Taste of the Town
FareStart is a hot addition to the downtown restaurant landscape
Seattle Times restaurant critic
Leson on KPLU
Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants air on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Wednesdays, and at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays (this week's topic: pizza).
Wow. That's the word for the FareStart Restaurant, anchoring the nonprofit's gorgeous new digs at Seventh Avenue and Virginia Street in Seattle. A stunning building renovation -- the result of a three-year fundraising campaign and $8 million of community support -- makes the restaurant (206-267-7601 or farestart.org) one of the hottest lunch tickets in town.
Every penny spent here helps lead to a better life for the homeless who've made it their quest to find a new life through the nonprofit's intensive 16-week training course. That course extends from life skills to knife skills, produces 2,500 meals a day for homeless shelters and low-income daycare facilities, and for nearly half of the students involved in the rigorous program it leads directly to jobs in the food-service industry. Long shoehorned into antiquated quarters in Belltown's Josephinum building, FareStart -- launched in 1992 -- welcomed the public to its new 124-seat restaurant early this month, offering weekday lunches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and weekly "Guest Chef" nights Thursdays. That's when some of the city's top chefs share the spotlight with FareStart students during those three-course $24.95 dinners. (See farestart.org for a list of guest chefs, whose portraits line a "Wall of Fame" in the dining room.)
Staffers, volunteers and students worked hard to transition into the Virginia Street space, an effort worthy of a hallelujah chorus given what they've got: administrative offices on the top floor and spacious kitchen, prep areas, classroom space and catering and banquet facilities throughout.
Restaurant meals are prepared by students under the direction of staff chefs Drew Borus and Lyndon Warner, and served by gracious volunteers paid a higher-than-average hourly wage so that their tips may be directed back into the training program.
Last week I checked out the place and enjoyed, as the ad campaign so rightly trumpets, "Without doubt, the most socially responsible crouton you'll ever eat." That crouton arrived crisp and thin as accompaniment to whole-leaf romaine hearts artfully arranged with stem-end attached as an elegant Caesar salad ($3.25). I ate it while sitting alone, center-stage, at the 18-seat community table.
Hewn from beams rescued during renovation, that table would be the envy of high-profile restaurants everywhere. As would the interior design, with its soaring ceilings, exposed beams and dual-level dining space courtesy of Starbucks' Darren Medina -- who volunteered his time and efforts to make this place the fashionable flagship it's so obviously become.
That Caesar was followed by a flat-iron steak with a pair of beer-battered onion rings, the rosy slices arrayed over sautéed lacinato kale in a luxurious moat of blue cheese-accented cream sauce: exactly the kind of meal I'd expect to find at say, Restaurant Zoe or the Dahlia Lounge. At $10.50, it marked the high-end of a menu whose sandwiches and burgers, entree-size salads and other lunch specialties average about $7.
Seated among other savvy diners who know a bargain when they eat one, I finished up with an exceptional crème brûlée ($4.25) and an espresso capped with perfect crema ($2). Do-good dining notwithstanding, it was a memorable meal indeed.
New Place Pigalle owners
After 25 years, proprietor Bill Frank will bid adieu to his darling bistro, Place Pigalle (81 Pike St., Pike Place Market, Seattle; 206-624-1756. "The deal should be finalized within a month," says Frank, who is selling to Seth and Lluvia Walker. "Their plan is to change nothing," Frank says, noting that his staff -- including longtime chef Tom Schultz, is expected to remain at the romantic little restaurant and bar.
As for Frank's plans? After helping the couple transition without any breaks in service, he'll take his leave. "I've got two houses that leak. I'll work on them, maybe take a trip to Europe, spend more time on Saltspring Island, where I have a joint, sail more, garden more, do all the things that I haven't had the time to do."
The Walkers, who've been running a home daycare while they raise two children, are gearing up for a life change, one that will have them back in the restaurant world after a lengthy absence. "Bill's heart and soul is in this restaurant, and a lot of mentoring is taking place," says Seth, who has been working part-time at Place Pigalle, meeting customers and learning from the man he calls "a mentor."
Walker will be a familiar face from a career that spanned years -- and some of Seattle's best-known restaurants. He has worked at places old-timers will fondly recall: Brasserie Pittsbourg, Lion O'Reilly's and Lake Union Cafe among them. As food and beverage manger at the Alexis Hotel's Painted Table, he worked with chef-exec Emily Moore, hired her replacement, Tim Kelley, and helped make certain things went smoothly during the Sultan of Brunei's memorable $400,000 hotel stay. ("The tip financed our honeymoon," he recalls.)
Walker should expect a warm welcome from at least one fellow Pike Place Market restaurateur. Back when he worked for Schwartz Brothers at Benjamin's, he hired a talented young chef named Matt Janke -- whose beloved Matt's in the Market, just across from Place Pigalle, is set to reopen in mid-April in expanded digs (see mattsinthemarket.com for details).
Mackie ties the knot
Macrina Bakery & Cafe's Leslie Mackie, owner of three retail shops (in Belltown, on Queen Anne and on Vashon Island) and an ever-burgeoning wholesale bakery (bringing beautiful breadstuffs to restaurants and food stores near you) announced a surprising new partnership last week. She's tying the business knot with Matt Galvin, Pat McDonald and Pat McCarthy, the brain trust behind Pagliacci Pizza and DeLaurenti Specialty Food and Wine.
"They're much more accomplished than I am," says Mackie, who will continue to run the creative side of her bakeries and cafes (www.macrinabakery.com) while leaving the financial end to her new partners.
"My love is creating, baking and seeing the products evolve," she says, noting that after key employees left her 13-year-old company -- including one nine-year veteran who'd run her wholesale division and human-relations department -- she was forced to re-evaluate and reorganize. "It's one thing to come up with the products and another to maintain that quality for years."
Asked whether the partnership is a nod toward expansion, Mackie demurs. "What we're doing is sustaining the momentum. They're coming in with infrastructure, to help with the back of the house, with accounting, taking the pressure off me so I can work with my production managers more."
Impressed with the growth her partners have achieved after taking over at Pagliacci and DeLaurenti -- two of Seattle's iconic businesses -- Mackie approached them with merger in mind. "They've taken a good thing and made it better," she says. And that's what she hopes will happen with Macrina. "We've spent a good five months getting to know each other. Their commitment to quality and detail is phenomenal."
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson
Information in this article, originally published February 21, was corrected February 22. A previous version of the story contained an incorrect Web address for Place Pigalle.
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