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.
But the stunner among the pork dishes was the Lecosho porchetta, a glistening slice of pork tenderloin–stuffed pork belly, encrusted with herbs, over a shallow bed of rustic, fragrant white bean and baby turnip ragout. “Shishishaclashick,” murmured my dinner companion; once I bit into the unctuous meat with its licoricey undertones and rustic accoutrements I knew he meant, “This is a classic,” because I was thinking it, too. It’s a rare thing to know from bite one that a dish is destined to become a house signature, but this one, with its vivid seasonings and satisfying meatiness, screams its star status.
At lunchtime they shove that same porchetta—they’re no fools—inside a grilled ciabatta roll along with crispy slaw and sweet-spicy aioli, as one of a lineup of solid $11-ish sandwiches. Lunch flows seamlessly into a why-the-heck-not 3pm happy hour, full of juicy cocktails and Euro noshes, which in turn flows seamlessly into dinner, and then another happy hour, which continues every night of the week till 1am. One could lose whole great chunks of one’s life at Lecosho, and be very happy doing it.
Problems arise from overenthusiasm: too heavy a hand with the saltshaker in an otherwise winsome Mediterranean seafood soup; a smelly mackerel draped in a combative puttanesca. One salad special at lunch, an intriguing toss of duck confit, pine nuts, pickled raisins, blue cheese, and bitter Treviso greens in vanilla vinaigrette, was an acquired taste we never quite acquired.
But an excess of boldness is the best kind of problem, arising as it does from ingenuity and culinary nerve and big fat flavors. And make no mistake, big fat flavors are Lecosho’s calling card: from short ribs in a swoony reduction, to down-home roast half-chicken in a cranberry-vermouth sauce, to blush-perfect slices of supple duck fanned over a stewy melange of farro and broccolini. If Matt’s in the Market was Janke’s homage to local fish, Lecosho is his love song to meat—notably that of the porcine persuasion.
Come to think of it, Lecosho is a love song, period. In three visits we enjoyed the professional attentions of three different waiters, each of whom displayed an authenticity, efficiency, and warmth that makes all the difference for a diner’s experience. That plus the fizzy vibe and solid sense of place left us feeling, as was always the case at Matt’s, deeply fed. And we ate well, too.