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Friday, December 23, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Boat Street Café The true essence of the French bistro

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Boat Street Caf/Boat Street Kitchen 3.0 stars


3131 Western Ave., Suite 301, Seattle; 206-632-4602

www.boatstreetcafe.com and www.boatstreetkitchen.com

French

$$$

Reservations: recommended.

Hours: Boat Street Caf: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; Boat Street Kitchen: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

Prices: Boat Street Caf: starters $4.50-$10.95, entrees $15.50-$22.50. Boat Street Kitchen: soup/salad: $4-$4.50, sandwiches/main dishes $7.50-$10.50; desserts $6.50.

Drinks:A modest list of (mostly) French-speaking wines is priced to please.

Parking: none.

Sound: A convivial din that may offend noise-sensitive diners. Who should go: Those who respect the noble notion that simplicity is the soul of great cookery.

Wine and beer/credit cards: AE, DISC, MC, V/no obstacles to access.

Closed for Christmas, New Year


After today, Boat Street will be closed for the holidays, from Saturday through Jan. 2, reopening with regular hours Jan. 3.

If the breeze is just right when you round the corner of the Northwest Work Lofts building, you'll catch the scent of lavender and believe, for a magical moment, that summer's in the air.

The source of that scent is an herb garden next to a torch-lit courtyard — the entrance to the Boat Street Café, a dinner-only bistro adjacent to its daytime counterpart, the Boat Street Kitchen.

The pretty blue café tables in the courtyard are empty now, but it's easy to imagine them in August, filled with couples sitting in the sun drinking rosé and slathering chicken liver pâté on rustic toasts. The door on the right leads to the Kitchen, which shares cooking space with the Café.

The Kitchen adjunct, a slender space with very high ceilings, mysteriously manages to feel both cozy and industrial. Here's the spot for a late breakfast of pastries (a currant scone, perhaps) or eggs (poached, with goat-cheese baguette), or a lunch that will make you want to linger longer than planned.

And who wouldn't want to linger when a midday repast can be made of moist smoked rainbow trout with vinaigrette-splashed fingerling potatoes. Or a delicate yearling-oyster stew capped with a pouf of puff pastry.

You could certainly be forgiven for dawdling late in the day over coffee and crumbly blackberry cobbler, warm from the oven. And you'd be foolish not to contemplate a crusty baguette sandwich filled with herb-roasted pork or lemony chicken breast, best enjoyed with something cold and bubbly — say, an Orval Trappist Ale or a sparkling Cremant de Limoux.

Come evening, the Kitchen closes and the Café comes to life. Here you'll find a cache of small slate-topped tables and a big wooden one that can seat a crowd. Whitewashed walls wear a gallery of whimsical art from truly "local" artists: One cooks here, another waits tables. That's chef/owner Renee Erickson's Lab, Jeffry, rendered in chalk, looming large up front.

An attentive cadre of friendly service pros will greet you as you enter. As will a convivial din, courtesy of patrons laughing, dining and table-hopping. Do all these people know each other, or is it just your imagination? You'll soon feel like one of the gang, breaking bread and plucking Niçoise olives from a plate that also holds a pat of unsalted butter in a pool of olive oil.

While you snack, peruse the mostly French wine list whose modest length and comfortable prices will encourage you to share a bottle. Now it's time to consider dinner, knowing that appetizers are eminently shareable, rich rewards are unavoidable and dessert is unassailable.

Begin with petite Penn Cove mussels. Their steaming liquid, white wine, tarragon and shallots, will clue you in — if the surroundings haven't already done the trick — that the chef takes her culinary cues from France and abides by the noble notion that simplicity is the soul of great cookery.

Proving that point are organic salad greens, a constant player as lead or supporting cast, glistening with beautifully balanced vinaigrettes. A bouquet of tatsoi, spinach and frisee sets off a seductive slab of chicken liver pâté perfumed with port. Chubby sardines pair with spicy arugula, fingerling potatoes, scarlet beets and salty capersberries. Walnut oil adds its toasty essence to a pear salad whose red-skinned fruit and blue-veined cheese are perfectly ripened.

The list of entrees is brief and changes often. It may offer an opportunity to knife into rosy beef tenderloin with a bold, briny tapenade — served at room temperature to underscore the fine flavors. Dungeness crab cakes flaunt little more than the name suggests. Hood Canal oysters baked in a cream sauce are punctuated with bacon and breadcrumbs. And if your inner vegetarian longs to take flight, there's no better vehicle than a custard-based, cheddar-stoked, marjoram-scented "Roasted Shallot Flan."

Consider yourself fortunate to end your meal with a dark chocolate pot de crème, or a luxurious triple crème cheese.

For all of this you can thank Renee Erickson and her business-partner, Susan Kaplan. Fate has thrown them together once (at the original Boat Street Café near the University Bridge), twice (as co-owners of the Boat Street Kitchen, a catering and box-lunch business on Eastlake) and finally landed them in this special place where they've created something new. Reflective of the old, it's a joy to behold.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com. More reviews at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants

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Sample menu

Chicken Liver Pâté $10.95

Herb-crusted Roast Pork Sandwich $8.75

Sardine Plate $9.50

Oysters Gratin $16.95

Beef in Black Olive Marinade $22

Berry Cobbler $6.50

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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