The Chef in the Hat

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The Chef In The Hat is Thierry Rautureau, the talented force behind Loulay Kitchen & Bar and Luc restaurants, bringing a French twist to the best of Pacific Northwest cuisine.

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Seattle Times Review. 3 Stars! Luc: Hat's off to Rautureau's bistro

By Providence Cicero Special to The Seattle Times

Luc 3 stars

French
 2800 E. Madison St., Seattle
206-328-6645

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Dinner 4 p.m.-midnight daily.

Prices: $$$ (appetizers $6.50-$9.25; entrees $11.50-$20)

Drinks: Full bar; imported and local beers; wines by the glass, carafe or bottle.

Parking: On street.

Sound: Loud.

Who should go: Everyday gourmets.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

If one picture is worth a thousand words, two pretty much sum up the raison d'être of Luc, the unbuttoned Gallic flip side to Thierry Rautureau's fussier French Rover's.

The paintings are by Isa D'Arleans. One hangs in Luc's dining room and shows a stolid Loire Valley farmer and his wife, Rautureau's parents. Monsieur is the restaurant's namesake; madame, the woman who first mentored the farm-raised French chef in the kitchen.

In the other, hanging appropriately in the bar, a wide-eyed young Thierry looks caught unawares. Seeing that startled face above an ebullient crowd, one imagines a thought bubble: "Zut alors! How did all these people get in my room?"

This bustling, easygoing kitchen and bar is very much his room. Hard to miss in his wide-brimmed fedora among the tanned and well-tailored Madison Valley throng, the James Beard award-winning chef enjoys making the rounds. Like his quasi-namesake the Cat in the Hat, the Chef in the Hat is a natural impresario as well as a charming, irrepressible scamp.

Cheek-kissing two women searching in vain for seats at the bar, he asks, "Have you tried the Lucatini? I have one every day."

I wouldn't mind a daily dose myself of this St. Germain-smoothed Vesper variation served with a spiraling orange zest. And with it, a nest of soufflé potatoes — plump, airy potato crisps that deliciously mimic fried dough.

When he's not out front or across the courtyard at Rover's, Rautureau pops up in Luc's open kitchen, where chef de cuisine Seamus MacKenzie oversees the preparation of French classics like boeuf bourguignon and trout amandine, as well as burgers, pork chops, sausages and steaks. There's a pasta du jour, and even pizza.

It's a menu shrewdly designed to entice people back once, perhaps twice a week. Every day there's a featured specialty to be shared among three or four — a whole roast chicken or duck, braised beef tongue, Dungeness crab or roasted leg of lamb.

One Sunday night from the shelter of a dining-room booth with benches like church pews, I watched enviously as two people at the next table devoured that night's shareable feast: thick slices of roasted pork shoulder, a lofty potato gratin and sautéed greens.

Meanwhile, I sat picking with knife and fork at the sandwich du jour: pork belly and caramelized onions on a soaked and swiftly disintegrating bun spread with too little apricot jam to counter the punch of harissa-spiked aioli.

The sandwich was unremarkable, but so much else was unforgettable: boeuf bourguignon, for example, admirably yielding in an earthy, wine-dark sauce of bewitching intensity; and peppery grilled onglet (hanger steak), an appropriately virile partner for a posse of supermodel fries — skinny, hot and salty.

Terrific Moroccan-spiced lamb sausage, nearly a foot long, is propped on a pair of crostini cushioned with braised cabbage: one red and sweet hinting of caraway; the other green and mustard-sharp.

Trout amandine nearly afloat in brown butter (and wanting, I thought, just a bit more lemon) came beautifully butterflied under a mosaic of toasted almond slivers. A phenomenal pasta du jour paired shards of rare salmon and crisp pickled green beans with linguine in a tarragon-fragrant fish fumé.

Pickled mackerel teamed with mustardy potato salad made an invigorating summer starter that was far more appealing than the cool but bitter zucchini soup. Arugula tossed with tiny roasted beets in bing- cherry vinaigrette neatly captured the season's softer, sweeter side.

I wanted to take a spoon to the pot of chicken liver mousse with rhubarb gelee scattered like tart, twinkling rubies on top. Instead I spread it on oiled crostini, then on chunks of fresh, crusty bread. I did much the same with a trio of lovely cheeses also accented with rhubarb, this time melted into a ginger-spiked compote.

With either of these you might do as the French do and drink the local wine. A half-carafe of a soft, slightly oaky, red blend from Madrona's Wilridge Winery is just $10. It ought to go well with that pork shoulder, which I plan to try, some Sunday, very soon.

LUC to participate at Foodprotunity on 8/2

 August 2, 2010 from 6p.m. to 9p.m. at Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom. Foodportunity is open to food journalists, bloggers, public relations professionals, restaurateurs, farmers and all food-passionate people.

Besides Chef Thierry Rautureau participating with LUC and serving Beef Tongue Sanwiches, other restaurants, chefs and food personalities include:

Ethan Stowell (Anchovies & Olives, How to Cook a Wolf and Tavolata), Tamara Murphy (Elliott Bay Café), Amy Pennington (author of, “Urban Pantry”), Matt’s in the Market, Restaurant Zoe, and many more!

The “speed networking” session, hosted once again by KOMO Restaurant Reporter and Seattle Weekly food writer, Julien Perry.

Early Bird Admission is $25 (including all fees) General Admission is $30 (including all fees), through Brown Paper Tickets .  Buy tickets early as all past events have sold-out.

This has always been such a fun event to be a part of and we are looking forward to participating once again. 

Hope to see you there!

Luc’s Place: A new bistro puts hospitality and great food at the top of the menu.

-By Kathryn Robinson (Seattle Metropolitan Magazine Aug 2010)  HEAVEN KNOWS, I love a good microseasonal, native root vegetable bar with no table service and no reservations as much as the next Seattle food obsessive. Really. But would it be heresy to suggest—in the shadow of this month’s cover story—that our restaurants have gone a little fetishistic in their single-minded devotion to the almighty ingredient?

You know the restaurants I’m talking about. The chef presents a strictly limited seasonal selection—or chooses your meal outright. Perhaps dinner is served at a set time each evening; perhaps you order at the counter without aid of a waiter. You either had to reserve four months ago or weren’t allowed to reserve at all. And once you’re seated, after nodding awkwardly at the strangers you’ll share a table with, you find that the little generosities of hospitality—comfortable chairs, salt on the table—haven’t been given as much attention as the farmer who grew the tomatoes, the chef who prepared them, and the sublime transcendence of the fruit itself.

Important, yes. And you may enjoy your dinner. But your enjoyment is beside the point, because your job is to worship the food. I was thinking about all this the other night at Luc, where I sat, well, worshipping the food. I swizzled a basil-orange sparkler on a comfortable chair, at a reserved table, nibbling souffle crisps—more on these little miracles later—and perusing a menu (a menu!) of French bistro classics, quizzing my waiter (my waiter!) on what was choicest among them. The frank and funny gent recommended a tart little salad of arugula and apple, which balanced bitter and sweet with dollops of almost meaty caramelized shallot. We paired it with a crackle-crusted margherita pizza, glazed with the brightest tomato sauce I can remember tasting. The night’s pasta mingled fresh noodles with bits of moist duck breast, asparagus, and carrots in a rich and subtle coriander sauce.

I looked around the swanky amber-lit space and could barely make out the elegant Moroccan light fixtures through the masses of people. A beleaguered hostess graciously met the demands of two entrances—one in the bar, one in the back dining room—through which, I learned later, would walk 200 diners that night. That’s a lot of business for a 75-seat establishment—and at that moment all 200 seemed to be there together, laughing and noshing and turning Luc into a sexy cocktail party in full roar.

This, dear reader, is a restaurant.

A restaurant where attention to place and to plate are not mutually exclusive priorities. Because make no mistake: the salmon filet on my special was line-caught; the morels fresh from the sandy soils of Walla Walla and top of their season. For chef and owner Thierry Rautureau, the restaurateur’s restaurateur who has headed Rover’s for 23 years, flawless seasonal foodstuffs aren’t a headline, they’re a matter of course; the essential foundation for a dining experience that encompasses much more than food.

The impish Rautureau, wearing that omnipresent fedora of his, worked the room with relish. No other chef of his stature owns the front of a house as effortlessly as this Frenchman, whose goofy tagline, “Chef in the Hat,” was created, in fact, to relax the starched reputation that tends to attach to a French chef charging $135 for eight courses. Now the casual Luc finishes the job.

The overriding vibe at Luc is that of neighborhood denizens dropping by in their jeans. Of course when that neighborhood includes Madison Park, Washington Park, and Denny-Blaine, those jeans may more closely resemble a mortgage payment. (And “dropping by” remains more of a theoretical construct than a possibility in this popular room.)

Still, Luc is every inch a neighborhood third place. Rautureau chuckles that if a party arrives through the Madison door for a reservation on a table that’s still occupied in back, he’s learned not to panic—the table will be long free by the time the newcomers backslap their way through the bar. Indeed, many of these folks became Luc’s patrons before construction even began, through a creative deal Rautureau dreamed up watching Barack Obama’s grassroots fundraising success. He presold $1,000 gift certificates, redeemable at Luc or Rover’s for $1,300—raising dollars, yes, but also stimulating a less quantifiable kind of investment in the success of the operation.

Consequently, Luc already conveys the seasoned identity of a joint three times its age, anchored by the roots of a very French family tree. An oversize portrait of Rautureau’s parents looks down from the north wall, a stirring mix of youthful libido and ’50s innocence. That’s Luc, Rautureau’s dad, a hardworking bulldozer driver from Brittany whose “beautiful, simple life” inspired both the restaurant and the classic simplicity of its menu.

It’s not hard to imagine Luc père savoring dishes like a juicy, loose-shanked steak-frites, flavorful in a peppercorn sauce alongside beef-flavored fries; or Rautureau’s stunning boeuf Bourguignon, loaded with moist ragged hunks of beef in a sauce fathomless with butter and beef stock and Burgundy. Chicken liver mousse, which little Thierry learned to make from his maternal grandmother, is a textbook version of the velvet spread. The halibut sandwich leafy with arugula and bound with gribiche —a cold French sauce of hard yolks emulsified with oil, then studded with shallots, capers, and herbs—would have pleased the good driver to no end, never mind that the exquisite Columbia City Bakery bread would’ve gone to pieces in his hands. Luc is a place where you can lick your fingers.

Newfangled flourishes are few but meaningful. Harissa electrifies the aioli, elevating a beef burger into an extraordinary beef burger. And those featherweight starters, souffle potato crisps, are not a classic of the French repertoire—yet. A labor-intensive regimen of blanching, cooling, and thrice-frying potatoes yields a crop of puffy fries, air-filled like souffles with moist, almost creamy interiors and impossibly crispy crusts. Best appetizer in the city right now, folks.

Food of this caliber establishes, in case anyone was wondering, that Rautureau is a great chef. But the diner’s experience eating that food—in this fine place, under such fond care, alongside all these folks… that’s what makes Luc a great restaurant.