The Legacy of Le Gourmand
The end of the beginning of Northwest cuisine.
WHEN LE GOURMAND OPENED its quirky corner door in 1985, owner Bruce Naftaly had already quietly invented Northwest Cuisine: first at Rosellini’s Other Place—where he soared from dishwasher to head chef in the space of one unlikely year—then as co-owner of the little gem Les Copains.
Now all that remained for him to do at his new place was crank out consistently stunning plates of Northwest fare done to the specs of French cuisine, the most demanding in the world. As he prepares to shutter Le Gourmand this June, crowning 27 years’ worth of 80-hour weeks, a city can declare: Mission accomplished.
As if that weren’t enough, Sambar, the mod shot of Paris that chef and baker (and wife) Sara Naftaly launched next door, is closing, too. The muffled sound you just heard was a collective sob from every Bohemian romantic in town. Now the Naftalys are off to have themselves a life, leaving us to name the myriad legacies they leave—and those restaurants to which they now pass the mantle.
FARM TO TABLE
In an era when “imported” was the label with cachet, Naftaly was leaping over local fences to pluck the most flavorful apples. In 1985 the guy was listing his farm suppliers on his menu—a practice that didn’t come into fashion for another two decades, but which a year later The Herbfarm would begin to embody in its veneration of fresh, regional fare.
Best known as high priest of the local and the seasonal, Naftaly’s greatest gift as a chef is actually his precision as a saucier. Only one other kitchen in town pulls off the French classic sauces so frequently or so well: Rover’s.
NOSE TO TAIL
A modern pioneer of ancient let-nothing-go-to-waste gastronomy, Naftaly’s charcuterie, marrow sauces, and more have opened minds so chefs like Ethan Stowell can serve such marvels as lamb tongue and pig’s face at Staple and Fancy.
One reason Naftaly’s hanging it up: He wants a day off already. Owner-chefs with that kind of day-in, day-out devotion to every aspect of their house—think William Belickis at MistralKitchen, Nathan Lockwood at Altura —aren’t just restaurateurs. They’re artists.
The first thing Seattle fell for at Sambar was its effortless Parisian ambience: unstudied, artful, and insanely romantic. A similar spell is cast at The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard—a magical place to cap a promising date.
Those with long memories will recall that Seattle pre-2003 was not loaded with artisan cocktail joints peddling terrific noshes the way it is now (see Canon, The Sexton). Sambar built that template, with its cones of frites, sumptuous desserts, and serious cocktails.
FRESH JUICE COCKTAILS
Sara Naftaly builds cocktail mixers the way her husband builds sauces: using only the freshest seasonal ingredients, from hand-pureed tamarinds to her own cherry infusions. Her cocktails opened our eyes to what drinking could be; a discovery that continues at other careful liquor laboratories like Capitol Hill’s Sun Liquor.
Was Sambar’s narrow leafy side patio the inspiration for the world’s smallest brick-lined courtyard at Oddfellow’s Cafe and Bar? So one’s Paris and the other’s Manhattan—the desire to grab a balmy breeze under a cloudless sky is 100 percent Seattle.