If Robin Leach remodeled a 7-Eleven, the result would be the newly opened Porcella Urban Market. Remove the Mike's Hard Lemonade, replace with Yakima late-harvest semillon. No more Slim Jims, only house-cured Tuscan soppressata and fiery chorizo. Instead of munching stale hot pretzels, tuck your napkin into your shirt and sit down to some escargots bourguignonne from inside Porcella's hot case. Potato salad out. Potato salade niçoise in. Top Ramen? Try extra-long, extra-thick, squid-ink-dyed black fettuccine.
Porcella Urban Market 10245 Main St., Suite 101, 425-286-0080, www.porcellaurbanmarket.com. BELLEVUE. Serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"We're a one-stop shop," owner Kelly Gaddis says. "We've got Slow Food, but it's fast. We even have house-prepared meals, now that our sealing machine is working, that are like gourmet TV dinners, ready to go, with staples like steak and mashed potatoes and chicken and risotto. Easy stuff to grab."
Gaddis calls himself a traiteur: the French name for proprietor of a neighborhood delicatessen where locals drop in to buy, say, a pound of fish, a baguette, and a bottle of wine for lunch or dinner. I call it a handsome quickie mart with the following features: a grocery store, a takeout counter, and a cafe-style eatery.
Gaddis' own life inspired him to open Porcella. After cooking in upscale Seattle restaurants for more than 15 years, he left his most recent gig (as part owner of the old Bada Lounge in Belltown) to care for his newborn daughter, Ava. He soon realized there was not enough time in the day to keep up with her and put together a high-quality meal. The traiteur model appealed to him as a way to free up time—for himself and for his customers.
"It works with modern lifestyles," Gaddis says. "There are a lot of duel-income couples or even soccer moms or singles who get to the end of the day and say, 'Holy crap, where has the day gone? I need dinner.'"
With its sleek, moody lighting and cement floors, Porcella sheds some modern attitude on Bellevue's Main Street, a major arterial into Medina that attracts tan, lean, moneyed clients who say things like, "Oh, Todd, I simply must have a Dagoba organic chocolate bar," while waiting in the checkout line.
Two pig-themed businesses, La Cocina del Puerco and the Sophisticated Swine antique shop, stare back from across the street, but don't let Porcella's hog logo throw you. Gaddis named his market after ancient Roman laws for raising and preparing pork; his piggy neighbors are a coincidence, and his wares are not overly pig-centric, though pork is featured prominently in the charcuterie case.
Like Tom Cruise, Porcella's cafe menu is short but rich, composed of soups, salads, sandwiches, and mostly meat- and seafood-based entrées. The first time I ate with friends at one of the handful of petite round tables, I greedily swallowed my golf-ball-sized rhubarb tart ($3) practically whole to make sure nobody pilfered a nibble. Mistake! My taste buds shrieked at being badly shortchanged. I slowed down in order to appreciate the food's simple, flawless details, such as the faint dusting of sea salt atop a dark, dense slice of caramel almond torte ($6); or the slippery truffle aroma that lingered in our mouths long after the waffle-cut potato gaufrettes ($5) were gone; or the blissful, honest-to-God French accent that poured from our waiter's lips (free).
For my main dish, I ordered the croque madame ($10) and wished I'd opted for the croque monsieur ($9), the same sandwich, sans egg. The smoky undertones of the Gruyère and jambon were masked by the runny yolk. Regardless, the braised pork baguette ($11) is the king of sandwiches here, with its stacks of figs cooked in balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions, and tender meat. The effect is sweet, pungent, and mellow. Initially, everyone around the table fork-sparred to take a turn at the special of the day, duck confit ravioli ($13), but the salt and fat inherent in the cooking process quickly weighed heavily in our stomachs. This was the only dish we didn't lick clean.
Those short on minutes and wanting food to go can head straight for the ready-to-serve dishes. "You can get a restaurant- quality meal here and eat it in the comfort of your home in your pajamas with your family if you want," Gaddis says. Meat lovers can opt for house-made and cured meats such as guanciale ($10/pound), pork rillette ($12.50/pound), and foie gras pâté ($28.50/pound).
To build up anticipation and saliva levels before sitting down to eat, I first browsed Porcella's chic shelves of groceries. The sundry items—most of them organic and/or local—made me want to throw a fancy house party where I would serve bamboo rice that, apparently, tastes like green tea, followed by scalloped madeleines drizzled with cinnamon pear maple syrup.
No, this urban market will never replace Safeway or Whole Foods in my life, but it definitely fills an exotic niche. Luckily, Gaddis is planning a hefty schedule of cooking and wine classes so customers will know what to do with their specialty purchases. Because, although the presence of fancy sea salt or expensive balsamic might make it look like you have a rich and famous lifestyle, it's even cooler if you know how to use it.