French Bistro Cassis Returns, this Time to West Seattle

Can an upscale restaurant thrive across the bridge?
Julien Perry  |   August 2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
A happy hour portion of mussels at Cassis

Back in the late ’90s, Cassis was the “it” place to be. Flourishing on Capitol Hill, the intimate French bistro was known for its mussels, fish soup and steak frites. And then in 2004, despite popular vote, owner Jef Fike closed the place. Fast-forward to 2014. Cassis resurfaces on Alki of all places. Fike couldn’t stay away from the business. Will the same be true for diners? Will the new Cassis survive amongst the throngs of casual beachgoers on a sandy waterside strip known for its seasonality? If history is any indication, upscale restaurants don’t thrive in West Seattle. Beato, Spring Hill and Ovio Bistro stand as Exhibits A, B and C.

Next door to Cactus (tough competition on a sunny day), the entire bistro is a little slicker and streamlined than the original, but still warm and inviting, with dark wooden tables in the small dining room. “I wanted the restaurant to be beautiful, but I didn’t want it to be off-putting to anybody,” Fike told me the day he opened in February. “I didn’t want people to walk by and go, ‘Ooh, it’s too fancy. We can’t eat there,’ especially in the summer, with the flip-flop fanny-pack crowd.”

On one of my visits, the place was nearly filled by 6 p.m., no doubt with neighbors attracted by what is so far a pretty solid menu. For starters, those who snag a barstool will be treated to complimentary hard-boiled eggs (during happy hour) with a side of salt, perfectly cooked to the point at which the yolks are still soft and buttery. Mussels marinière, from the original Cassis menu, were a delightful first course, sitting in a light flavorful broth (but yet, not enough) of white wine, butter and herbs, with a nice chunk of chewy baguette perfect for sopping ($14). Seared seafood sausage, made in-house, with spring herb sabayon and pea vines ($12), may seem like a bit of a novelty item, but was superb with its spices, saltiness and fork-tenderness. But my hands-down favorite dish at Cassis was a May special of radicchio-wrapped halibut with balsamic butter and salt-roasted fingerlings ($22). The fish was so soft and light, and the radicchio, which could have easily been a stringy mess, was knife-tender and still had snap to the bite. It’s worth mentioning that the radish salad with house fromage blanc and chives ($10) was highly recommended, but the radish slices were too thick, and everything was underseasoned. It was challenging and not at all enjoyable to eat.

Chef Andy Dekle is in charge of the kitchen. He and Fike reunited after working together at The Ruins, where Fike was the catering director for two years after closing Cassis, and before Dekle left to go work for The Local Vine and Portage Bay Café. Dekle sources locally—often featuring products from West Seattle (Shipwreck honey)—and uses organic and grass-fed, free-range products, which is resonating with the community. “Many have said that they will avidly support us nine months of the year, but that they avoid Alki during the summer months,” Fike says. “I think this entire first year will be an experiment to see what does and doesn’t work.” Cassis has some kinks to work out, but it’s got some damned fine things going on, and it’s already one of the best places to dine across the bridge. Brunch Sat.–Sun., dinner Wed.–Mon. West Seattle, 2820 Alki Ave. SW; 206.743.8531; cassisalki.com