Too many bubbles, not enough analysis

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Shopping cart.jpgRemember this picture in the Noo Yawk Timez last week, of a shopping cart full of soda? So far, so good. The headline suggests the cart is piloted by a food stamp mom, but the story itself says the contrary. Everybody buys too much soda..

Hey, I'm no fan of soda. But don't demonize "poor people" on food stamps for making the same bad food choices as everybody else. Sure, as income increases, as education increases, people tend to eat healthier diets. But the article puts all the blame on the folks who need food stamps, rather than where it belongs: on Coke and Pepsi and the billions they spend to get us all to drink their Kool-Aid.

An industry newsletter called The New Food Economy calls bullshit and puts the Times piece in perspective.

Keeping the bubbles alive

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Couple of years ago there was a restaurant in Pioneer Square called Tinello, the Italian word for "dinette." Before long, they got a cease-and-desist letter from the owners of Il Tinello on West 56th St. in Manhattan, two blocks off Central Park, where tuxedoed waiters serve $30 platters of linguine with clams and $40 veal chops. Me, I would told the Noo Yawk swells, va fancul. But Rudy La Valle went on Kickstarter and raised almost 20 grand to rebrand as Radici. Doing fine, it seems, and none the worse for having dodged the wrath of a bully 3,000 miles away.

Evan w glass.JPGNow flip to Perlage Systems, a gizmo from local inventor, beverage connoisseur, and tango master Evan Wallace. A physicist and former software exec, he lives in a condo at the Market and spends a lot time in his "living room" downstairs, the Zig Zag Café. He's also a tinker and inventor with a fondness for bubbles and abhorrence of flat Champagne.

How to keep the sparkle in a sparkling wine? Icy cold temperature helps; an airtight stopper helps, but really, once the bottle has been opened, the only way to keep the contents perfectly fresh is to exactly recreate the conditions in the bottle before the cork was popped. Wallace's solution, patented as the Perlage system, is to encase the entire bottle in a clear safety enclosure, and then re-pressurize the head space of the bottle to its original state. For the first three years, Perlage was licensed to a single customer (Dom Perignon), but it's now available for home use.

There's another product from Wallace's company, Applied Fizzics, that will add sparkle to your bar: it's called Perlini, a $200 kit (in a Mafia-style metal attaché case) that includes a shaker, a pressurizer, and a dozen CO2cartridges. Starbucks was looking at Perlini to carbonate its Tazo iced tea. Barkeeps around the country are using large-scale Perlini devices to add fizz to their cocktails. (Canon, on Capitol Hill, serves a sparkling Negroni, among others.)

And wait, yes, there's more. It's a device called Fizz-Iq that will carbonate anything. It's the size of a giant microwave and connects via tubes, hoses, gas canisters and mixing valves to kegs of premixed cocktails.

Wallace doesn't outsource the manufacturing, he does it himself, at a workbench in a space he rents from a friend who happens to own the condo unit across the hall from his own. Yes, circuit boards and all. "I had to learn how to do this," he points out. Sometimes he has people come in and help him with the assembly. Production of the Fizz-Iq: about one unit a month. Sales price: between five and ten grand, which Wallace sometimes takes in trade.

Two years ago, a bottled water producer in Norway called Voss sued, claiming that the Perlini system cocktail shaker (clear, cylindrical) violates the Voss trademark bottle (clear, cylindrical). Now, Voss water is sold in grocery stores worldwide, while the Perlage system costs hundreds and is distributed by the company directly to restaurants and bars. Yet Voss claimed that the Perlini shaker violated their trademark on the bottle that Voss water is packaged in, which is also clear and cylindrical in shape.

"Trademark disputes hinge on handful of surprisingly common-sense legal principles," said Wallace from his Seattle office. "For Voss to make a case, the company would have had to have shown - at the very least - that Perlini and Voss water are in overlapping product categories and sold through overlapping trade channels to overlapping markets.

"It's ridiculous that Voss thinks it can continue to protect a trademark on a cylinder, one of the most common geometrical shapes in the universe," Wallace said two years ago. "It is beyond absurd that Voss thinks there could be any confusion in the customers' mind as to whether they are buying a $3 bottle of water or a $600 restaurant appliance for carbonating cocktails."

Now there's a new challenge to the Perlage/Perlini name, this time from a California outfit called Enartis. Originally known as Vinquiry Wine Lab, it's now part of Esseco, a global supplier of products, equipment, and technical services to the wine industry. You've never heard of them, but the process engineers who make everything from Mondavi to Gallo, red, white, sparkling, domestic, imported, bottled, boxed, and canned, all use the same outside consultants and suppliers, and Enartis is a major player. (Just as grape growers everywhere use the same brand of tractors and pesticides.)

According to a press release dated January 17th, "Enartis USA is pleased to announce the introduction of the Perlage range in our product portfolio - a dedicated range of premium quality winemaking products for sparkling wine production." Except nobody checked with Wallace. And here, there's definitely cause for confusion. "Direct trademark infringement," Wallace believes.

But intellectual property attorneys and trademark lawsuits are extraordinarily expensive. "You can't even recover attorney's expenses in federal court," Wallace points out. "And unlike, say, a juicy personal injury suit, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow--you can get the defendant to cease and desist, and get small monetary damages for lost revenue if you can prove it, but the real payoff is to get them to stop. So unless they are truly hurting your bottom line, or diluting your brand, there's not much point."

Gulp.

"The more money you have, and the more recognized your brand, the more you have to fight--because not protecting your trademark in court can cause it to be invalidated. So Coke and McDonalds fight EVERYTHING, even if there is no possible chance of confusion with their product. They have to fight even if they know they won't win."

Gulp again. We'll let you know how this turns out.

How Traviata lost her way

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ViolettaValery @Traviata January 14th, 2017
Torment or delight? I don't have much longer. Alfredo offers nerdy domesticity but isn't pleasure the best medicine? Sempre Libera! PS His dad hates me. #SadLife. #SeattleOpera

Violette w Alfredo.jpg

Forever free? Violetta, the doomed courtesan in the title role of La Traviata, thinks that might be preferable, She resists the challenge presented by the nerdy Alfredo, who offers the torment and delight ("croce e delizia") of true love. In the end, she opts for both: domesticity first, until that's undermined by Alfredo's stern father, Germont, then death. All this drama in what is, alas, a humorless, "streamlined" production that distills a classic three-act opera into 100 uninterrupted minutes of CliffsNotes mush.

Aidan Lang, in his third season now at the helm of Seattle Opera, inherited both the ship and its destination from his long-serving predecessor, Speight Jenkins, but that doesn't mean he can't tinker around the edges. Traviata, the biggest chestnut in a stable of war horses, was already on the schedule, but Lang chose the production, by the German director, Peter Konwitschny, who envisioned a one-act, modern-dress, pared-down version of Verdi's beloved masterpiece. No elaborate scenery or lavish costumes, just a chair and a pile of books. If Violetta (cough-cough, she's got TB) reminds you of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, you're right. Does Alfredo look nerdy, like the guy who used to ask "Can you hear me now?" Yup.

The character whose actions drive the story off the cliff is Germont, Alfredo's stern father. He claims that his son's affair with a courtesan will ruin his daughter's chances of marriage. What a cruel, manipulative, nasty dude. (The daughter appears onstage; she's pre-pubescent.) By the time Germont figures out he's wrong about Violetta, it's too late to make amends. Some give Germont credit for a change of heart, but I've always seen him as the opera's true villain.

Germont's dickishness needs more time, more context. Pulling aside curtains onstage to reveal "inner thoughts" becomes a tedious affectation the third and fourth time. There's lovely music and fine singing at McCaw; Traviata (and Verdi) deserve a staging that's less artificial. We may not need pomp, but we do need (or at least crave) spectacle.

Like condensed milk, this is Traviata reduced to its essentials, but the flavor and the nutrition is in the full-fat version. You really can't tweet opera.

Footnotes & grace notes:

  • Weston Hurt, who sang Germont in the opening night production, had the same role seven years ago, in what was then called the Silver cast.
  • Angel Blue, the "alternate" Violetta, sang the heartbreaking "Summertime" in Seattle Opera's production of Porgy & Bess in 2011.
  • There's a blog called Croce e Delizia; it's about baking cookies.
Seattle Opera presents La Traviata, through Jan. 28 at McCaw Hall. Tickets online, $66 to $230. Photo © of Corinne Winters by Philip Newton for Seattle Opera.

Charlie's is dunzo. #sorrynotsorry

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Nachos at Charlies.JPGCharlie's (217 Broadway E.) finally reopened after a change of ownership (taken over by the folks who run The Lodge in Pioneer Square and some remodeling. Some, not too much. They added a second bar, they removed a couple of interior signs; fewer TV screens but bigger ones. Much, much cleaner. The relaunch coincided with the Capitol Hill Art Walk, but the new, spruced-up Charlie's isn't going to compete with trendy hipster bars like Melusine (1060 E. Union) or studious ethnic spots like Chavez (1734 12th Ave.). It was more like the Comet (922 E. Pike) or Lost Lake (1505 10th Ave.). Hangover remedies included a $7 Mary and a $14 pitcher of Mimosas, along with a $10 Monte Cristo dusted with powdered sugar, sure to find an audience on Broadway.

At any rate, the day they re-opened in December 2015 they skipped breakfast and started serving at 3 PM. By 7:30 they were out of chicken wings. Seriously. There was also no more guacamole for the nachos. "Smothered in cheese," it said on the menu, but "dusted" would be more like it. Same for the black olives and tomatoes, barely enough to count. I grant you, it's been many, many years since I last ate here, but it will be many, more before I return. Sorry, Charlie.

With the ending of our one-year lease, we were faced with a difficult decision. Charlie's holds a special place in our hearts. However, due to economic factors of the restaurant industry, as of Tuesday January 10th, 2017 we will be closed. Being a part of the Capitol Hill community has been an honor, and we will miss the community deeply.
But the fact is, noble sentiments aside, Charlie is broke. The parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court last year listing ten businesses it operated including Charlie's. Capitol Hill Blog says the filing listed total liabilities of more than $5.7 million. Included in that was a nearly $2 million disputed claim from the IRS, more than $860,000 in a disputed claim from Homeland Security/ICE Investigations, and $750,000 owed to the state. The parent company, owned by (husband and wife) Shawn Roten and Elizabeth Stewart. continues to run seven restaurants under The Lodge Sports Grille brand.

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