21. August 2010 21:04
To those who said Seattle can’t do a perfect meal (like the author) Toulouse Petit gives a big four-fingered shocker. And those who still quote the tired grandpa-ism: “do one thing and do it well” TP knocks into the future by excelling in so many places. One could, and should, eat here for a week.
Who is anyone to say that a restaurant must have a narrow specialty just because most do? It’s rarely a lack of imagination or ability but constraints of the real world. Money, space, time and staff are all limiting factors in a restaurant’s ability to redline the chef’s creative engine. So most run at cruising RPMs. Chefs are artists to the core and will, given time and capital, throw 10 thousand things out on the tables and let their customers decide what soars or sinks. Indeed the biggest source of friction in food service is the push outward from the kitchen against the push inward from accounting. Guess who always wins? But Brian Hutmacher, Toulouse Petit’s owner seems to not shed a single tear for accounting’s sake. Enter an owner who has decided that the quest for quality is a higher cause than turning a dollar into 2. Luck is the story of his chef: Eric Donnelly. Tragic that of his accountant.
Who serves Duck Confit for $14? Huge bowls of soup and salads for less than 10? Who remains in the known universe that offers a quality NY Strip for $25? Even Outback charges more inflicting mortal fright upon the Big Mac crowd on “downtown night.” And so, the evening began with apprehension – apprehension that died a first-bite death. The fried-chicken gumbo and French Onion soup could have been, for their pittance of a price, much worse and still scored well on the value scale. Some claim that French Onion Soup should only be served in little fired crock-pots with overflowing cheese. Some also claim that gumbo should be a thick-as-honey stew. These were neither and yet still delicious. Donnelly has an opinion and it isn’t cliché programming. It’s nice to get a unique perspective.
Main-course consisted of Big Easy Jambalaya and Jumbo Barbied Shrimp. The former promised “unapologetic spice” and but needed no apology. Then again, the author orders 5-stars from Mae Phim and pours Habanero Tabasco on eggs. Point is: it’s easy to hide behind heat and TP has no need. The flavor was as terrific as the portion. The shrimp was similarly tasty but not quite on the level of the Ivy. The grits however, were absolutely divine. Just remember that the Ivy will charge you double for a very small improvement and again we’re back to the whole value thing. No matter what you think of the meal, remember that 2 people will waddle out of the restaurant spending less than a C-note.
TP isn’t perfect. Their online menu’s prices don’t always concur with the receipt. Can you say nit-picking? Its bar is slow-to-notice you but nothing compared to most of Seattle. Also, such an affordable meal should not dunk you headfirst into a $12 price for a martini (at least they overfill it). But with prices and options like these, we can afford a little trial-and-error.
All should hope for Toulouse Petit’s success. I am tired of talent being pigeon-holed. Wouldn’t it be great to see Bayless’ roll on sushi or Trotter’s toss on pizza and still have enough to pay your underwater mortgage? Well, they should all send a spy to get a job with Hutmacher and learn how he keeps the prices low, the menu vast and the CPAs out of the damn kitchen.