LAST SUPPER AT Dominique's.
This is not a review of one of Seattle's best French restaurants of the 1980s. It is more of a requiem - a memorial.
Dominique's Place served its last dinner a few weeks ago, late on a soft Saturday night in September. There were some cheers, some tears and a round of champagne toasts. Then it was hail and farewell. Mostly farewell.
Restaurants close all the time. Why, I wondered - as I thoughtfully chewed a magnificent cut of beef tenderloin in a three-peppercorn cream sauce - why should the closure of Dominique's have been a surprise?
Dominique Place (the last name is pronounced Plass) opened his small, cozy, intimate restaurant down at the foot of Madison Street in 1984. He named it Dominique's Place, a bilingual pun on his own name.
But the restaurant was no idle joke. It was an immediate critical and financial success. And that should have surprised nobody.
Place had a track record; he had credentials. He was born in northeast France near the Swiss border, on the shore of Lake Geneva. He apprenticed at a hotel cooking school in Thanon, then moved to the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva for three years.
In 1970, Place entered a national contest for French apprentice cooks. He took first place in Lyon, then moved on to the finals in Paris and placed sixth overall.
The sixth-most-promising young chef in France went back to Geneva and met his Seattle connection.
``I met Bob Rosellini in Geneva in 1973,'' he said. ``Bob was studying, preparing to open The Other Place. He asked me to come to Seattle. I didn't take it too seriously at the time.
``Then one day I received a letter from the U.S. Embassy in Paris, telling me that my visa was on the way. I had no idea that it was coming.''
In early '75 Place arrived in Seattle and was installed in the Other Place kitchen as sous chef. But this was not just another Place in the Other Place. He was a talent.
He eventually moved on to Rosellini's Four-10 as head chef.
``I did the party that closed the old Four-10 down,'' he smiled, ``and I did the party that opened the new one in the Regrade 18 months later.''
In '78, Place hooked up with Annie Agostini at the Crepe de Paris in Madison Park; part of the deal was that he would have half of the restaurant. In '84 he bought out Agostini, and Dominique Place had his own place at last.
The menu was fresh, lively and innovative. But it was well-grounded in classical French cooking, and not unlike the culinary revolution that had been taking place in France for the previous decade. The new cooking.
Bright, attractive dishes with robust flavors anchored the daily card: Crisp Sweetbreads on a Bed of Mixed Greens with an Orange and Thyme Vinaigrette; Sauteed Chilean Sea Bass with Lime, Tomato and Fresh Herbs; and Roasted Duck Breast Served in Its Own Juice and a Reduction of Figs.
It looked like Dominique's Place's place in Seattle's restaurant hierarchy was secure for decades to come.
Several weeks ago, he called me and said he was negotiating for the restaurant's sale. I was stunned and said so.
``You are doing so well,'' I said. ``Why?''
``Because I am almost 40 years old,'' he replied, ``I have three wonderful children and I have not
had a day off in my life.''
Chefs, especially successful chefs, do not work like the rest of us. Fourteen- to 16-hour days are common. And the effects are cumulative. They build up - and they wear down - over time.
Some owner chefs, as their reputations and business base grow, do what other businessmen do. They expand, they hire new talent.
At Dominique's that was not easily feasible. The kitchen was tiny (22 by 7 feet) and barely had room at the gas range for more than one person to work at a time.
(An architect who was making plans to remodel the kitchen for its new owner, Erin Rosella, and her soon-to-open Italian restaurant, Sostanza, stood with measuring tape in hand and murmured: ``Imagine what it took to prepare the classics he created in this small space.'')
Over the years, Dominique and his wife, Chouchou, had formed a strong friendship with Gerard and Sharon Parrat. Gerard was the area's most senior French chef (at Gerard's Relais de Lyon in Bothell) and had begun custom-smoking salmon in his newly enlarged kitchen.
Not only did Parrat's clientele rave about the salmon, other restaurant owners did. As demand for the salmon grew, Place and Parrat formed a partnership and - in whatever time they had left over - saw their products placed in restaurants from Dallas to Chicago, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., as well as in several local dining rooms.
``It was hard for me to let go of the restaurant,'' Place said. ``The greatest pleasure for me was to talk to my customers as they left the restaurant each night and have them tell me how they enjoyed the food.
``But this will leave me time to develop the fish plant (Place and Parrat have a small smokehouse in Juanita), and to increase our markets. And I will have more time to teach and to cater. But most of all, it will allow me to spend time with my family. You don't know how funny it is going to be for me to be able to spend a weekend with my children.''
The dining room at Dominique's was filled the final week. (``It was crazy,'' Chouchou said. ``Like Dec. 31 six nights in a row.'') Regulars arrived and ordered their favorites. They left looking more saddened than satiated.
``I was here the night you opened,'' photographer Bob Peterson said to Place. ``And I'll be here the night you close.''
So long Vegetable Flan. Bye-bye onion soup. Goodnight Sweetbreads, well it's time to go.
``You are going to be bored,'' Dominique said to Chouchou.
``Bored? I won't be bored? Not me.''
``What are you going to do?'' he asked her.
``I am going to clean my yard. And I am going to organize my garden.''
``Yes, the garden.''
``And I am going to make cookies for my children when they come home from school.''
FRENCH ONION SOUP
Makes 6 servings
For the bouillon:
6 to 7 pounds beef bones
4 onions, cut in half
4 carrots, cut in half
2 leeks, cut in half
2 heads garlic, cut in half
2 cloves1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, peeled, core removed and sliced thin
1 cup sherry, divided
Salt to taste18 slices French bread, toasted
2 to 3 cups grated Swiss cheese
1. Put the beef bones in 1 1/2 gallons cold water, bring to a simmer and skim. Wash the bones thoroughly in cold water. Rinse the pot. Put the bones back in the pot, this time with 1 1/2 gallons hot water. Add the ``aromatic garniture'' - onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and cracked pepper - bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer slowly for 7 to 10 hours.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Over medium heat, saute the sliced onions until golden (at least 20 minutes), and deglaze with 1/2 cup of the sherry.
3. When the bouillon is cooked, pass it through a fine strainer. You should have about 2 quarts. Combine the bouillon and sauteed onion, salt to taste and cook slowly for about 10 minutes.
4. Put the soup in oven-proof bowls and arrange three slices of bread on top of each bowl. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese and place under a broiler until the cheese is golden and crispy. Add a shot of the remaining sherry before serving. Bon appetit.
THESE RECIPES WERE TESTED BY SEATTLE TIMES HOME ECONOMIST CECE SULLIVAN. ALAN BERNER IS A SEATTLE TIMES STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER.