese is worth trying. I was drawn to the grilled-cheese sandwich du jour for its pairing of English Cheddar and pear, but the pear wasn't ripe enough to make the sandwich memorable. The warm house-made chips with it, quarter-size rounds that shatter in your mouth in a flash of salt and fat, were unforgettable.
As winter approaches, think fondue, offered in two sizes and four variations. Again I opted for the day's special blend and loved the slight tanginess that goat cheese lent Emmenthaler. Sourdough cubes are provided for dipping; other accompaniments (fingerling potatoes, apples, meat, assorted raw vegetables with cornichons) are extra.
The Bar du Fromage, displaying dozens of cheeses from Europe and America, several of them local, will enchant any cheese head. So will the friendly fromagers who tend them lovingly and discuss them knowingly. You can summon them tableside for consultation.
Impeccably rendered versions of chicken cooked under a brick, duck a l'orange and steak frites are among the plats principaux.
Succulent chicken, deboned, flattened and nut brown, came with baby vegetables, buttery potato purée, and robust brown gravy infused with garlic and enriched with pan juices.
The duck's finely tuned sauce was neither too sweet nor too citrusy. Its skin was brown and crisp, the fat underneath rendered, the meat on both leg and breast moist and yielding. Swiss chard and sweet parsnip purée were among the cornucopia of vegetables on the side.
Hanger steak, the least costly of the cuts served with frites, had an appealing minerality enhanced by a classic Bordelaise. Unfortunately, the frites arrived limp and tired, as if they'd languished under a heat lamp.
Some servers at lunch are clearly novices. In the evening pros take to the floor. They offer pertinent wine advice, adroitly field food questions, and bustle about with such brisk efficiency the paper overlays on the tabletops rustle in their wake.
At lunch our waiter, antsy from the get-go, was eager to get on with his script, which began with "Tap or bottled water?" and ended with a pitch to try the "world famous crème brûlée from Le Cirque, where Terrance Brennan once was the sous chef."
How, I wondered, is it different from all other crème brûlée? "I get paid to say it," he said with a sheepish shrug.
And I'm paid to say this: If it's as good as the cheesecake, embellished with pecan praline and caramel sauce, or the chocolate mousse, layered with bittersweet chocolate and pecan brittle, it deserves the hyperbole.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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