La Bete Puts the B in Superb

Chez Gaudy's successor is SUPER BADASS!

It's so wondrous to discover something filled with wonder. Like your own little piece of heaven, filled with all sorts of heavenly things like Jesus and stuff. If you're unlike me and haven't found such a truly delightful Shangri-La, then I pity you—so much, in fact, that I'll let you know the secret location of my own personal Arcadia: La Bête. La Bête is located on the ground floor of an unassuming apartment building on Bellevue Avenue on Capitol Hill. Chez Gaudy, the previous tenant, had great wine specials and cheap food, and the menu was probably the funniest I've ever read. But the restaurant sucked. Needless to say, La Bête is much nicer. It's quite elegant, with plaster ceilings, chandeliers, and molding. A long bar wraps around the open kitchen. It's bigger, too: They've widened the floor plan, so now the dining room gapes open invitingly, like your mom. Luckily, the food is even more awesome than the building itself. On the menu, dishes are grouped into two categories: snacks or plates. Listed among the snacks are house-made pork rinds. There was no way I was going to pass these up, at $5, which gets you a small plate piled with an enormous cumulonimbus of pork rinds—a pale ivory color and so light and fluffy, it's as if they've somehow managed to fry an angel. When bit, they crunch as loudly as the dubbed-in crunching sound in a Doritos commercial. They are also deceptively spicy. As I munched loudly through these things, the heat mounted until it was just piquant enough to be irritating, like one of those alarm clocks that slowly increases the pressure on your testicles until you wake up. (Don't you have one of those?) Still, the rinds are damn tasty. A duck-and-pork paté was on special, and they clearly labeled this item properly because it sure was special. This is a big, thick square of creamy paté, as rich as Mr. Burns and coarsely marbled in pink and lighter pink. It's studded with pistachios, its perimeter ringed with a soft, flavorful ribbon of pork belly. Accompanying the paté are a few thin slices of rustic baguette and a small salad of frisée, blood orange, thinly sliced radish, and pomegranate. This salad is fresh, bitter, citrusy, and tart, and dispels the paté's fatty haze as efficiently as a wizard. Entrées include a red-and-gold beet salad. It's interesting: Big, semicircular slices of red and gold beet poke their heads up from a nest of frisée, watermelon radish, and green peppers. It's bejeweled with pomegranate seeds. Salty bombs of feta pop up intermittently. There is also mint and fennel frond. This salad has a lot going on. I was hesitant to order the mushroom bread pudding, because when people make savory bread puddings they usually mean well, but they typically come out tasting like a salty kitchen sponge. Luckily, La Bête's mushroom bread pudding is delightful: a delicate golden puck, with a tangy Gruyère crust and a steamy, bubbly interior, resting atop a bed of caramelized onions and sautéed chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, and black trumpets. There are Brussels sprouts too; these are quartered and steamed and maybe a bit too farty-smelling. They're much tastier than the shitty cafeteria sprouts that taste the way a fat man's laundry hamper smells, but if they'd roast the sprouts first, the dish would be flawless. For $12, the poached duck egg with duck-fat potatoes is a steal. We sat at the bar and watched a chef heap shredded potatoes into a cast-iron dish, ladle a big, golden tsunami of melted duck fat over it, then stick it in the oven for a while. Halfway through, a chef took it out and painstakingly flipped it with a tiny offset spatula. Then he popped it back into the oven and baked it some more. When it was done, he cut it lengthwise and plated half of it. The potatoes are served with sautéed chanterelles, lentils, and lardons in a fathoms-deep demiglace. On top of this is a perfect, glistening opal of poached egg, which when cut weeps gleaming yellow tears of yolk all over the delicious menagerie below. I was aggravated that the chicken and dumpling only includes one dumpling, but La Bête carefully avoids charges of false advertising by using the singular. We could watch the chef make this too: He scooped up a tablespoon of green-speckled batter, then with military exactitude used another tablespoon to shape it into a perfect quenelle, cleverly brandishing his spoons with precision and looking like a berserk, spoon-wielding robot. He flicked the quenelle into a steaming saucepan to cook. The resulting dumpling is served amid a bed of butternut squash purée and roasted hazelnut. It's totally delicious—airy, herbal, and comforting. Topping it all off is an airline chicken breast, as juicy as gossip, with shatteringly crisp skin. The breast is stuffed with prunes and sage. This dish is superb. Here's a short etymology lesson about the word "superb": It's similar to the word "super," but better because of the extra "b" at the end. The "b" is for "badass," so "superb" really means SUPER BADASS! The ne plus ultra of the evening was the Muscovy duck breast. Like everything else on La Bête's menu, this is affordably priced at $19, though they offer to add a piece of seared foie gras for $15 more. Of course I instantly agreed to this addition. I was expecting a minuscule sliver of foie, but once again La Bête exceeded my expectations: the piece of liver quivering atop my pile of duck breast was a huge slab the size of a 3 Musketeers bar. If you tried to buy this much foie from a place like Crush, the amount of money it would cost could only be quantified with an imaginary number of dollars, like a bazillion. Then you could comically turn your pockets inside out like they do on cartoons, and moths would fly out to indicate that your pockets are devoid of cash, and you'd have to wash dishes at Crush for years to pay off your bill. Seared a pleasing chocolate brown on the outside yet still pink within, the foie gras is served riding aboard a pile of sliced duck breast. The breast is really good—a tight mantle of crisp brown skin hugs the fat against the rosy medium-rare flesh. Off to one side sits a satiny mound of turnip purée, some roasted chestnuts, and half a cipollini onion, and the whole thing swims in a shallow pool of rich pan reduction. A couple batons of tart green apple lounge around, too. This dish could only be more wintery if it were garnished with candy canes and brought to your table by Bing Crosby. We finished the evening with profiteroles: four pastry nuggets drizzled in chocolate sauce and topped with a frizzly corona of spun sugar. The paté a choux pastry shells seemed a bit leathery, but profiteroles are frequently leathery. That's because paté a choux was invented 500 years ago, back when people ate maggot-infested meat and drank water that had dead frogs floating in it, so of course they thought dense, unleavened pastry was the best thing ever. The profiteroles are filled with a lemon-hazelnut cream, which was not as cloying as I feared. The spun sugar tasted like caramel and was actually painful to eat—each bite sunk countless candy daggers into the roof of my mouth. It was like eating angry cotton candy. La Bête is so good that I would willingly post the video of the time I ate so many pot brownies that I laughed at a Neosporin commercial until I couldn't breathe if it meant I could go back. Luckily I don't have to stoop to that, because I can go back anytime. I wouldn't call it classically French, since they serve stuff like pork rinds and dumplings, but it's still pretty fucking classic. Let's just say it occupies a satisfying middle ground: French enough to offend any Republican who might want to dine there, but not so French that you need a master's degree to read the menu. food@seattleweekly.com The Surly Gourmand writes "your mom" jokes every week on Voracious, Seattle Weekly's food blog (seattleweekly.com/voracious). Price Check: Pork Rinds  $5 Pork-and-Duck Pate  $12 Red-and-Gold Beet Salad  $12 Mushroom Bread Pudding  $14 Poached Duck Egg  $12 Chicken and Dumpling  $18 Muscovy Duck Breast  $19 Profiteroles  $10

 
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