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Friday, September 14, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Neighborhood Deals

Sexy salon surprises with fine French fare

Special to The Seattle Times

At first, The Sitting Room is all mood. You can choose to drink at the bar, dine at small cafe tables, sink into a couch complete with a low table or ease onto a row of old wooden cinema-style seats in front of a coffee table. The low lighting from wall sconces, hanging lights and old-fashioned standing lamps beckons as if you've come to this mustard-tinted milieu on Lower Queen Anne to drink illicit substances and smoke clove cigarettes.

The Sitting Room

108 W. Roy St., Seattle

$$

French

Recommended

206-285-2830

Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight, Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 5-11 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays.

MasterCard and Visa / no checks / no pipes, cigars or clove cigarettes

Even the slow, throbbing jazz sounds the way a lullaby would after a few drinks. But then the ceiling fans that make the stained-glass lamps sway gently remind you to breathe deeply and note that no smoke lingers here. (In fact, the menu expressly outlaws clove cigarettes.)

A glance at the specials scribbled on the blackboard confirms that this is not a cocoon where people sit altering their minds, but rather a relaxing establishment for enjoying drinks and light, gourmet French fare. You can go minimalist and sip wine and sample fine European cheeses while munching olives marinated in herbs and spices, or you can assemble a simple meal that expands elegantly across your palate.

My boyfriend and I chose the latter. We ordered a hard cider and a Guinness, and pounced on the tapenade. Usually I savor the highly salty taste of this minced-olive paste, even when it disables parts of my tongue, but this tapenade surprised me with its mere hint of salt and its pleasing, smooth texture. It is now my reigning favorite.

Next we both ordered soup, forgoing the carrot bisque for garlic-potato-leek and butternut squash. I had forgotten how much I love butternut squash soup. Soft and slightly sweet with a comforting bulk, the soup slows your spoon so you remember each sip.

When I turned my attention to the potato leek soup, it was the evening's only disappointment. Not even a hint of garlic rose above the watery, flavorless broth. But the next course revived us.

My alderwood-smoked duck-breast salad with grapes and hazelnuts could only be called extraordinary. Delicate fronds of organic greens supported thin slabs of Muscovy duck breast slightly warmed and as deep in taste as cured gourmet bacon. I thought the flavors would never stop, and they didn't — next came plump, citrusy grapes and sweetly sharp hazelnuts. The grand finale, the orange-pomegranate molasses vinaigrette, was a trickle of tanginess that especially complemented the duck.

At the Sitting Room, classic Italian grilled sandwiches known as panini come in four varieties, plus the special of the week. My partner chose the one with prosciutto, provolone, artichokes and grilled red peppers. So thinly sliced and delicate was the prosciutto that he took his first bite, frowned and said, "no meat." I tested his theory and found that it did taste meatless, but it was no matter. Crunchy like an English muffin, the sandwich offered instead soft artichokes free of brine and firm, grilled red peppers that tasted roasted but weren't.

We added a few of the peppers to the remaining tapenade, creating a delightful combustion of flavors. Sated, we could only glance longingly at the dessert list: mocha hazelnut cake, citrus cake and nectarines and vanilla ice cream drizzled with a port reduction.

As we prepared to wrench ourselves from the coziness of our table, I looked around once more. "This place is sexy," I said with a smile. It must be at least magical because I then heard my boyfriend of three years say, "I don't know about the place, but you are." Ah, what mood lighting and good food can do.

Check please

Tapenade: This is the king of all tapenades, in my opinion. Most are obscured by saltiness, which puts many people off. Don't let past experiences deter you from trying this one.

Butternut squash soup: This delicious soup is soft, soothing comfort in a cup or a bowl.

Alderwood-smoked duck breast with grapes and hazelnuts: This combination of ingredients and their flavors is an ingenious creation — and only $7.

Prosciutto, provolone, artichoke and grilled red bell pepper panini: Softer and more fun to savor than your usual lunch cafe panini, the four ingredients add up to a great sandwich.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Tapenade: $5.50

Prosciutto, provolone, artichoke heart and grilled red bell pepper panini: $7.50

Cup butternut squash soup: $3.50

Cup garlic-potato-leek soup: $3.50

Small salad of alderwood-smoked duck breast with grapes and hazelnuts: $7.00

Blackthorn hard cider in a bottle: $3.50

Guinness stout on tap: $4

Total: $34.50

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