Lessons in memorable eating

Asian ingredients meet French techniques with masterful results.


214 Central Way, Kirkland; 425-889-2808 lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Sun., Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sun. AE, M, V / wine and beer FOR A TEXTBOOK study in how to run a restaurant during lean times, one need go only as far as downtown Kirkland. There, in a storefront off Central Way, My Linh Tran is packing the house after only six months. Lesson no. 1: It's easier to pack a house when it only has 30 seats. Her little bistro is intimate and feminine, decorated in cream and mint, and ever so refined. Lesson no. 2: During a recession it makes sense to target a highly sustainable customer base—the Eastside establishment, for instance. Lesson no. 3: A one-woman show is the way to go—provided that woman happens to be My Linh Tran. Though servers are (somewhat) in evidence, this operation is every inch Tran's show: She's the founder, the owner, the chef, the reservation-taker (you'd be advised to make them), and at times even the waiter. Her story helps to explain her enterprise. Born in Vietnam of Chinese parents, Tran left as a refugee after the war and wound up in Seattle, apprenticing in the kitchen of, as luck would have it, Dominique Place. Place, arguably the city's master saucier and classical French chef, was performing his magic at Crepe de Paris in the early '80s. What he knew, Tran learned. In 1984 she moved to Houston, and in 1986, New York, where she became head chef at the acclaimed Lavana Moon. Missing Seattle, Tran moved back to take the helm of Crepe de Paris, the underrated, overpriced cabaret in Rainier Square that she steered through the '90s. CUT TO 2001 and Tran's dream, Lynn's Bistro. In the way of sauces, it is as much a diner's dream, for they are as fragrant, potent, and complex as those of her mentor. A bowl of steamed mussels ($9), though themselves somewhat gamey, are bathed in a vigorous coconut curry sauce brightened with strands of fresh basil (does the dish need more sauce or did my palate just want more?). In the shrimp and crabmeat ravioli appetizer ($12), slippery translucent pillows stuffed with shellfish loll in (not enough!) brilliant saffron sauce; the flavors are elegantly complementary. But this dish is most notable as a savvy masquerade, for these raviolis with cheeseless, Chinese fillings are more like pot stickers. This is Tran's signature: wild flights of fusion on a menu that reads straightforwardly Continental. Vietnamese and French cuisines are an old married couple, of course, but from that esteemed union Tran creates her own pan-Asian offspring, resulting in a highly inventive, truly original repertoire of mostly successful dishes. And this is why the community has passionately embraced Lynn's Bistro. A beautifully boned Cornish game hen ($15), gilded and crackling, is arranged in a potent, throat-coating reduction of dried cherry and ginger, alongside a wedge of rich scalloped potatoes and a better-than-average vegetable medley festooned with wild mushrooms. Crab cakes ($18) offer two creamy, heavily onioned, flavorful cakes dressed in (too little!) lobster beurre blanc, with the same vegetable m鬡nge and satisfying mashed purple potatoes. An entr饠salad of wild greens ($10) is terrific, with breaded goat cheese and thickly dressed with an unusual sweet-tart grapefruit vinaigrette. A bay scallop puff pastry special ($21) is also unusual, and brilliantly so; if you happen upon this one, lucky you. A cascade of dice-sized scallops, pearly and beautifully cooked, tumble from a pastry cup piled high with julienned vegetables and draped lavishly in a velvety, peppery saffron sauce enlivened with—weirdly—pesto. The finished product is a glorious fusion, almost Thai in its components, with Asian ingredients meeting French techniques with masterful results (and here, at last, there was enough sauce). Yes, Lynn's has some parched entr饳 (in this bistro with destination sauces!). And a French onion soup ($5) was wan, a grilled pear and spinach salad ($6) cloying, dinner rolls stale (in a French restaurant? Mon Dieu!), and service vastly overburdened. Ironically, these problems may exist because Lynn's is a one-woman enterprise—also the source of the restaurant's greatest success. Desserts finish the evening on a high note, particularly a white-chocolate bread pudding ($6) and a lush, nutty pecan pie ($6). Cultures even collide on the dessert table: That unique flavor you taste in the pumpkin pie ($6) is Chinese five-spice. Lesson no. 4: If you want patrons to remember your restaurant, make the food truly memorable. krobinson@seattleweekly.com

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