It is not well advised to judge a book by its cover nor is it reasonable to expect a restaurant's opening days to be a fair representation of its true personality and quality. Nonetheless, with several much anticipated restaurants opening in the past few months, we were unable to avoid the temptation to provide a few of our first impressions.
Loulay Kitchen & Bar (600 Union St.; 402-4588; thechefinthehat.com/loulay) is the much-awaited, latest restaurant of award-winning chef and owner Thierry Rautureau (The Chef in the Hat) of Rover's (now closed) and Luc fame. Our office anticipated its opening for more easily accessible fine dining downtown. (It is located across the street from our building.) Many of us took the opportunity to develop first impressions.
Without realizing it was only the second day of lunch service, we walked in and were promptly seated at a table for two. The lunch selection is somewhat limited, but all good. We started with the trout salad complemented with beets, toasted walnuts and pomegranate (a dish ordered at every subsequent lunch visit). The butternut soup and the Loulay bourride (clams in saffron broth) were both beautifully seasoned and flavorful.
Another lunchtime recommendation is French onion soup - a delicate broth topped with the perfect amount of gruyere. The wait staff was friendly and knowledgeable, while still working on some French pronunciations. The Chef in the Hat stopped by and provided us a warm and cheerful welcome. In turn, we welcomed him to the neighborhood. We are waiting for a special event so we can justify (with diet in mind) ordering the hot chocolate with brioche and salted butter.
We managed to get in for early dinner in the second week of operation. They were still working out some of the kinks in the service, but made appropriate amends. The dinner menu is separated into columns of "small," "medium" and "large" plates with a four-course tasting option. We tried a variety of items from each of the columns.
All three of us enjoyed the crab vignettes on aioli, which we accompanied with Kumamoto oysters (the selection changes daily). For the middle plate, we tried the braised rabbit and the veal sweetbreads with caramelized turnip; they had excellent flavor, but the portion seemed more consistent with a small plate than the medium.
From the large plate column, the duck trio and the cod were both worth returning for, and, in lieu of dessert, we splurged and tried the organic scrambled egg with caviar (served in the eggshell). The wine choices were quite varied for the selection size and all pours were available in either a three-ounce or six-ounce size -
particularly convenient when considering a second (glass).
At lunch or dinner, all of the items are flavorful and worth sampling, but be prepared: Loulay is not a budget excursion.
Aragona (96 Union St.; 682-3590; aragonaseattle.com) opened very recently. The interior decorator should be commended; this is a strikingly beautiful restaurant. There is a spacious bar area in the front (with a tapas menu; although, alas, no happy hour as of yet), a main dining area, and a raised mezzanine area in the back. We sat in the mezzanine where ambient noise levels were low enough for casual conversation. The menu for the main restaurant is intriguing and we ordered our meal with high hopes.
We started with a beef tongue served with currants and capers. The tongue was tender, but its delicate flavor was a little hidden by the capers. The rice cooked with geoduck and turnips featured tender geoduck (an achievement!), but the dish was brinier than expected and could have been served as a soup.
Our main entree was described as a "Catalan stew of black cod." The dish contained three pieces of sablefish garnished with artichoke and sauce. The fish had the wonderful creamy texture for which sablefish is rightly prized. Aragona's wine list is heavy on Spanish wine. We ordered a bottle of Espelt Grenache, which was delightful.
Overall, while the concept of this restaurant is great, they need to fine-tune the flavors. Service is courteous and attentive, and the price for two people was a reasonable $100 (including wine, but before tip). Currently the restaurant is open only for dinner, but plans to open for lunch as well.
Westward & Little Gull (2501 N. Northlake Way; 552-8215; westwardseattle.com), the newest offering from Skillet's Josh Henderson, is a full-
service restaurant (Westward) and oyster bar (Little Gull Grocery) tucked away amidst boats and moorings - an unexpected find on the north end of Lake Union. The setting - looking across the lake to downtown Seattle - is breathtaking and worth many return visits, especially in warmer weather. A fire pit was in full flame, surrounded by Adirondack chairs filled with guests even on a chilly and somewhat drizzly January evening. Service is also provided while enjoying the fire and the view.
We arrived at the maritime-decorated space serving a Mediterranean-themed menu without reservations on a Friday evening. We were offered seats at the oyster bar, which shares space with the main dining room and serves the full restaurant menu. The chef expertly shucked and served our oysters in front of us, although an unusual half window separated our half of the bar and the oyster shuckers. The three varieties we sampled were all sweet, fresh and delicate.
We shared a smoked manila dip served with the best potato chips, made in house. A more-than-big-enough bowl of chips could have satisfied one of us as a whole meal. Three of us shared the charcuterie plate with a hearty and varied selection. Simmered goat tagliarini was tender and tasty as goat should be, accented with pistachios on fresh egg noodles. This is a great treat prepared well as we rarely see goat offered on Seattle menus.
The Moroccan fish stew featured fresh and delicately prepared cod and mussels combined with potatoes and cauliflower seasoned with ras el hanout, a North African-inspired spice mix. It received a hearty thumbs up from the seafood aficionado among us.
Liam's Bistro (2685 NE 46th St.; 527-6089; liamsbistro.com), from the owner of Beecher's and others, is one of many new eateries that have recently opened in University Village. We stepped in for a quick respite during holiday shopping and were on the early side of lunch, so we easily got a table - although the space filled quickly approaching the noon hour. The decor is open and clean with great light fixtures. There is a big patio that can be used year round with an outdoor fireplace, as well as private dining.
We were short on time, so we ordered a lunch of cioppino and mac and cheese. We quickly and eagerly sopped up the cioppino's rich tomato broth with the toasted bread that came with it. The cioppino was excellent. The halibut was light, as were the salmon and scallops - perfectly cooked. The mussels were tasty with a fresh, delicate flavor.
The Dungeness crab mac and cheese is pure comfort food at its finest - rich, thick and filling. The leftovers served as a second meal later that day. It was definitely worth a return visit and exploring the menu in more depth. Liam's Bistro is a welcome addition to the dining options at University Village.
These brand new restaurants are all developed by established restaurateurs with a history of ongoing successful restaurants. We look forward to many more meals.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Mary Jo Newhouse at 206-407-1526 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx. Follow us on Twitter @schwabedinesout.