Supper in Spooksville

Carnegie's offers classic French cuisine. Just ignore the ghosts.

Zoinks! Where are Scooby and the gang when you need them? Dinner in Ballard's old Carnegie Library is, like, spooky for sure. Inside, it feels like a forgotten castle. Velma wouldn't be jinxed at all if the Phantom peeked out from behind one of the regal paintings that decorate Carnegie's two lofty dining rooms or if the ghost of old Redbeard were hiding behind one of the rich tapestries that loom over the floor- to-ceiling windows. Luckily, the only surprise is finding high-quality, classical French food in the heart of Ballard. Most young neighborhood residents, the ones who frequent the pubs and the fish-and-chips joints, have probably not set foot inside Carnegie's since it opened last June. It's not that kind of place. Carnegie's is an event. One suitable for Ladies Who Lunch—that is, ladies who can afford lunch with a capital L. Too bad, then, that Carnegie's doesn't serve lunch apart from Sunday brunches, but your grandmother, that classy old dame, would adore Carnegie's—grand foyer, crimson-walled dining rooms, oversized antique wood furniture, thick white tablecloths, and all. Because it's impos­sible (not to mention illegal, due to historic-preservation laws) to exorcise the soul of such an old institutional building, the spirit of Library remains so strongly that one can imagine a ghost bookshelf full of ghost copies of Beowulf hovering by one's table. My companion and I found ourselves whispering, as if a librarian would come along and slap us with her ruler if we spoke aloud. Upon sitting down in Carnegie's, the formal service and hushed classical music make it apparent that one is to be serious about one's dinner here. But it's fun to be serious about dinner every once in a while, though I resisted the urge to refer to my companion as Lord Higsby of the Hill. And it's easy to be serious about food this good. It's not "creative," just remarkable for its fantastic flavor and skillful preparation. Chef Jerry Brahm was classically trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and apprenticed at the venerable Gerard's in Maui. After operating the popular Bistro on 24th in North Ballard for five years, he and wife Susan opened Carnegie's last year to realize his belief that classic French cuisine should be prepared in the tradition of the great masters—simply, allowing superior ingredients to speak for themselves. My three-course, $25 prix-fixe menu began with a spot-on French onion soup, a traditional Parmesan-crusted baguette "crouton" filling in for the cheesy breadcrumbs I'm more accustomed to. The second course, a sumptuous roast pork loin with a mild apple-cabbage sauerkraut and baby boiled potatoes, was classic and good. My companion's choice tenderloin fillet ($25) melted in his mouth. He loved the wild mushrooms and Roquefort demi-glace that topped it, though as a man used to the 16-ounce sirloin customary at steak houses, he hungered for more meat. (On the other hand, he would have a hard time finding a tenderloin of such high quality for less than $40 at any of the swank downtown steak houses). A side of Parmesan-whipped potatoes had perhaps a pinch too much cinnamon and nutmeg, resulting in a foreign taste we didn't care for. This may be a classic French recipe, but to this American girl, it tasted strange. But the chocolate mousse was divine, light as a cloud and rich as can be. At another sitting, a rustic coq au vin ($25 with the three-course prix-fixe menu or $18 à la carte) was moist and flavorful, the tender chicken basking in a rich red wine sauce with strips of portobello, bacon, and onions. It was served with the same unappetizing potatoes, but the Parisienne salad ($7 à la carte) was superb, its leaves of spinach and romaine topped with meaty chunks of crab in a Pernod dressing. A duck confit (prix-fixe only) was classic and served atop a lot of greens (warning: You don't need to order a salad with this dish). We fought over the fantastic side dish of Gruyère and Asiago potatoes au gratin. The crème caramel (with $25 prix-fixe) we finished with was rich and delicious. Apparently, it's easy enough to get over the self-consciousness of dining in such lofty and austere surroundings; Carnegie's appears to have regulars, so it's not just for Aunt Mildred's bridge-club night out. Still, with most entrées priced upward of $20, a meal here would be extravagant for most budgets—though certainly something worth saving for. The wine list is short (Brahm is clearly a kitchen man), so aficionados may want to bring their own bottle ($10 corkage fee). You may want to bring your Mystery Machine and spyglass, too—in the mind of one reared on Scooby Doo reruns, a dinner here could imaginably end with you pulling off your waiter's mask to reveal . . . the Ghost of Captain Piscato! Carnegie's, 2026 N.W. Market St., 206-789-6643, BALLARD, $$-$$$. Dinner 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Thurs., 5–9:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.; brunch 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun.

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