Burgundy sets route through Seattle

Wine Press NorthwestMarch 15, 2012 

Many restaurants in the Pacific Northwest tout their lengthy wine lists and crow about their food-and-wine-pairing prowess. But few make the wining and dining experience as memorable and full of joie de vivre as RN74, which opened last June in downtown Seattle.

RN74 is short for "Route Nationale 74," the main thoroughfare that runs through the heart of France's Burgundy wine region. It's one of 20 "concept restaurants and one lounge," with names such as Bourbon Steak, Seablue and Wit & Wisdom, created over the past 10 years by celebrity chef Michael Mina in partnership with tennis great Andre Agassi.

Mina, who grew up in Ellensburg, Wash., graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. At the age of 22, he opened the legendary Aqua restaurant in San Francisco and served as executive chef there from 1993 until 2002. He's written a cookbook and been named Best Chef/California by the James Beard Foundation and 2011 Restaurateur of the Year by Gayot.com.

Foodies went wild when news broke that this local boy done good was (finally!) going to open a Northwest outpost. And they weren't disappointed. Wining and dining at RN74 is reminiscent of Seattle's glory days, before the local tech bubbles burst.

RN74 attracts people of all ages and walks of life. While singles slurp Sazeracs and snack on Maitake Mushroom Tempura in the plush bar, date-night couples savor "Rancher's Cuts" steaks, Mad Hatcher "Coq au Vin" or Liberty Farms Duck Breast a l'Orange.

Preparation of local, seasonal, sustainable and carefully sourced regional French specialties is overseen by executive chef Seisuke "Seis" Kamimura, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute who boasts extensive experience locally (BOKA and Artisanal), as well as at Wolfgang Puck-owned restaurants (Spago and Postrio).

Whatever you do, don't miss the tantalizing Tuna Tartare appetizer, prepared to order tableside. Marvel as your server gently massages a quail egg yolk into a mass of the most perfect Ahi tuna cubes, toasted pine nuts, very finely diced Scotch Bonnet peppers and Asian pear, and finishes with a few aromatic drops of toasted sesame oil.

Wine is perfectly served by knowledgeable, yet never-stuffy sommeliers. Vinous delights from Burgundy and other parts of France, Washington, Oregon, and all around the globe hold court on RN74 lead sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen's 33-page, single-spaced wine menu.

"With 1,000-plus selections on our wine list, we offer more than 200 wines from Washington and Oregon," Lindsay-Thorsen says. "Burgundy dominates sales, although Washington Cabernet and Syrah follow close behind."

RN74 also pours more than 40 wines by the glass, including five bubblies and a private-label Syrah from Gramercy Cellars.

"Behind the Bottle" winemaker dinners have featured renowned Northwest wineries including Andrew Will and Pepper Bridge. July's dinners will celebrate Riesling, with vintners flying in from all over the world.

But one of the most appealing aspects of dining at RN74 is the ever-changing "Last Bottle" Train Board. When a customer orders a bottle from the board, that one goes off and a new wine replaces it.

The Train Board lets RN74 guests try a wine they may not have had before (or even heard of) at a discounted price, and allows the restaurant to keep its 10,000-bottle cellar (housed on-site in three separate areas) up to date as vintages change or prices increase.

"Often, the wines that find their way on to the Board are unique, such as a Cabernet from Lebanon. Now and again we throw on a super deal like a Gigondas for $10 just for fun," Lindsay-Thorsen says. "It's all about creating a more dynamic experience for our guests and our staff."

Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food-and-wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.WithBraiden.com.

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