menuoriginal photo by scott dixon
So maybe heading for one of the more popular restaurants in Seattle’s Belltown on Christmas Eve afternoon isn’t the brightest idea, but it worked out. We walked in and grabbed the only open table. Le Pichet is just up the street from Pike Place Market, and we had ridden the ferry over from Bremerton just to walk the market and be a part of the holiday scene in downtown Seattle. The place is small, and was full of folks enjoying the neighborhood and wrapping up last minute shopping. If you airlifted this restaurant across the world into any neighborhood in Paris, it would be indistinguishable from any other cafe or bistro there. The dim lighting, old tile, the rolled zinc bartop, the slate tables; everything but the smoky atmosphere is right. Run by owners Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron (he cooks, she works the front of the house), the place is a Francophile’s dream. A friend had stopped in one lazy fall afternoon, rated it highly, and it has been on my list ever since. Yes, I actually carry a list of places I want to eat when I travel. It rarely works out that I get to cross anything off of said list, but I have one.

The menus are small, but there are three: Le Casse Croûte, Le Déjeuner, and Le Diner. The choices are few and the dishes simple, but it would be hard to not find something tasty. Only the Le Casse Croûte menu was available to us at 10:30 in the morning (it’s available all day) and we settled on pain et buerre, ouefs plat, jambon et fromage, les tartines.

Sadly we weren’t in town long enough to try the dinner menu, but I’ll be back. Spécialités de la maison include a whole chicken roasted to order, with Walla Walla onions, orange-rosemary butter and eggplant caviar or local mussels sauteed with bacon, leeks, saffron cream, and fried potatoes. Prices range from 5$ to $34, and the highest is for the whole chicken – meant for two. The prices here are unreal, in the best way possible. There are artisanal cheeses available by the ounce or by the plate, with the selection varied daily. Wine is available by the glass,the pitcher (le pichet…), or bottle.

Restaurant Le Pichet
1933 1st Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98101
Telephone: (206) 256-1499
8 am to 12 am Sunday through Thursday
8 am to 2 am Friday and Saturday

city dineroriginal photo by Steve Nigl
The City Diner opened up in February to long lines and high expectations. You can’t have missed the place, with it’s smart neon, glass block, and chrome exterior. It stands out like shiny beacon in an otherwise typical Anchorage drab intersection, promising serious comfort food, vegetarians and dieters be damned. The initial buzz was mixed: There are no substitutions, it’s too expensive, the breakfast menu isn’t going to satisfy any traditionalists, and the long wait for a table seemed to make a few reviewers testy after they realized that they had waited an hour for what was, well, diner fare. A few scattered reports had me a bit nervous: The place sits almost across the street from my office and I’d been anxiously awaiting its opening. City Diner is co-owned by a few other familiar names from the Anchorage dining scene, Jens Nannestad from South Side Bistro and Chef Al Levinsohn from Kincaid Grill.Chef Kelly Thompson was brought in to run the kitchen. She told the KTUU News that “The food is American comfort food, diner food, a little bit retro, ‘Back to the good old days,’ but modernized. We use fresh herbs; we use as much fresh ingredients as we can to make it taste more palatable and little more upscale.”

At first glance the menu is expansive, and a little confusing. The diner motif has carried onto the page, with apparent genuine diner slang staff substituting for useful descriptions. Order it with tears, and you’ll get onions, diner browns are potatoes. A bun pup is a hot dog, and if you’re looking for a cup of joe, order the hot mud. There’s a key to the slang on the menu, but the use is pervasive enough you’ll refer to it a few times before you catch on. The menu covers a lot of ground, from Halibut Olympia to the aforementioned bun pups. The dinner entrées include mostly old standbys you probably haven’t had in years, and your doctor will likely insist that it remain so. Chicken fried steak awash in sausage gravy, pork chops with gravy and apple butter, chicken pot pie, meat loaf with gravy. There’s a lot of gravy going on here. While the sandwich section is deep and wide, from the Flatfoot (fried bologna egg on a shingle) and BLT to the ubiquitous (up here, anyway) halibut sandwich, the burger section is laudably sparse. One or two patties, with the usual choices of condiments, but the only other burger options are an open-faced version covered in chili and cheese with tears, and something called the 1080, a burger on on rye toast with grilled onions. I’m not one for much more than the traditional burger, so a place that doesn’t offer every possible burger flavor/condiment/topping available is fine with me.

Our first visit was late on a Thursday, and although the place was fairly full we did not have to wait for a booth. The inside is as finely diner-detailed as is the architecture outside, and the kitchen is on full display. They have an army of staff back there, too. I counted eight cooks/chefs on the line in some capacity, probably a reflection on the wild disparity in the dishes on the menu. The Partner ordered the chicken-fried steak, we split the fried “O strings” with Parmesan, and I went with the burger. If it’s a diner, it’s gotta have a good burger, right? First, a helpful reminder to those of you not from the South: Chicken fried steak is typically battered and fried BEEF, and it should arrive with sausage gravy. Sausage gravy is not like the other members of the gravy family. It is white, and it has chunks of sausage in it, and these are all good things. The City Diner version was good, in a down-home Swanson dinner kind of way. A large portion, drowning in gravy with “smashed” potatoes, and I took “smashed” to mean whipped to a gluey paste. The baby green beans were sautéed with red pepper and butter, and were tasty. The “O-strings” were surprisingly good. I was very much afraid of something like “Bloomin’ Onion” being set down in front of us, but these were simple: lightly battered crispy strips of onion with fresh Parmesan grated over them. The verdict on my burger was positive. Nice size, cooked to medium rare, crisp & fresh condiments alongside a steamed bun with a pile of diner browns. It didn’t land on my lifetime burger list, but it was fine and will make most folks happy. The prices were reasonable on everything, from the beer and wine selections to the full meals, and ranged from about $4 dollars to $18.95. Nice place, and something different for Anchorage. A greasy spoon without actually having to endure the greasy spoon part.

City Diner
3000 Minnesota Drive
Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Phone: 277-2489

UPDATE: This place started out well, but fizzled pretty fast. The service is generally challenging, and it is hard to be charitable about the food.