Although I’m no food critic, I do have a talent for sniffing out unique, non-mainstream restaurants at home and while traveling. Stumbling upon out-of-the-ordinary eateries with not-to-be ignored personalities never ceases to produce a smile and sigh from me. I have been known to search all afternoon for such finds while on vacation, completely ignoring my husband’s complaints of starvation and aching feet. So it comes as no surprise to those who know me that for the past two and a half years I’ve been cheering for the tenacity and success of Tacoma’s very own French restaurant, Aviateur Brasserie.
Located in the second story of the Umpqua Bank building on the corner of 15th and Pacific Avenue, Aviateur occupies the space that Sea Grille and Zara Mediterranean couldn’t make work. Yet it works for Aviateur. So what’s their secret? Is it the soft music and dim lights? Is it the French cuisine that you can’t find anywhere else in Grit City? Or is it the intoxicating French accent of Bertrand, the owner, when he says something as simple as “Bonjour, madame”?
Well, something made me try the escargot – and come back for more…
“Any restaurant can be successful anywhere. If you provide food people like, they will come,” says Bertrand Young. His restaurant enjoys a steady stream of customers through all seasons with most appearing on Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner. Bertrand is no stranger to the
challenges of enticing the picky palates of foodies, or to running a business. In other words, this is not his first rodeo. (Or would that be Tour de France?)
Bertrand arrived in New York City in 1986 at 22 years old after graduating from Pantin Culinary College in Paris and serving in the French Army. He had dreamed of living in NYC since visiting there with his father when he was 15 years old. He started his US-based restaurant career at the Hotel Pierre, then moved on to serve at the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts on 5th Avenue. When the Four Seasons merged with the Hilton Regency, he was asked to work in management at their headquarters on 57th Street. All valuable experiences for one trained in the culinary arts.
While living in New York, Bertrand had the opportunity to meet Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking author and The French Chef cooking show celebrity). I asked him what he thought of this American woman who specialized in French cuisine. “She was a very different type of French cook. She should have opened her own restaurant in New York,” he said. “She was basically a French woman living in America,” he added.
Eventually, his gypsy soul took him to Guam where he worked for a time at the Hilton International Asia headquarters. He then started his own pastry and food factory business that served all airlines flying out of Guam. I imagine those passengers were pleasantly surprised with the quality of their meals.
In 2003, Tacoma became the City of Destiny for Bertrand, his three daughters and wife, who was employed by the US Army. With his family as his first priority, Bertrand wasn’t interested in commuting to Seattle and working long hours in an upscale restaurant. In 2005, he once again combined his cooking and business skills to create La Crème Brulee bistro in Steilacoom (now called De La Terre with new owners). His newest creation quickly became a neighborhood favorite. There was nothing of its kind in Pierce County. I think it’s safe to say that the commissary on the military base was no competition.
Although the town of Steilacoom had its charm, the beat of the city still pulled at Bertrand’s heart strings. When he saw the space above the bank with its clear bar view of people bustling along Pacific Avenue, he fell in love with it. Voila! The Aviateur Brasserie opened in May 2014 and is still going strong.
The restaurant offers traditional French dishes such as Escargot A La Bourguignone (snails with garlic and butter), Boeuf Bourguignone (beef short ribs), Margret De Canard (duck breast), Carre D’Agneau Grille (rack of lamb) and Bouillabaisse (seafood stew). “My customers would protest if I removed any of these dishes from the menu,” says Bertrand. They may also feel the same about his French-style hamburger (containing duck eggs) placed on a homemade brioche bun of which he is quite proud. And surely they would riot if he ran out of Malbec, Cabernet, Merlot, Saint Emillion (white Bordeaux).
But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself any Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Plan to dine so bring an engaging dinner partner. Expecting good food fast is a faux pas you don’t want to commit. Bon appetite!
1498 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402