Americain Beauty in Kirkland

Don't be intimidated by Ted Furst's bombastic bistro.

One should approach Kirkland's Le Grand Bistro Américain with caution, mostly because unless you have a master's in French, you will sound silly trying to say its name. "Where are you eating dinner tonight?" a friend will ask you. Then when you tell him, you will immediately butcher the restaurant's name, sounding mealy-mouthed in your reply, like a film student drinking coffee and discussing Truffaut. Once you get inside, of course, your trepidation about Le Grand's possible pretentiousness will melt away. The locale is bombastic, for sure: The restaurant overlooks a marina at Carillon Point in Kirkland. If you're lucky, you'll get a booth next to the window, where you can gaze at the yachts bobbing up and down in their slips on Lake Washington. The kitchen was once helmed by chef Scott Emerick, who formerly owned Madrona's tony Crémant (the chef is now Jeff Slemaker). Yet Le Grand Bistro Américain is swank without being imposing. It's as though they took Bastille's grandiosity and turned it down a couple clicks.So is the food as successful as the interior design?Their salade maison is essentially a pile of phallic, conical endive leaves, topped with chopped walnuts and bukkaked in Roquefort "vinaigrette." They take a lot of liberties with the word "vinaigrette," actually just some crumbled Roquefort coated in olive oil. The endive is crisp, but a little low-key bitterness lingers, like a child forced to say he's sorry. When I could get a bite of all the ingredients together, it was really good: The Roquefort is comforting yet sharp, and like a British nanny, quells the endive's brattiness. The walnuts are mainly there for textural contrast and are mostly tasty, though I wish there were more cheese.The onion soup has an intense onion flavor, miles deep. The traditional doughy, waterlogged crouton on top is pinned down by a melted-Gruyère tarp. The broth below is inky black, like a bastard's soul. Seriously, you can't see the bottom of the bowl because the broth is as dark as used motor oil, with copious threads of simmered onions. Best of all, they actually serve it warm, and not at a temperature that would scald an infant if you spilled it on him. Hot soup really is overrated.The charcuterie plate is crazy awesome. Le Grand Bistro offers five types of charcuterie: pork rillettes, jambon cru, chicken-liver mousse, pork-belly confit, and country-style paté. For $9 you can choose any two. There was no way I was going to pass by the pork-belly confit, so we tried to counterbalance it by getting the jambon cru. The cru is a typical air-dried ham, salty, porky, and sliced very thinly: one ham molecule thick, like Bible pages made of meat (if the Bible were printed on jambon cru, maybe more people would read it). The pork-belly confit is delicious—we got a perfect cube of pork, glimmering in the dining-room lights. There's an obscene layer of juicy golden blubber on top, and below, a sheaf of tender, pink belly meat. The charcuterie plate is accompanied by pickles of various types: cornichons, red peppers, green beans, and shallots. The pickles are generally good, except the shallots, which tasted raw.An endlessly quaffable pichet of Marselan is a mere $18, and the most expensive pichet is a pittance at $29. But the trout amandine is just sad. Normally this classic dish is so French that if you put German food next to it, the trout amandine would immediately let the sauerkraut take over its plate. A well-made trout amandine comes to the table pan-fried a comforting golden-brown, like heroin and twice as addictive, glistening with a glossy shellacking of brown butter and topped with a cluttered toss of toasted almond slivers. Not at Le Grand Bistro. The trout was fine, if a bit dry, but definitely bland, and the almonds on top were scorched a dark brown. It looked like a sad-clown shoe, worn by a clown who hides his crippling depression behind a goofy façade. The accompanying arugula salad was fresh and glossed in a light vinaigrette, but not light enough to lift the sadness caused by the depressing trout clown-shoe.A scallop special was better: three plump scallops, seared, crusty, and salty on the outside, like an Ancient Mariner, but on the inside glistening an erotic pink, like the sheets on the bed the Ancient Mariner shares with the First Mate. These undersea clitori swim in a pale-green sea of fava-bean purée. In the center is a brief mound of sautéed hedgehog mushrooms, which weep a yellow slick of oil onto the surrounding green. The scallops are perfectly cooked, but the fava-bean purée is grainy and the 'shrooms salty. Boeuf Bourguignon was as frustrating to eat as its name is to pronounce. The chunks of beef are generally OK, if occasionally stringy. The pearl onions, potatoes, and carrots are all tender, but too many bacon bits overpower the entire proceeding with 1,000,000 BSUs, or Bacon Smoke Units (a new unit of flavor measurement developed by the CIA in an attempt by the culinary community to measure the advance of bacon-mania). The whole thing is doused in a cloying, over-reduced sauce. This famed French stew, with hearty chunks of beef and root vegetables in a red-wine sauce, is normally so wintery it's as if the meat came from Santa's reindeer and the carrots were Frosty the Snowman's nose. But Le Grand's version of this culinary icon wasn't as good.L'entrecôte, on the other hand, shows that Le Grand's chefs sometimes know how to treat beef right. L'entrecôte is basically a boneless ribeye. It's slightly different somehow, but no one knows the exact difference, except the French, because when they say "Vive la différence!", it's actually l'entrecôte they're talking about. The steak is tasty: The size of an infant's head, it's scored with a perfect cross-hatching of grill marks. It comes with a gigantic pile of frites: a sturdy bronze crust on the outside, fluffy within. Ramekins of Heinz ketchup and béarnaise sauce accompany the frites. Ketchup is ketchup, of course, but that béarnaise sauce is a thing of emulsified beauty: creamy yellow and just a little salty, with a pleasant licorice flavor, no doubt due to an abundance of tarragon. The sauce is so good, I'd lick it off of a cowboy boot.Finally, a chocolat pot de crème is silken and dark, menacing yet sweet. This culinary Billy Dee Williams is crowned with a gauzy corona of whipped cream. Crème brulee comes in a ramekin big enough to use for a round of frisbee golf after you're done eating. It has a brittle sugary crust. Lurking beneath is a mildly sweet custard, so emollient you could use it to soothe a broken heart.Le Grand Bistro Américain is ambitious, like a Roman senator's wife. It's similar to Campagne, but not as good (Le Grand's owner, Ted Furst, also opened Campagne). If you live on the Eastside and don't feel like battling the Sisyphean traffic across the lake, then by all means go. Everyone else should just go to Campagne or Le Pichet, which is also better than Le Grand, but even cheaper. Or check out a copy of Larousse Gastronomique from the library and cook at home. Price Guide Salade maison $9 Onion soup $10 Charcuterie plate $9 Trout amandine $16 Scallop special $21 Boeuf Bourguignon $16 L'EntrecÔte $26 Chocolat pot de crème $6 Crème brulee $

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