5307 Ballard Ave NW
206-453-5014 (GET A RESERVATION FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST)
As many of you know I love the French. I want to go to France and have sex with every last French citizen (provided they took a shower that day, which of course is iffy at best). The French are so fucking awesome, especially since we don’t have to call French Fries “Freedom Fries” anymore, and your mom can stop “Freedom Kissing” my asshole, and I don’t have to wear a “Freedom Tickler” when I fuck her. So I was excited when Bastille opened, even though I question the choice of name. The Bastille is a loaded term in France; that ancient and now- destroyed prison was the symbol of a decadent monarchy famous for cruel torture and unlawful imprisonment and which deserved to be overthrown. Naming a French restaurant here in the USA “Bastille” would be akin to opening a Southern food restaurant in France and calling it “Jim Crow.”
Usually when people talk about restaurants in the context of French food they discuss bistros. Well I’m going to discuss them too. Here’s a hint about Bistros: if the word “Bistro” ISN’T the first word in the name of the restaurant, don’t go there. If you ignore my warning, I can guarantee two things: 1. the food will suck, but not as much as you might think (just enough to aggravate you) and 2. the menu will have at least a paragraph about how the word “bistro” came into use.
The word “bistro” came into use during the French Revolution, but I don’t give a fuck about that. What I DO give a fuck about is the French Revolution itself. The French Revolution was totally fucking retarded. They claimed to have been inspired by our very own American Revolution, but I think those motherfuckers missed the point: after all, WE managed to overthrow the reigns of aristocracy without resorting to indiscriminate head chopping and ridiculous purple prose. The French had the right idea but ultimately fucked it up when the Revolution turned on itself; among the many innocent people who didn’t deserve to lose their heads were: winemaker Francis Bertrand, accused of producing “sour wine injurious to the health of citizens;” Mary Angelica Plaisant, a seamstress who was guillotined for exclaiming “A fig for the nation!” (I can sympathize with ingredient hatred but COME THE FUCK ON; I don’t like cilantro but I’d never want someone decapitated over it); and of course Antoine Lavoisier, France’s most famous chemist, who devised the metric system and discovered the principles of combustion, who was sentenced to his own ride on the “National Razor” after being accused of selling adulterated tobacco.
Just as arbitrary as the odds of having one’s head removed during the actual French Revolution are the odds of getting a reservation at Bastille. Your best bet is to use Open Table; if you’re computer illiterate you could give Bastille a call, but you’d have better luck trying to fuck a leprechaun (does wanting to fuck a leprechaun make you gay? Jesus I hope not). I called Bastille and repeatedly got their voice mail, which clearly states that if you leave your name, phone number, number of people in your party, and day and time of your reservation, they’ll call you back to confirm. Well guess what: like the Jacobin pledge to enact price controls on food during the famine following Louis XVI’s execution, my confirmation call from Bastille never materialized. I called and called Bastille and kept getting the aforementioned voice mail. When I FINALLY connected with a person I was told that I didn’t, in fact, need a 9:30 pm reservation on a Friday night, because “it usually drops off after 9 anyway.” So Friday I dutifully made my way over to Ballard, where I was greeted by a shrug and news of a two hour wait. Silly me, believing what I had been told by an employee of the business I wish to patronize!
Like I said, I’d rather take my chances with the National Razor. But what about the food? I daresay it was better than what was available when the Bastille still stood, at least. The Lyonnaise Salad ($12), with frisee and lardons topped with a poached egg, was fucking killer: the bitter fronds of the frissee was balanced out by a creamy dressing and the poached egg, which when cut into wept its golden tears of tasty yolk all over the salad. The lardons were chewy, salty, and smoky, and dropped into the fray like perfectly thrown Molotov cocktails of porky deliciousness.
The Soupe a l’oingnon ($11) seemed a bit expensive for a rather small bowl of soup, but Bastille’s rendition of this classic dish could have been the original template, for better or worse: a rich beefy broth swimming with caramelized onion threads, maybe a bit cloying but brightened up with the unexpected woodsy hue of rosemary, and topped with an unfortunate giant glob of congealed Gruyere or Comte or some other such stretchy white tangy cheese.
The steak frites ($18) was maddening: the steak had a good, seasoned crust, but the motherfuckers overcooked my medium rare into well done. This has NEVER happened to me before in a restaurant. The accompanying frites (in a cup) were all too short. I
only had 1 frite which was what I consider an acceptable French fry length of 3 inches. The frites were crisp outside but a bit mealy. If dudes could lose their heads for selling bad wine, SURELY someone deserves to be guillotined for these crappy frites.
The lamb burger, on the other hand, was a fucking thing of beauty. For $12 you get a luscious ball of ground lamb, topped with a bird’s nest of arugula and caramelized onions with some kind of spicy sauce on a sesame seed bun. And it wasn’t some pussy sesame seed bun like you’d get at McDonald’s, either: this bun was soft, yet somehow still as firm as the hand of Revolutionary justice meted out by the Committee for Public Safety. The bun had to have some substance to it to restrain the lamb patty, which was so juicy and sweet it was almost like a piece of fruit made out of flesh. And it comes with fries! Unfortunately, as previously mentioned the fries suck, which is ironic considering that they’re FRENCH fries (or not, for you “correct use of the term ‘irony’” Nazis).
Caille Grilee aux Lardons ($14) was a grilled quail, which arrived splayed open like a porn star, reclining on a bed of quartered Brussels sprouts and lardons in a creamy mustard sauce with lots of thyme. The pornographic quail was attractively cross- hatched in grill marks and had a wonderful charred smoke flavor while still remaining a rosy pink inside. The Brussels sprouts were tender yet not mushy. Frankly, the lardons struck me as overkill, even given the now- famous dictum that Bacon Makes Everything Better. This dish was ridiculous; it was so good I wish I could fuck it and make it have my babies, which I would then eat the way obsolete gods in ancient myths always seemed to eat their children.
Crispy Pork Belly ($10) was, as the name suggests, crispy. On top. So I guess that description is only 50% accurate. On the bottom it was soft and succulent, with gentle artesian springs of melted fat bubbling out from between the tender striated layers of meat with every forkful. Accompanying this perfect cube of pork-- at this point I’d like to formally define a “perfect cube of pork” as the act of fucking your mom 9 times—were a couple pink rings of pickled shallot and a pool of a mildly sweet plum confiture.
We finished things off with a perfectly serviceable lavender crème brulee ($6), with a crackly sugar crust that, like a broken light bulb, surprises you with how strong yet brittle it is. The crème beneath was as creamy as the breast of Lady Liberty herself, bare chested, arms raised, gun in hand, leading the French people to VICTOIRE over the Revolution’s enemies, like in the famous Delacroix painting.
I have mixed feeling about Bastille, just like I have mixed feeling about the actual French Revolution. The food is generally good, but the service sucks. And forget about setting foot inside that place on the weekends: Monday through Wednesday is your best bet if you want to go. And for God’s sake, man, make a fucking reservation.
In the best tradition of obnoxious food bloggers everywhere I went to Bastille twice. After the first disastrous time in which they overcooked my fucking steak, and I was too afraid to send it back because we were waiting FORTY- FIVE FUCKING MINUTES BETWEEN COURSES, I was prepared to suggest that THIS Bastille should suffer the same fate as its namesake. Luckily (for them) I returned to try it again, and my opinion of them, like history’s opinion of the French Revolution, has softened with time. So VIVE LA FRANCE, you fuckers, and, uh, Bastille is okay.
Rating: 5.5 sans- cullotes out of 10