Très bon appétit

Where the Seine meets the Sound.

The French paradox has been solved. Now, like the French, Seattleites can constantly, ecstatically dine, drink, and even smoke without any danger to their health. The secret is to eat every meal at Brasserie Margaux. For if you do, you will lead a long and happy life. Only open for five months, the Brasserie is quietly making a name for itself on the competitive Seattle dining scene. We first stumbled across this place when the WTO melee made us change our route home. The cozy bar was a safe haven, amply stocked with regulars and reasonably priced drinks—happy-hour martinis, for instance, are only $2 and change. Tapas are three for $10 (we liked the lightly grilled and marinated octopus and the bread with manchego cheese). Brasserie Margaux

401 Lenora, 777-1990

Mon-Fri 7-10:30am (breakfast), 11-2 (lunch), 5-10 (dinner); Sat-Sun 7am-noon, 5:30-10

MC, V, AE; full bar Enter from Lenora, under the pumpkin-colored glass fixtures. Inside, tile and wood floors and high-backed, comfortable booths are lit by fanciful, beaux arts-colored lights. Bob Puccini, the San Francisco design impresario (who designed Sazerac, Tulio, and the Painted Table) has created a quiet, protective environment, like a well-groomed forest: open and spacious, but with plentiful nooks and crannies. For lunch we tried the cassoulet ($11.50)—the quintessential French winter dish of duck, sausage, and white beans. The hearty, smoky meat brought out the beans' salty tang. A lighter bow tie pasta ($12.95) in an airy garlic-tomato sauce had pleasingly large chunks of perfectly white chicken and little onion bulbs. And the French onion soup ($5.95) came in a small tureen and had sweet broth, onions, and croutons soaked in wine and a satisfying layer of gruyere cheese. At dinner, bread included both French pain and a delicious rosemary-herb bread (it's the attention to these small details that makes an enjoyable meal). Our appetizers were an auspicious beginning: Scallop fricassee ($10.75) featured warm, tender shellfish in a chestnut galette, cooked in a lobster au jus and spiced with saffron. A plate of roasted, stuffed squid ($9.50) was fork-soft, stuffed with finely chopped red and green peppers. Bread with tapenade and sprigs of fresh greens added to the attractive presentation. These memorable appetizers were trumped by a third, the potato mushroom towers ($9.50), each sculpted from a crisp-skinned potato, filled with diced morels and capped with small portobellos. The towers were surrounded by buttery-soft shiitake and oyster mushrooms, which were cut in half and lightly saut饤 in a chicken reduction, and the entirety was drizzled with lively carrot and basil oils. A superb salad included warm lobster, crunchy asparagus tips, and artichoke mousse on a bed of bitter greens ($13.95). The tangy mousse made the dish sing: It was like panning for gold with your fork. My companion and I chose two French classics for our entr饳. The duck a l' orange ($18.50) featured generous pieces of duck in a fragrant sauce, festooned with tiny, tart orange sections. Small, crispy buttons of squash and soft, floury potatoes complemented the sweet meat. The steak frite au poivre vert ($19.50) was perfectly cooked—a bewitching color combination of pink and char-black, it took an iron self-control to not abandon utensils altogether and lick the green peppercorn crust off the meat. A heap of golden, matchstick-thin fries added to the plate's texture and color. Chef Stephane Desgaches began his training at the age of 16, in Lyons, one of the world's culinary capitals. His unique style results from his travels and cooking in Corsica, the French Caribbean, Uruguay, and California. One of his favorite dishes on the menu (which changes every week) is the pheasant in morel sauce ($21). Slices of pheasant were arrayed on a thick pie of green lentils. Every bite of the rich, tan-colored bird was as flavorful as good bread—the taste of something wild and wheat-fed. The vivid mushroom sauce contributed full, well-rounded notes of flavor. The real revelation, though, was the subtle interaction of the lentils with the rest of the dish. Desgaches' talent allows him to see how their earthy, sharp taste could be attuned to the bolder flavors of pheasant and mushrooms. Like Pierrot and Columbine, French food must be accompanied by good wine. The wine list is well-chosen by sommelier Erik Liedholm, whose passion and enthusiasm are contagious. He chose a husky, powerful '95 Cote du Rhone (half-bottle, $31) and a deep, dignified '98 California Carneros Pinot Noir. Although many bottles cost $30 or more, the selection of wines by the glass is more interesting than that of many Seattle restaurants. We ordered a flight of wines ($14) to accompany the pheasant and mushrooms, including a 1996 Chateau Giscours (Margaux, a region of Bordeaux), a '97 Chianti (Isaole e Olene), and a Spanish Clos de L'Obac. A '95 California Altamura Cabernet (Napa Valley, $18 per glass) had a bouquet as heady as brandy. Its lingering, tannic finish on the tongue was like a knife hidden in a flower—the effect of Napa's "Rutherford dust," where the vine's roots pick up the mineral flavors of the soil. As for the Chateau Giscours, it was appetizer, dinner, and dessert. This is French history written in wine—it's all here, from the hairy Gauls, squatting and scowling in caves, to Marcel Proust, reclining in bed and writing the precise history of the senses. Portland-based Clear Creek can't seem to make a bad drink to save their life, and their Eau de Vie de Pomme or Kirschvasser were fine companions to an espresso. For our finale, we sampled the imaginative desserts created by pastry chef Laura Widener, whose warm apple tart ($6) came cooked in a buttery, hazelnut crust and topped with a memorable cognac-caramel sauce. Another deftly handled sweet is the cappuccino mousse ($6), which comes in an edible chocolate espresso cup, complete with handle, filled with a frothy, sweet mousse. It seemed a shame to devour such a work of art, but we did—with gusto. Margaux' service is attentive and friendly, and Parris, one of my favorite local artists, waits tables here. He has designed a playful small poster for the restaurant, showing the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle side by side. His picture doesn't lie: Thanks to Brasserie Margaux, Seattle and Paris have never been so close.

 
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