St. Helens is a Tacoma neighborhood filled with terrific dining, but also coveted real estate. That’s why when Laura’s Bayview, a popular restaurant for neighbors, closed in June, I heard from worried readers speculating the building was destined to be office space.
Not to worry. I’m happy to report that it’s a restaurant again. Sel — the French word for salt— opened quietly about two weeks ago. It offers brunch and lunch at the moment, but has plans for tapas a few nights a week.
The menu is French in foundation with sporadic regional American accents and occasional Northwest flourishes.
The dining room is absolutely lovely. Ladies who lunch, you’ll want to dine here.
Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this newspaper’s policy to avoid criticism of a restaurant’s food and service during its first month of operation.
The owner: Gabriela Oliva previously opened a Palm Springs, California, restaurant called Farm.
Executive chef: Chriselda Townsend will be a familiar name for longtime North End diners. She spent 12 years as chef at the Rosewood Cafe. Before that, she cooked at Shakabrah. The Chrissy Skillet on that restaurant’s menu is named after her. A chef from Marrow, Hailey Gift, landed at Sel after Marrow’s August closure.
Decor: Gorgeous makeover. Well-spaced pedestal tables with the most comfortable padded chairs I’ve encountered in Tacoma; sparkling chandeliers; repurposed wood accents and vintage furniture.
That view: Bet you didn’t know the building has a terrific water view. The covered deck at the rear of the building yields this-is-why-we-live-here views of Tacoma’s waterfront.
Brunch: Brioche French toast in three flavors including caramelized banana with mascarpone and hazelnuts ($12) and a savory take with Swiss and bacon ($13). Seven omelets, including ham and gruyere ($10), and andouille sausage with spinach, gruyere and avocado ($14).
Sandwiches: A croque madame rivaled the winner (nearby Art House Cafe) of my 2014 croque tour. Built with a nutmeg-tinged bechamel and nutty gruyere, the sandwich came piled with exquisite layers of jambon de Paris and a jiggly sunnyside egg centered on top ($12). Townsend recommends the hangar steak sandwich with chimichurri ($14). I also spotted grilled chicken ($13); veggie ($12) and a brie-and-pear sandwich ($13). All sandwiches are served with mixed greens dressed in a sherry vinaigrette. I liked the shaved radish and piquant pickled onions.
Curiosities: This section of the menu was a fun collection. Townsend described an unusual take on chicken and waffles. “It’s similar to pulled chicken, with chorizo sausage mixed in with a duck confit bechamel. It turns into a delicious gravy.” It’s served over a waffle ($13). Also listed was a pork belly Benedict ($13) with lemon-splashed hollandaise, wedges of supple pork belly and poached eggs that spilled golden yolks over crunchy English muffins. Townsend also makes crab ($13) and florentine ($12) Benedicts. She described a Spanish breakfast with scrambled eggs, polenta, peppers and salsa verde ($12).
Did someone say duck fat? Townsend said she uses the fat rendered from duck when grilling many of its nonvegetarian items. (I like her.) Duck confit shows up in a salad and omelet (both $15).
Beverages: Breakfast cocktails; wine by the glass; French press coffee and tea.
Can’t find it? There’s no sign on the building. Look for a sandwich board.
Where: 229 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1015.
Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.