It’s a lively block, this stretch of Madison Valley: takeout pizza, takeout teriyaki, a dry cleaners, a French bistro (Voilà!), an Italian bistro (Cantinetta). The fancy French dinner house (Rover’s) is gone, and the pan-Asian cafe (Chinoise) is gone, too, but there’s vegetarian (Cafe Flora) a block in one direction, Spanish tapas (Harvest Vine) a block in the other. Good bread, too (Essential Bakery).
There used to be a frame shop at the corner of East Madison Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way East (it’s now on the other end of the block), and you’d drive past it, thinking it would be the perfect spot for a bar (2800 E. Madison St.). At least Thierry Rautureau thought so. He knew the neighborhood, since he’s been the Chef in the Hat at Rover’s for nearly a quarter-century.
A neighborhood bar in the French style, with a zinc-topped counter; open late; not expensive; with local wines (literally, from Wilridge Winery, just up the hill in Madrona); and familiar dishes like boeuf bourguignon available to go (on real china).
Regulars from the Rover’s mailing list were offered the opportunity to buy $1,000 shares (technically, gift certificates).
The name? Luc, for Rautureau’s father, who passed away about eight years ago.
The painting? A photo of a young Thierry, already thinking of his hat, surrounded by books, with chapter headings from the cookbook he would eventually write (with Cynthia Nims). The artist was Isa D’Arléans, a Madison Park neighbor, whose brother Cyril Fréchier was the sommelier at Rover’s for two decades.
There’s a simple à la carte menu, along with a rotating list of specials to be shared: a whole roast chicken, a Dungeness crab, braised beef tongue, a leg of lamb, a pork shoulder, portions large enough to serve three or four.
These days, Rautureau himself spends most of his time downtown, at his new place, Loulay, at the Sixth Avenue and Union Street corner of the Sheraton Hotel. That leaves Madame Kathleen Encell Rautureau to welcome the guests in Madison Valley, and she does it with such grace that you’d think she’d never done anything else.
You “install” yourself (as the French say), and before you have a chance to study the menu, the kitchen has sent out a dab of goat cheese drizzled with olive oil, to say, “Welcome to Luc.”
You order a baby-sized Lucatini and a grilled steak sandwich, and the sous chef in front of you gets to work. You’ve seen her before, but where?
It turns out she’s Sara Harvey, and five years ago, she was working the line at Toulouse Petit in lower Queen Anne, under Eric Donnelly’s tutelage. Since then, she’s been at Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island, working alongside Brendan McGill. And now she’s at Luc, under the watchful eye of David Mitchell, Luc’s stalwart chef de cuisine.
Here, she uses spatula, tongs and chopsticks to assemble the specials (salmon, cod, halibut, duck), while the rest of the busy kitchen team deals with steaks and pork chops.
Holding up their own
Restaurants are famously macho environments, and women who can hold their own in a fast-paced commercial kitchen are rare but not unheard of (Sara does just fine, merci beaucoup)
These days, no quarter is asked (or given) by or to women on the frontlines. For one thing, genuine culinary talent, regardless of gender, is too rare to waste on internecine squabbles.
The issue was settled locally, over the last decade, by a long line of Seattle’s leading lights behind the stove, at the door, in the vineyard — names like superstar culinary consultant Kathy Casey; chefs Lisa Dupar, Holly Smith and Lisa Nakamura; culinary event producer Jamie Peha; gelato queen Maria Coassin. The list goes on — all chefs, owners, writers, publicists. Together, they’ve raised and donated a half-million dollars to help educate the women of the next generation.
The Seattle women are part of an international organization called Les Dames d’Escoffier, named for the Frenchman who wrote the book for modern kitchens.
Today, a half-dozen culinary schools in Washington state have endowments established by Les Dames. Their graduates are more than line cooks and hose pullers; they’re the executive chefs of tomorrow.
Around the ‘hood
Araya’s, a vegan spot with stores already operating in Bellevue and L.A., is moving into the former Rover’s space at 2808 E. Madison St. and will open in late spring.
Up on 19th Avenue, known to some as Madison Park West (or “Far West,” even), Eric and Sophie Banh are still awaiting zoning approvals for their expansion of Monsoon (615 19th Ave. E.).
It’s the same problem for Noyer (1423A 34th Ave.) in Madrona, where Ethan and Angela Stowell ran into a zoning snag: It seems that a corner of the planned restaurant abuts a residential lot and requires a variance. Stay tuned.
RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer and consultant who blogs at Cornichon.org. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.