Something Fishy

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Aquadvantage Salmon.jpg

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Except this time, the blue fish is monster frankenfish, genetically engineered to grow faster, ever faster. We wrote about this project three years ago. Nobody would say a single good word on behalf of this beast. Mind you, this was in December of 2012; the timeline for approval was said to be imminent, but nothing happened.

But, lo, now here's an update. Again, in the New York Times, the official argument in favor of the genetically engineered fish. Approved. And not required to be labeled, either. Yikes!

This cannot end well. Around the country, retailers, chefs, and media are saying "stop wiggling."

A Bateau, a Melusine, a Porpoise

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General Porpoise doughnuts.jpg

Look who's having a great season: Renée Erickson, that's who. Three spots, no less, within the same building on East Union: an utterly charming restaurant called Bateau, a super-sweet bar called Melusine, and a coffee shop called (groan) General Porpoise. The overall concept is Erickson's longstanding fascination with all things aquatic, hence the name of her company (with Jeremy Price and Chad Dale), SeaCreatures. Then again, their 30-acre property on Whidbey Island is called La Ferme aux Anes. So we have the slight cognitive dissonance that Bateau (French for boat) will serve beef from the donkey farm. The Melusine of folklore is actually a water sprite; think of the Starbucks mermaid and you'll get the picture.

What all is on the menu at Bateau? Well, octopus, sweetbreads, tartare, and the like. A pork chop, a butter-poached fish. Then five kinds of beef. Filet, onglet, bavette, New York, and the pièce de résistance (as the French would say): Côte de Boeuf, the double-thick, bone-in rib-eye. The Italians call this cut Fiorentina; it's also known as a tomahawk steak (though that just means the butcher doesn't saw off the long rib bone). Set you back $125, it will. The doughnuts are a far, far better deal.

By the way, no tipping needed, since there's an automatic service charge. Part of Erickson's move toward greater equity between front- and back-of-house employees as the economy moves toward a $15 minimum wage. The menu explains that there's a 20 percent service charge, 55 percent of which goes to the employees directly serving the customer. One assumes the balance goes to the rest of the staff.

Bateau, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 Bateau Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bar Melusine, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 Bar Melusine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
General Porpoise, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 General Porpoise Coffee and Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ballet's Cap Hill Tap Dance

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Ballet collage.jpg

You know that hole-in-the-wall Thai spot called Ballet on East Pike? One of a dozen pho parlors and noodle houses on the Hill, right? But it's pretty special for several reasons.

First, it makes no pretense at being hip; second, it's been in the same family for three decades. The current boss, Dzung Nguyen, now 32, has worked there for half his life now, and has lost none of his enthusiasm for the hospitality business. Ten years ago, his parents retired and his siblings moved away, so he took over the restaurant, which had existed since 1987. It's the antithesis of fancy Asian places like Momiji or Monsoon or Nue: 16 unadorned tables, plastic holders for the utensils, paper napkins, a fish tank, an elephant sculpture. Surprisingly, a website.

Yes, you can have pho here; it's a Vietnamese restaurant, after all. But Capitol Hill is crawling with pho parlors. Yes, you can have a vermicelli bowl or phad Thai, but there are a dozen noodle shops of all stripes within crawling distance. What I recommend is something that just doesn't exist elsewhere: the satay.

Rice noodles, check. Slivered cucumber, check. Crushed peanuts and bean sprouts, check. The combo ($9.95) adds a generous helping of prawns, chicken and beef. It's the coconut milk soup, fragrant, spicy with lemongrass and colored bright pink that's unique at Ballet. If you finish the bowl, you won't need to eat for at least a day.

And now comes word that Nguyen has sold the business to Freddy Rivas, who has a popular spot called Rancho Bravo (1001 E. Pine St.); his plan is to call it Buddha's Kitchen, and no craft cocktails, thank you very much. The building itself is owned by Ron Amundson, the enlightened developer whose projects aim to preserve the Hill's historic atmosphere. Only trouble is, a health code violation that has, for now, shut the place down.

Ballet, 914 E. Pike, 206-328-7983  Ballet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Political correctness in Madrona

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Madrona Arms signs.jpg

You know how Rachel Maddow sometimes ends her show with a segment called "Best New Thing in the World"? Maybe we could call this "Worst New Thing in the World." The horror, the horror of exposing children, children, to the misogynist message of these old-timey bar signs.

Are they in "good taste"? No. Are they even funny? Nah, not really. Are they inappropriate in the year 2015? Probably. Are they disgusting enough to warrant a big public hullabaloo, outcry, and boycott? C'mon, lady, it's just a bleeping sign in a bleeping bar.

The lady, by the way, is Madrona resident Kelli Christensen. The bar is the newly opened Madrona Arms at the corner of 34th and E. Union, an address that was, for two decades, home to the Madrona Ale House. The new owner, Belfast-born Peter Johnson, owns similar pubs in Madison Park (McGilvra's), the U-District (Finn McCool's), and Capitol Hill (The Chieftain). They're neighborhood taverns whose success depends on hitting exactly the right spot of menu, price point, decor, and service.

So when Ms. Christensen showed up to scout the Madrona Arms for a lunch date with a friend recovering from a mastectomy, she was horrified: she saw the signs as objectifying women, especially women's breasts. Sensitive to her friend's medical history, overly sensitive perhaps, she complained. To the manager and on Facebook. After all, the Madrona Arms is an all-ages establishment and children, children, were being exposed to these images as well.

A no-brainer for Johnson; he had the signs taken down. "We're not in the business of offending people," he told me. A tweak to satisfy a neighbor and avert conflagration; that's part of what customers expect. But what's next? A sign at the door warning of potential risks inside, like nitrates in the sausage, sodium in the pizza sauce, alcohol in the beer, carcinogens on the grilled steak, crude humor on the wall?

My sense, no disrespect, is that Ms. Christensen should think about lunch a block away, at the Hi-Spot Cafe. They've got a similar Reuben sandwich (watch out for nitrates, though). She's probably okay if she sticks to the Emerald Blossom Green Jasmine tea, but remember that the OJ contains sulfites.

But just how much accommodation should a patron expect? The world's a dangerous place, full of gluten, full of terrorists.


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