Step 1: Get in your car. Step 2: Drive east. Way east. Step 3: Screech to a halt in downtown Spokane in front of Santé, the year-and-a-half old restaurant and charcuterie attached to Auntie’s Bookstore. Auntie’s is Spokane’s fantastic independent bookstore, kindred spirit to Elliott Bay in Seattle and Powell’s in Portland. Perhaps there is a trend of talented restaurateurs running bookstore-attached cafes -- see Tamara Murphy in Elliott Bay’s former lower level space -- and if so, Chef/Owner Jeremy Hansen is an excellent example of this trend on the east side of the state.
From an interior perspective, it’s more upscale than other bookstore cafes I’ve seen. Though there aren’t a huge number of tables, the open ceiling and big windows that look onto West Main Street give the room a terrific spaciousness. The white wainscoting on two walls and dark, shiny floor contrast nicely, as do the substantial, very un-modern chairs and the distinctly modern menu. The space is well-proportioned and comfortable, but clearly much of the action is taking place out of sight.
It’s late on a Thursday night and Hansen is all energy and enthusiasm, excited to talk about his plans for Santé. He and his relatively large team will continue to produce great food out of what is a tiny kitchen for such a varied menu, while expanding into other areas of the building as the restaurant offerings evolve. The newest of these is a recently-finished space in the basement, now ground zero for their house-cured charcuterie and soon to become the same for cheese and bread production. For all of the restaurants that aspire to make everything in-house, Santé gives them a run for their money. Next up is an herb garden on the rooftop, I’ve no doubt.
The first thing that appeared at the table that evening was an amuse-bouche, literally something that “entertains the mouth,” a single bite of some bit of wonderful that arrives unbidden from the chef. This particular version was a thin crisp of toast with apple jelly, goat cheese and a blackberry gracing the top. Just enough to get the palate ready for more.
Next came the crespella, a goat cheese and leek stuffed crêpe with tomato confit and basil gastrique. The tomato arrived intact rather than confited, which was perfectly fine with me, and the gastrique was sweet and basil-y and the perfect accompaniment to the goat cheese and crêpe.
The charcuterie plate was a rather substantial offering of salami, chicken terrine, brie, cornichons, baguette and two house-made mustards, my favorite of which was the marjoram. But for me the star of the plate was the duck prosciutto, immensely flavorful and gorgeously un-lean.
The true cod had a lovely sear on the top and was falling-apart tender and much more flavorful than I might have expected from this particular fish. No doubt it helped that the cod was paired with the creamiest root vegetable risotto, spinach, onion and beurre fondue. I’m guessing that last is a bit like beurre blanc only creamier, which likely gave the risotto the texture I loved so much. The balsamic reduction around the rim of the plate and plum and walnut chutney lent a bit of sweetness, contrasting with the salt of the gaufrette (a thinly waffled potato crisp) placed atop the dish.
We finished with this caramel apple crème brulée, paired with a granny smith apple sorbet. As with everything else we had that evening dessert was beautifully presented, but the chunks of fruit overwhelmed the crème brulée and the accompanying sorbet seemed an unnecessary addition when quite lacking in flavor. In my opinion, the only misstep in an otherwise fantastic meal.
Santé also looks to have a knock-out brunch menu, and I already have my eye on a couple of items: the duck hash (duck confit, foie gras butter, potatoes, onion, white sauce, duck egg, baguette) and the phyllo and house paneer (house-made paneer, date and walnut chutney, tofu, watercress, red wine gastrique). They’re also doing all kinds of interesting events worth checking out, including 15, a 15-course (nope, that’s not a typo) extravaganza complete with participating wineries, all benefitting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane.
Clearly it’s not just Chef Hansen and the talented team in the back of the house who do great work at Santé. Kudos to our server, Eric, who did a fantastic job of pointing us toward menu items we might not have otherwise tried. He was knowledgeable, helpful and fun -- three things I very much appreciate in someone walking me through a meal. With this kind of phenomenal food and service, and engaging community events, it looks like a bright food future for Santé, without a doubt.