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Originally published Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:03 PM

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Restaurant review

Lecosho provides a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene

Lecosho in downtown Seattle on the Harbor Steps offers some fine dining.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Pork Rillettes $9
Farro Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms $15
Porchetta $17
Grilled & roasted half chicken $22
Lamb Porterhouse $25

Lecosho3 stars

Contemporary American

89 University St.; Seattle

206-623-2101

www.lecosho.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily; 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday.

Prices: $$$ (Lunch $6-$16; dinner starters $7-$12, entree $15-$26.)

Drinks: Full bar; eclectic European and Northwest wine and beer list.

Parking: On street or in nearby lots or garages.

Sound: Moderate to loud.

Who should go: If you live or work downtown, give it a try; convenient to Seattle Art Museum and Benaroya Hall; happy hour is a good deal.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: Restaurant accessible from Western Avenue south of the Harbor Steps by public elevator.

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On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, Matt Janke was unpacking cases of Champagne at Lecosho. Colossal bundles of silver balloons tethered to the backs of the vacant seats awaited the late-night revelry. Looking like cartoon clouds heavy with snow, they loomed over the last of the lunchers, mostly couples with kids.

Two-year-old Henry Janke bounded into the restaurant, his mother in his wake. He'd heard about the balloons and wasn't about to wait until midnight to snag one. Spending time with Henry was a big reason why Janke sold Matt's in the Market, his first venture, to his then-business partner Dan Bugge in 2008 and took a hiatus from restaurant proprietorship.

Now back from "paternity leave," Janke has launched Lecosho (Chinook slang for swine), in partnership with another seasoned restaurateur, Jill Buchanan.

The Harbor Steps aerie affords a view across the viaduct to the Sound. As the seagull flies, Lecosho is only a short distance from Matt's in the Market, but it feels farther away in terms of ambience. It's casual, yes, with the bar, lounge, dining room and kitchen flowing into one long, open space; but elegant, too, with espresso-dark mahogany trim, slate-blue draperies and upholstered banquettes. Romantically (challengingly) dim after dark, it's the sort of place you could dress up for — or not.

The kitchen is visible but contained behind a butcher-block corner counter where stacks of plates are poised for service next to condiment bowls, bread, a basil bouquet and a flourless chocolate torte. Behind this pretty mise-en-scène, executive chef Mike Easton and his team are butchering, making charcuterie and cutting fresh pasta.

Those efforts yield seriously delicious sausages; pork belly rillettes topped with a quarter-inch of creamy fat; and farro tagliatelle, tender noodles with a wheaty taste well-matched to a rich sauté of wild mushrooms (mostly chanterelles), butter and vermouth.

This is what they mean by the menu's tagline "Food we like": big flavors, rich ingredients and plenty of surprises, often all in one dish.

Consider their original twist on the BLT. The tomatoes are roasted to startling intensity; the aioli is made with bacon fat; the toast is Columbia City Bakery's potato bread. Just for good measure they tuck a soft-boiled egg in with the bacon.

Lamb porterhouse, a little unevenly grilled but vigorously seasoned, was served with rapini (the bitter vegetable sweetly punctuated with currants and raisins), golden poufs of semolina gnocchi (a nice change of starch from potatoes), and lemon zesty gremolata.

The lamb was like the climactic scene in an opera with everyone on stage singing their hearts out, whereas porchetta was more of an aria: a succulent roast with a heart of tenderloin, a mantle of pork belly and a crackling shell of pork skin. At lunch the meat packs a grilled ciabatta bun; at dinner, a thick slice is served over creamy, sage-scented white beans and tiny turnips, an Italian cousin to cassoulet.

Meat gets it due but so does seafood. Sardinian fish soup gathers tiny mussels and clams, bits of finfish, plus several large shrimp in a briny exuberant saffron broth thick with fregola sarda (pearl-sized pasta). Charred octopus grips a pebbly bed of chickpeas simmered in salsa brava, a spicy tomato sauce stoked with Mama Lil pepper vinaigrette.

Meatless meals are possible here, too, and by no means second rate. Mushroom ragu, creamy with goat cheese and tangy with buttermilk, makes a luxurious lunchtime treat spooned over toasted olive focaccia dotted with sweet fig mostarda. Roasted cauliflower smothered in pungent garlic and anchovy bagna cauda sauce is one of several meat-free shareable sides at dinner that might easily be a main dish.

Janke and Buchanan, who have decades of experience between them, assembled a smart staff, front and back. That doesn't mean service snafus won't happen — even when they know you're a restaurant critic. But they get fixed pretty quickly when they do occur — even if you're not.

Lecosho is a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene, one that I expect will celebrate many happy new years to come.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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