On a pissy-wet Saturday evening, my friend Peter and I come up from the viaduct, dodging traffic and the puddles on Western Avenue.
“This way,” I say, and turn us into the canyon of Post Alley, out of sight of Ivar’s and the Crab Pot. I know Seattle’s waterfront is a toss-up. There’s good stuff to be found there if one knows how to navigate around the bad. Tonight, I have a very particular place in mind.
We come out of the alley and onto the Harbor Steps and Lecosho is right there, with the best promise ever written right onto the little sandwich board outside the front door: Stuff We Like. It’s the motto of the place, and really the only description of the cuisine required. In an age when everything must be “Pan-Pacific Fusion” or “Locally Produced New American Regional Classic Comfort Food,” Stuff We Like is a welcome hit of honesty and simplicity, allowing for everything while promising nothing at all.
Check out a Food Porn slideshow of Lecosho.
A restaurant serving Stuff I Like would include pork barbecue, tacos, shrimp cakes, cheap lager, cassoulet, salami sandwiches, corned-beef hash, har gow, Cuban coffee, pancakes, maguro sashimi, chocolate-covered cherries, and Bavarian pretzels smeared with goat cheese. It’d be open all night, showing spaghetti Westerns, old sci-fi movies, and black-and-white ’50s classics about good girls going wrong on TVs hung above the bar, and have a killer jukebox with a robotic arm that came out and slapped you if you tried to play anything by the Dave Matthews Band.
But Lecosho serves what owner Matt Janke (ex–Matt’s in the Market) and his staff like, borders and history be damned.
The thing they like the most is pig. There’s a pig on the menu. The restaurant’s logo is a pig. And Lecosho means pig in Chinook. So if nothing else, this restaurant and I have that in common, because the pig is the most magically delicious animal on earth. You want to rate any other food on a scale of relative goodness? Compare it to the best pork chop you’ve ever eaten.
This is why I will never be a vegetarian.
Early on this Saturday night, Lecosho is empty, but full of the promise of tables to come. The best thing any restaurant can be on any night is full of actual people. The second-best thing is to be full of people who just haven’t arrived yet—to be looking at a full book, a completely committed floor, from opening straight through ’til close.
And that’s where Lecosho is tonight. It opened just four months ago, but already there isn’t a reservation to be had. When I step to the host’s stand and ask for a table for dinner, he makes that face—the host’s face: pursing his lips and shaking his head just a little; the face of a host who is actually ecstatic but playing at being regretful. “I’m sorry,” he says. “We don’t have a single table available tonight.”
But there is space at the bar—the last refuge of the perpetually unprepared. I tell him that we’ll take the last available bar table and he happily waves us in its direction, pointing a waitress our way.
These are things Janke likes, according to his menu: duck, potatoes, potatoes cooked in duck fat, beans and legumes as a starch (when he isn’t using potatoes soaked in duck fat), rustic presentations of grilled and roasted chicken that remind the careful observer of those French farmhouse classics without actually being French, sardines, olives, rillettes with fat caps on their ends, and lentils.
Janke likes lentils a lot, apparently. He uses them in varying preparations on two or three or four different dishes, depending on the night and what’s on the specials board. Not only that, but he (or someone on his crew) is a master of lentils.
“Master of lentils” is one of those phrases that I honestly never thought I would write in my life. Certainly not outside some creepy, rattletrap mega-vegan cafe where everything smells like wheat germ and feet. But “master of lentils” is the only title I can bestow which gives appropriate gravitas to the masterful lentil-making abilities of whoever prepped the bowl of sharply flavored, wine-dark, savory little buggers that ended up sitting before Peter and I, mounted by a single link of housemade sausage and half a soft-boiled egg.
The sausage itself was good—thickly filled, perfectly grilled, and with a nice snap to the skin. What’s more, it was almost ideally shaped, which among human sausage- makers can be a difficult trick to manage without years and years of practice.
The egg was equally good. I would’ve liked to have had both halves, sure, but it was prettier presented as it was—a sunny yellow yolk quivering inside its perfect white oculus.
But the lentils, with their surge of salt, simple mirepoix, and sting of acid, were just plain addictive. They’re the kind of thing you go back to time and again, dipping in a spoon or a fork long after the protein—the main focus of the dish, for which the lentils are mere supporting players—is gone.
Lecosho’s kitchen uses lentils with their sausage and egg. They use a similar preparation as the base for a bowl of duck confit and rounds of potato fried in duck fat, which Peter and I attack as if we were starving, even though it arrives as something like our fifth or sixth course. With salmon (wild sockeye, dressed with an herbed aioli) the lentils come again, this time bright and spiked with citrus flavors. And in all their forms, they work better than the slightly undersalted white beans that floor a bowl of otherwise amazing porchetta (the meat rolled, roasted, and sliced so that the fatty skin is crispy and drooling with the essence of roasted pig and the inside is stiff and just this side of medium rare); better than the dull and gummy spaetzle in a weak brown-butter sauce; and better than the sticky polenta that comes with the house-brined pork chop.
It’s perfectly good polenta. Just not as good as the lentils.
Peter and I eat the spaetzle, which improves dramatically when mixed with the lentils—a little bit of reflected excellence that goes a long way. We eat olives from a bowl on the table and thick slabs of rillette made of pork belly cured in aquavit—the meat smooth, the rich lozenge of fat on top perfect for spreading across the crusty bread served with it, better than any butter imaginable.
On other nights, I will return for fish soup in a broth spiked with saffron and sofrito, rich with shellfish and chunks of salmon; for short ribs rubbed with espresso and crowned with pickled beets; and for bottles of Dixie lager. But tonight, we sit in a room that has gone from being packed with potential to filled with actual people, with an overflow crowd hanging around outside in the drizzle, just waiting. The service is excellent, quiet and unassuming with a fine sense of timing—the kind you don’t even notice until someone arrives at your shoulder with plates of duck or glasses of wine. We spend hours eating and talking, discussing the small triumphs and smaller failures of this little glassed-in box above the water, and as the clock rolls on and the dining room turns over, we forget about the rain still beading the windows outside.
The mark of any good restaurant is its ability to make you forget everything but what’s on the plate in front of you and the company you’re keeping while you eat.
Lecosho isn’t great. Not yet. Too many little mistakes—the dull spaetzle, the undersalted beans, a dessert menu that is both sad and small, and about 10 years out of date—stick like burrs in a meal’s otherwise smooth progression. It is missing that inch of height or ounce of weight or single degree of brilliance that makes a good menu unforgettable. Things like the porchetta, the sausage, the rillette, and those lentils all prove there’s talent in the kitchen, room yet for Lecosho to grow, and time for it to correct those small errors that hold it back.
Short ribs $10
Fish soup $10