|La Côte Crêperie, Seattle|
This week, I am taking a break from my blogging series about French icons. Instead, I am going to tell you about a most excellent adventure I embarked on recently.
I took advantage of a beautiful fall day, you see, and drove over to Seattle.
The City is not exactement what I would call "next door." I live in suburbia, on Seattle's Eastside, across Lake Washington. Not by the lake either. Inland. I wrote stories about our small town here and here.
Last week, though, I made a bold move. I had no class to teach. Junior was in school. I was supposed to go to a favorite café and write a story about French icons. I was supposed to go on my daily hour-long walk with the yellow dog. Opportunity was knocking. Off I went, with my trusted Lumix camera.
My trip was inspired by a short article I found in Seattle Magazine last month. The article highlighted a Seattle neighborhood, Madison Valley, as "Seattle's own Petit Paris."
|A great map for my big Adventure!|
Seattle Magazine, September 2011
I knew some of the restaurants already, but there were a couple of new places to discover, and I was thrilled to hear that "Seattle's own Petit Paris" was located near a favorite neighborhood of mine, Madison Park, just a mile down the road.
Madison Valley once thrived as one of the largest local African-American communities, but in the 1980s, the area had become underpopulated and unsafe. An urban renewal effort put it back on the map, and it gradually re-invented itself as a thriving shopping district.
Its neighbor Madison Park was developed by Judge John J. Mc Gilvra who came to Seattle as U.S. Attorney for Washington territory in the mid-19th century. Mc Gilvra invested in real estate early on. He owned over 400 acres along Lake Washington. As years went by, he would build a road (Madison Street) linking his land with what is now downtown Seattle. A stagecoach ran along Madison street and brought "city folk" to the shores of Lake Washington. By 1889, cable cars were introduced while cross-lake ferry service enabled Seattleites to reach other communities around Lake Washington, in particular Kirkland, on the Eastside.
|Cable Car in front of the Madison Street Pavilion, |
complete with an auditorium and a covered observation deck
Madison Park became a popular resort town, especially after Mc Gilvra leased other parts of his property where "weekend cottages" were built. Boathouses, piers, three bathing pavilions, and a promenade were added later on. Life was a beach in Madison Park, at the turn of the century!
|Weekend canoeists and bathing pavilion (city archives)|
|"White City Park" was built for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo in 1907|
Madison Park enjoyed a successful career as a major Lake Washington port until 1950, when the last ferry pulled out from the dock (the first Lake Washington floating bridge had been completed in 1940, a more efficient transportation system.)
The community continued growing and turned into a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood. Over the years, our family has enjoyed many outings there: Boasting close proximity to downtown Seattle; one of the areas' best parks (the Arboretum;) an exciting mix of shops and restaurants; a beach; elegant houses with coveted Lake Washington views; safe residential streets with wide sidewalks, Madison Park has it all! Take a look:
The modest beach bungalows of yesteryear survive...
Hardly an ugly duckling along the majestic old streets...
The popular Madison Park beach was almost entirely deserted when I stopped by on a sunny but crisp fall day...
|This lucky lady knows what it feels like to sit every morning|
on the "right" side of the lake!
Yet downtown was lively and colorful, as I passed the lunch time crowd on their way to favorite restaurants, while attractive storefronts enticed passers-by with their vivid Halloween displays.
Back to the object of my visit. I can never resist a quick visit to Madison Park, but the Madison Valley area, "Seattle's own petit Paris," was the reason I had driven all the way from the Eastside.
To get there, I only had to follow East Madison Street (built long ago by Judge Mc Gilvra,) and head South towards downtown Seattle where the French-themed businesses listed in the article were waiting.
Once there, I realized there were four French restaurants located on the same block, two on each side of the street. In fact, why don't I make a motion to re-name the area "The French Carré?"
On the sidewalks where I stepped on freshly strewn leaves, I walked past two celebrated French bistros... Voilà and Luc. I have visited Voilà often in the past. A reliable performer, it serves traditional bistro fare. Two drawbacks: reservations are a must, and the room can get noisy. I mentioned Luc in my first post last December. It is the new bistro owned by a local celebrity: chef Thierry Rautureau. "The Chef in the Hat" also runs one of Seattle's most renowned restaurants, Rover's, a few doors down from Luc.
The fourth Musketeer is La Côte Crêperie. I was in the mood for crêpes last week, and I chose La Côte as my lunch place. It is a wonderful little restaurant. The atmosphere is decidedly nautical. I found La Côte to be quite authentic. They serve both savory galettes (made with buckwheat flour) and sweet crêpes, with a generous selection of fillings. There are also salads and some entrées. Wine, beer and French hard cider - forget that Martinelli stuff! - are available by the glass, or by the bottle. French music was playing in the background. A nice touch.
|Les Plats du Jour (Specials)|
|The Special: Belgian salad with endives, blue cheese and walnuts|
|Galette "complète": Buckwheat crêpe filled with ham and cheese, |
topped by a fried egg. Served with a bowl of Normandy cider
There was time left to visit a few more "French" places...
Inès Pâtisserie is a newcomer in the Madison Valley shopping district. I had stopped by last spring, but the door was closed that morning. Online reviews were promising and I was impatient to sample some of their pastries. You can take the French Girl out of France, but you can't take France out of the French Girl!
Inès Pâtisserie was my favorite part of the whole adventure. Just like in France, I was drawn towards the shop by the unmistakable smell of baked butter, permeating the tiny side street. It became irresistible as I pushed the door. The place was empty except for one customer, sitting at one of the few tables, and a busy lady working behind the counter in the commercial-size kitchen. This is when I met Nora, the owner (and pastry artist) chez Inès Pâtisserie. Later, I learned that the shop is named after Inès, Nora's 9 year old daughter. Nora and I had a fun conversation, en français, bien sûr. She never stopped working -alone- as trays of delicious pastries came out of the oven and had to be laid-out in the display windows. Nohra is lively, passionate and outspoken: Nohra is très French. I was fascinated to watch her work. I was interested in the stories she told. I was definitely won over when she placed a warm croissant on a small plate and presented it to me while I was still standing by the counter. Delicious. Crispy on the outside, chewy and fragrant on the inside. Pure [French] butter. As good as the croissants I used to buy at my favorite bakeries in Paris. Merci, Nohra. I will be back. (Inès Pâtisserie is open Tuesday-Sunday but hours vary. Be persistent! The pastries are worth it!)
|Inès Pâtisserie's open floor plan allows customers to watch the owner work|
|Apricot tarts fresh out of the oven|
|Scrumptious pains au chocolat|
|Macarons filled with lemon-flavored crème pâtissière|
|My "sample" croissant: perfection!|
A couple of blocks away from Inès Pâtisserie is a fantastic store, and a true Seattle landmark: City People's Mercantile. This was the first women-owned hardware/mercantile store in Seattle. It was founded in 1979. Even though the store has had several locations, two remain, and one was right there, in Madison Valley. Over the years, I have always made a point of visiting when I am in the area. It's not so much the garden or the hardware section I am interested in; it is the gift shop I love. I knew City People's Mercantile was not part of the original article about "Seattle's own Petit Paris." I made a bet with myself that a significant part of the inventory would be French-themed. I was right.
|A new beret for this French Girl!|
I was tired when I got home, but felt very happy and excited about the whole adventure. I brought back souvenirs of my fun time en ville: A selection of my new friend Nora's pastries for Les Boys, a new béret, a black cat for my Halloween display (courtesy of City People's Mercantile,) and over 80 photos I had to sort through that evening.
|Gratuitous shot of City People's Halloween display|
Check out la Barbie witch!
|My new black cat...|
Once again, I was reminded that I may live à la campagne (in the country,) but a trip to the city - and Seattle will do - is always a good idea for this French Girl!
|La Côte Crêperie, Seattle|