Sunday, December 06, 2009


5307 Ballard Ave NW


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

Bastille Café & Bar on Urbanspoon


Heather in SF @HeatherHAL said...

Perfect profane poetry... Thank you Surly!

Glenn Fleishman said...

How did this place misfire so badly, and yet is constantly overfilled?

I have been interested to try it, but the several people I know who have gone bring back the same report, including that the front of house staff aren't running the place well, and that the wait for food is intolerable once seated.

That was true in the early days, and perhaps one can forgive that. But if you're still seeing the same thing now (as are my friends), what the french?

Surly Gourmand said...


Thanks. What good is poetry if there's no profanity? Actually, Percy Shelley is pretty good, and he didn't use profanity. That's because curse words weren't invented back then.


Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Surly Gourmand said...


How can Bastille be so mediocre yet remain packed? Answer: hype. You see my friend, hype is like an army of Pac Men, marching in waves like a river of glossy yellow ping pong balls as they travel down the road, the sun glinting off their gleaming yellow spherical carapaces. An army of Pac Men of this size doesn't need power pellets: the commanding presence of this military force is intimidating enough to cause any ghosts in their path to instantly turn purple with fear and flee the scene.

Eventually, however, hype, like the Great Pac Man Army, fades: some of the Pac Men desert their posts, others die, turning inside out in the peculiar way that Pac Men die, like a pie graph in reverse. Soon the army of Pac Men dwindles in size, until the ghosts regain their advantage and regroup and attack.

I'm one of those ghosts.

Bastille's army of hype may have all of us restaurant critics on the run for now, but soon we will fight back, and better taste shall prevail!

You should be okay with the service on Monday through Wednesday, when it isn't quite as packed. Stay away Thursday through Sunday, unless you don't mind waiting awhile.


Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Kip Beelman said...

Your review is generous. The place ain't French and surely ain't good.

PegLeg said...

I have yet to go back and give them another chance, but I will...sometime. The first time I went I ordered the lamb burger and instead of the ball of meat you describe I got two very thin patties of overcooked and dry meat. The fries were rubbery and nothing about them seemed crisp so it seems like they're making some progress (albeit small).

I read one review where they said they can forgive all the sins of the food because it's a pretty place. That's why it's always packed because it's more about the scene than the food, at least for now.

saltycrystal said...

shannon galusha is the douchiest douche i've ever had the pleasure of working for. i can't even step foot in that place. ugh. the stories...

Surly Gourmand said...

Kip Beelman,

Bastille's not that bad, dude. But that's not the problem. The problem is that it isn't that GOOD, either. Not good enough to justify waiting around all fucking night, especially when Le Pichet is always open and better then Bastille and CHEAP.

If the service was extremely smooth I probably wouldn't even have reason to complain. Actually I'm sure I'd figure out SOMETHING to complain about.


Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Surly Gourmand said...


The existence of Le Pichet makes Bastille look dumb because Le Pichet is cheap and it looks EXACTLY like some little hole- in- the- wall place in Paris.

Bastille's interior is cavernous and beautiful, but if I wanted to eat at a Parisian museum I would go to the cafeteria at the Musee Dorsay. Actually, I DID once eat in a Parisian museum: the cafeteria at Les Invalides was pretty damn tasty. Better, in fact, than Bastille. AND cheaper.


Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Surly Gourmand said...

Salty Crystal,

I would forgive Shannon Galusha, or whoever the fuck you're talking about, for myriad sins if Bastille wasn't so mediocre.

The guy I WON'T forgive is the douche who kept walking around with his glasses and tight- fitting Nation of Islam stocking cap, inspecting everything in sight, yet failing to assess the glacially slow service.


Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Caffeinated said...

My god, I love your reviews. My favorite: '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.' Fucking brilliant.

Natasha Reed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natasha Reed said...

Brilliant motherfucking blog. Brilliant!

Vana said...

I have to say this is one of my favorites. The food was pretty good for the Thomas Keller Dinner but then again, they were his recipes. They still managed to fuck a few things up. Le Pichet was definitely better.

Anonymous said...

As a borderline restricting-type anorexic, any food blog outside of your's makes me throw up in my mouth a little, which I need to spit out immediately; fearing the caloric intake. I find your Pac-Man rant charming. Any thoughts re: Ms. Pac-'Man', Mr. Surly?

Megan said...

You had me at Lamb burger!

Anonymous said...

Having visited France 8 times, and flying over next month, and loving French food I am sure, as much as Julia, and spending time drinking cafe in Paris Bistro's - I was excited to try Bastille. The decor is nice, but we found the food only adequate. They should know how to make the lamb burgers by now, as this was a favorite at Vale. The beet salad completely uninspired. Wait service pleasant but inadequate. You are right on about the fries. Yes - I have had a much more pleasant experience and better meal in the Musee D'Orsay's restaurant. And geez - is it ever Noisy in that place. My husband and I left with un-inspired stomaches and sore throats from trying to have a conversation. No plans to return.