November 12, 2009

Born Toulouse in Lower Queen Anne

Toulouse%20interior%20daytime.jpg Toulouse%20interior.JPG

There's so much going on at Toulouse Petit, a New Orleans-themed brasserie that opened last night at Queen Anne & Mercer, you don't know quite where to start. A year in the building, you can see the effort on the walls, the floors, the table tops, in the platoons of staff and the extensive menus (food, wine, cocktails, happy hour, with breakfast and lunch still to come). There's something for every wallet here, starting with a fatcat's $42 steak (filet with foie gras, veal-cognac-shallot reduction, white truffle oil). For the frugal, the happy hour menu offers boudin blanc ($4), spicy fried alligator ($5), lamb's tongue en remoulade ($6); for the spendthrift, a blackened USDA prime rib eye ($18).

The dreamer behind this flight of fancy is next-door neighbor Brian Hutmacher of Peso's Kitchen. From the outside, Toulouse looks like a green stucco box full of Christmas ornaments. Inside, it's warmly lit and inviting, with filigreed ironwork and inlaid wood, considerably less clunky than the Purple (and Barrio) models of overwrought restaurant decor.

Pouring%20Bitter%20Love.JPGAre you counting? The floor is made up of 18,000 Italian mosaic tiles. Are you eyes open? The bar is inlaid hardwood, the lamps are blown-glass, the walls hand-plastered. Artisan sculptor Eddie Gulberg created original metalwork for the windows, doors, tabletops, and fixtures. Chef Eric Donnelly, last seen at Oceanaire, built the kitchen and laid the tiles himself. Six other craftsmen are credited on the menu. Oddly, despite having tasted over 1,500 wines to assemble a list of perhaps 200 bottles, GM Shing Chin (formerly of Wild Ginger and West Seattle’s Ovio Bistro) comes up with not one wine within 100 miles of Toulouse (nothing from Fronton, Madiran, Cahors or Gascogne). Okay, so you're all about Nawlins (NOLA's Abita Amber's a good start on the beer side), not France, but how hard would it be to give your wine list a regional focus as well, the way Le Pichet does? .

The menu is the most ambitious Cornichon has seen for some time, with salads, soups, fresh oysters and shellfish platters, foie gras, tartare, housemade charcuterie, artisan cheeses, 10 seafood standards and 5 more seafood specials, half a dozen poultry items, ten steaks, 6 accompaniments (béarnaise, bleu cheese, horseradish-veal demi-glace). The bar offers 7 absinthes, 6 pastis drinks, 5 sherries, and a dozen house cocktails. For the bitter or the lovelorn, there's a cocktail called Bitter Love (Plymouth gin, Campari, strawberry syrup, orange bitters, prosecco, $9); alas, it's too sweet.

If this is supposed to be Toulouse Petit, we can only imagine what Toulouse Grand might be. A stupendous Vieux Carré breakfast, perhaps? Or just beignets? "Previously accepted limitations no longer apply," says the menu. Stay tuned.

Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-423-9069   Toulouse Petit on Urbanspoon

Brian%20Hutmacher.jpg Eric%20Donnelly.JPG Edward%20Gulberg.JPG
Above: Brian Hutmacher (Flickr photo via QueenAnneView), Eric Donnelly, Edward Gulberg;
Center: Barman Joe Jeannot pours tops up Bitter Love with prosecco
Top: daytime interior (Flickr photo via QueenAnneView); Toulouse after 10 PM

Posted by Ronald Holden at November 12, 2009 1:14 PM | TrackBack

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Mr. Holden,

Our sincere thanks for the kind words written about Toulouse in your blog posting.

Shing and I both smiled knowingly upon reading your observation that our wine list is currently deficient with respect to southern France and from Cahors and Gascogne most notably. You weren’t supposed to notice our lack of regional diversity so quickly though . . . .

Hopefully this does not come off as defensive or making excuses, but we were just approved by the WSLCB to make purchases for the wine list two weeks ago. Several of the wines that had been selected from the Southern regions of France, many of which were tasted months ago, were sold out at the distributor level when we were able to finally place our orders.

We also had challenges with several of our red burgundy selections in this same regard.

We are playing a little catch up to fill out certain parts of the list to be certain, though in Shing’s defense he will not simply add wines to fill out or represent a category. We’re both very firm in our commitment that any wines added to our list have to be exceptional in some form or another, especially with respect to the quality of what’s in the bottle in relation to what we will have to charge our guests for it.

Our vendors have been asked to bring us the more recent options from their available inventory. We did add a Gascogne to the list today, and we expect to add more from the southern regions of France in the next week or two as we taste through our various vendors’ inventories.

The wine list is arranged by region for French wines (and there is one for Southern France) with an emphasis on those wines that will introduce the country’s various possibilities to those who are less versed in European winemaking. We also have made a pointed effort to be well represented in wines that will list for less than $3o, but which one would believe could be reasonably priced above $50 elsewhere.

We’ve found that France in particular (and European wines in general) are an unknown or intimidating subject for many, especially wine drinkers under the age of forty who do in fact know and appreciate wines in general, but who don’t have a lot personal experience with French and European wines. Our hope is that we can bring a greater awareness to those who may be curious, and also make the subject generally understandable and an easy and natural choice for those who love wine to make.

We hadn’t considered that we’d be modeling Le Pichet in our efforts with respect to regional representation. That’s one of our favorite spots in town, by the way. And we will aspire to be

As for the name ‘Toulouse’ and how it was selected for our new venture: It’s provenance may disappoint you. I actually chose it from the name of the same-named street in the French Quarter: Rue Toulouse.

My first job as a waiter that made me aware I would need to extend my capabilities insofar as I knew that I was being introduced to dining and cuisine in ways that were previously inaccessible (and unknown) to me (I was twenty-three years old at the time) was at a little place on Toulouse Street. It’s small menu was centered around Creole cuisine and had a slightly crazy chef who was immensely frustrated and talented all at once and an English maitre d’ who was enjoyed indulging his various British control issues with impressionable waiters like myself who would extend credulity to his curious inclinations.

Despite their various slightly destructive qualities (sounds so stereotypical of restaurant types, I know) the place was truly wonderful, even magical at times. It was an endeavor that those who worked there could channel what was best in them in a positive way, and that produced enjoyment for others.

I lived in an old ‘slave quarter’ apartment in the Quarter about ten minutes walk away. In my walk to work each day, when I would turn onto Rue Toulouse, I knew I was going somewhere where anything might happen; I would probably learn or encounter something I hadn’t seen before; and I wanted to do what I was doing well. Genuinely. I took it all seriously.

I loved that feeling. And it was new and exciting to me then. And a different kind of excitement than the reasons I thought I had chosen to check out living in the Quarter for the winter.

Anyway, the name Toulouse didn’t come about for this project in a firm way until 2004, when I was having lunch with my very close friend Lisa Wallace. She’s a tarot reader at Tenzing Momo (and very much the real deal), and I was throwing names out to her, knowing that Toulouse was what I liked the most and would probably select anyway, but I wanted her sense of the options I was considering. I suppose you could call it a one person focus group of name-testing.

And so that’s how the name Toulouse became selected. Any other possibilities for a name for this curious project were never really considered after that.

And in the meantime I’ve learned an awful lot more about a city in the southern part of France with the same name . . . . .

Warmest regards and our kind thanks again.

Brian Hutmacher

Posted by: Brian Hutmacher at November 12, 2009 6:44 PM
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