Hans Riechsteiner caters to a customers at his Ascona Chocolat Suisse store in Madison Valley.Photo by Ronald Holden
Hans Riechsteiner caters to a customers at his Ascona Chocolat Suisse store in Madison Valley.Photo by Ronald Holden
Restaurant Hospitality, an industry newsletter, has announced the winners of its annual sandwich competition, and the winner in the meatloaf category is Bing’s (4200 E. Madison St.).

Bing’s owner George Marshall created the chorizo meatloaf sandwich.

“My wife and I bought this restaurant three years ago,” Marshall said. “Older customers were pissed when I took the old meatloaf off the menu. So I put one back on, but with a twist. People absolutely love it.”

Key ingredients: bacon-wrapped chorizo meatloaf, deep-fried Brussels sprouts tossed in honey Sriracha and dusted with cumin and cilantro-chipotle cheddar grits. If that doesn’t sound good to you, there are a dozen other sandwiches on the menu. 

A little bit of France

Laurent Gambrel opened Voilà Bistrot (2805 E. Madison St.) 10 years ago; the space had been called Jimmy’s Table prior to that point, operated by James Watkins (of Café Flora) and Sharon Fillingim (Cool Hand Luke, Grub). For a time, Gambrel also owned the space next door, a crèperie called La Côte, before he sold it to Travis Greenwood of Cantinetta. And he still owns Chloë Bistrot in Laurelhurst.

Voilà is like many places in the market streets and residential neighborhoods all over France: You come for casual meals like Cassoulet or Boeuf Bourguignon, for a brochette of grilled meats and a plate of fries.

When he’s in town, wine guru Mido Benjdya (formerly at Sky City, more recently Col Solare’s hospitality program in Woodinville) will help you select the ideal wine.

Gambrel changes the menu twice a year, adding special items when he gets them, notably the turbot. It’s a fish you don’t see on many menus in Seattle; it’s not a profitable catch for commercial fishermen, but Gambrel gets a few from time to time from his friends at Clipper Seafood.

Something special

Hans Riechsteiner, born in Luzern, Switzerland, brings the eye of an experienced artisan to his new shop, Ascona Chocolat Suisse (2914 E. Madison St.). His first job in the Seattle area was on the night shift as a cheesemaker for Darigold. During the day, he ran a doughnut shop, a Spudnut franchise.

For several years, Riechsteiner worked as a salesman of specialty foods for a company that was bought out by Peterson Fine Foods, a high-end restaurant supply network. Only then, in 1992, did he get around to starting his signature product line, Belgian-style waffles, at his two stores, named Arosa Café — one on First Hill; the other at the northwest end of Madison Valley.

Not Riechsteiner’s anymore, however. He sold the business last year.

One of the secrets to Riechsteiner’s waffles was something called pearl sugar. It’s much coarser than the granulated sugar you put on your cereal, and it’s normally used atop pastries and sweet rolls as decoration. But his recipe called for No. 4 Pearl Sugar to be incorporated into the batter, which gives the waffle an intriguing caramelization.

When he first attempted to purchase enough to make quantities beyond home baking, he found that there was an import quota and had to get special authorization from the Department of Agriculture to circumvent the sugar cartel’s controls. (Yes, there really is a sugar cartel that limits supplies to keep prices high; the two countries that benefit most are India and Brazil.)

No matter today: Riechsteiner, who is in his late 70s, considers himself essentially retired, but he indulges in a hankering for beautiful, tasty morsels by selling an array of chocolate pralines and truffles at his tiny storefront: hazel crunch, cappuccino, calvados, coconut, dulce de leche, cognac.

He opened the shop in August 2013 and carries an inventory of 34 kinds. The chocolates come from a family-owned company founded 50 years ago in the Swiss Alps by a baker and candy-maker named Rudolf Laederach. The business was quite successful, especially after they swallowed a rival chocolatier, Merkur, and, today, has manufacturing facilities in Shanghai and South Korea, as well as Switzerland and Germany. Laederach has its own secrets, notably a process that automates the manufacture of “thin-walled” truffles.

Riechsteiner understands that Madison Park has a sweet tooth: “In Switzerland, a little shop like this would do $2 million a year,” he says.

In the meantime, there’s evidence of the sweet tooth all around: at Oh! Chocolate (3131 E. Madison St.) and at Belle Epicurian (3109 E. Madison St.), just for starters. Oh, and the many dentists in the neighborhood.

RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer and consultant who blogs at Cornichon.org and Crosscut.com. To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.