WHEN THE BROOM CLOSET of a restaurant called Matt’s in the Market opened in 1996, Seattle instantly and utterly lost its mind. Remember? I do, because I missed it. Friends called down to my temporary home in California to rave about the teensy new fish house in the upstairs warrens of Pike Place Market; a place whose verve and sparkle and innovation were as fresh as its seafood—that is, groundbreakingly so. The New York Times and other big fish came to call; upon moving back to town, so did I. What was it about this bitty place that leaves diners so deeply fed?
Cut to 2011, and the eponymous Matt Janke has fired again. Lecosho, the enterprise of Janke and his old friend and colleague Jill Buchanan, couldn’t be more different. Where the original Matt’s felt like a spirited revel in the studio apartment of your most effervescent buddy, Lecosho is the more sophisticated domain of that buddy all grown up.
It’s sprawling and swish, between exposed ceiling pipes and dark wood tables with cushiony seats and banquettes, and lined in glass on three sides. All these windows, here on the pedestrian promenade known as the Harbor Steps, contribute the same effect as the sizzling open kitchen (literally, from your table you can hear the sizzling) and the chatty, ever present crowd: energy. At Lecosho diners inhabit the noisy heart of a vital urban center, the whole city either dining beside them or breezing by outside. Arty and electric by day, libidinous after dark, Lecosho has a pulse you can feel, like Crow or Palace Kitchen or Toulouse Petit. It’s intoxicating.
The menu echoes that pulse. As at Matt’s—which he enlarged, then sold—Janke’s goal at Lecosho is to serve what he wants to serve, labels be damned. “Food we like,” is Lecosho’s slogan; it appears as part of the logo. (So does a drawing of a corpulent hog, but more on that later.)
Arty and electric by day, libidinous after dark, Lecosho has a pulse you can feel.
The result is a menu that won’t be pigeonholed. So a Frenchy house green salad with cornichons and baguette crisps appears alongside a Catalan-style sofrito fish soup, a Germanic sausage plate with braised cabbage and apple-fennel mustard, grilled lamb with semolina gnocchi and gremolata, and a grab-you-by-the-lapels-tasty appetizer of chickpeas and tender char-grilled octopus bits, in a vinaigrette roaring with Mama Lil’s hot peppers and salsa brava.
What this gleefully anarchic collision of cuisines communicates is: We love this dish so much we had to serve it! Which is how the dishes come about, with overseers Janke and Buchanan and chef Mike Easton tasting and tweaking one another’s concepts. Easton grew up in New Mexico, cooked Italian at Wallingford’s Bizzarro, and holds to an Old World ethos of whole-animal cooking. For Lecosho’s opening party in October, Easton boned out an entire pig.
The owners insist that Lecosho is not just a porkophile’s paradise, but it’s awfully hard to overcome an identity forged by a name (Lecosho is Chinook jargon for pig), a logo, a kitchen whose aromas of roasting pork all but knock you down the moment you open the door. Chewy bits of bacon and roasted Roma tomatoes spangled a blue-cheese draped wedge of Bibb lettuce; feisty chorizo and fennel fronds livened up a bowl of beautifully steamed (in sparkly Spanish wine!) Penn Cove mussels. Pork belly rillettes were coarse and rich, and lush with house mustard over slices of Columbia City Bakery bread. A thick, house-brined pork chop arrived improbably moist—honestly, one never expects it—and piqued with roasted beets and a sweet-sour agrodolce sauce over a silken potato-parsnip puree.