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May 17, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Paris (nope), Luc (yes!), Chloe (soon), NYC (in between)

When I bid the blog a fond adieu in mid-April, heart set on a two-week vacation, my plans were to spend a week in France taking a food-lover’s tour of Paris. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. “Boom!” went that Icelandic volcano. “Ferme!” went the Paris airport. “Poof!” went my plans. So, instead I chatted up Dick Stein on our weekly radio broadcast, offering dining ideas for a European staycation. And then I hit the friendlier skies on this continent, bound for the East Coast and an unexpectedly extended visit with family and friends.

While there I ate everything from bagels to burrata, hoagies to haute cuisine and attended the 2010 James Beard Awards in NYC where I watched Seattle’s Jason Wilson take the medal for “Best Chef Pacific Northwest.” I also had a chance to say “Better luck next year!” to nominee Ethan Stowell and “Say cheese!” to some other big names in the business, accompanied by the women who help (try to) keep them grounded and sane: their wives.

At the 2010 James Beard Awards with (clockwise, from top left): Jason and Nicole Wilson, Ethan and Angela Stowell, Rishia and Andrew Zimmern, Susi Cahn and Mario Batali.

When I got home there was much good news on the restaurant-front beginning with this: Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s had finally opened his long-anticipated French-American bistro, Luc, at 2800 E. Madison Street in the heart of Madison Valley’s business district. (You may recall reading about plans for Luc right here last August.) And if that wasn’t enough to help salve my Paris no-go, I got word that Luc’s neighboring Voila! Bistrot will soon have a sister-restaurant in Laurelhurst: Chloe.

The storefront at Luc, just across the street from Laurent Gabrel’s Voila! (whose neon-blue “bar” sign is visible on the right).

Voila!’s owner/chef Laurent Gabrel expects to introduce Chloe Bistrot in early June, offering a menu of French classics with a strong seafood bent. Construction at Chloe is underway at 3515 N.E. 45th Street, formerly the Italian restaurant Enotria (you may also know it as the former Union Bay Cafe). Enotria’s closure, by the way, was apparently a grave disappointment for the many fans who continue to e-mail me, sorry to have seen it fold. To them I say, “Vivre la France!” and FYI: Enotria’s co-owner and general manager Amber Luton is now running the dining room at Seth Caswell’s Emmer & Rye atop Queen Anne Hill.

As for Luc, open two weeks and named to honor “Pappy Luc” (Thierry’s father), when I showed up to get my first look at the place Thursday night it was sa-lammed. I found a crowd seated at the lengthy zinc bar where cool cocktails like the St-Germain-infused “Lucatini” were hot-sellers on that warm evening. Others were seated throughout the dual dining-room and at a small counter fronting the open kitchen, where “The Chef in the Hat” was presiding.

Thierry Rautureau, as seen on TV, keeping busy in the kitchen at Luc. Good thing they canceled his radio show — sad though his listeners may be — or he’d really be in the weeds on Saturday evenings.

Looking up in answer to my howz-it-going query, Thierry didn’t miss a beat: “They’re kicking my ass!” he said, pointing toward the dining room before getting back to expediting chilled asparagus soup with creme fraiche, trout amandine, pizza margherita, big juicy burgers and a magical nosh sure to become the signature dish at Luc: a basket full of “souffle potato crisps.”

Bet you can’t eat just one — basketful. Trust me: they’re ethereal.

The mood here is killer-casual, exactly the way Thierry wanted it to be — and a far cry from his elegant fine-dining restaurant, Rover’s, just steps away. He told me he’s especially proud of the Morrocan-accented sconces on the brick-colored wall in the bar area, the back-bar whose posts weathered for years in his backyard; artwork that takes its inspiration from old family photos; and a certain high-school sweetheart who’s taller than his dad (and regularly stops in to partake of papa’s grilled onglet with peppercorn sauce).

Son of a gun! And say, doesn’t the kid in that painting look familiar?

So tell me: have any of you been to Luc, now open daily from 4 p.m. till midnight? If so, what did you eat and drink, and what do you think?

Comments | More in Awards and Contests, Chefs, New Restaurants

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