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The Puget Sound Business Journal confirms what many had already figured out: the Trans Pacific Partnership will be Very Good News indeed for apple and cherry growers in eastern Washington.

It's easy, here on the wet side, to think of our state's economy as Boeing for manufacturing, Microsoft for software, and Amazon for everything else. But the state's number two export, after airplanes, is agricultural products: potatoes, wheat, cherries, apples. Grain harvested in the Palouse gets loaded onto bargest and floated down the Columbia, where it's loaded onto ships that sail across the Pacific to make noodles in China. Apples keep pretty well if stored properly, and many uses: eating , baking, sauce, juice. Spuds go to processors in Idaho. Cherries, with a short shelf life, go out by air to markets in Europe as well as Asia. (There's talk of building a major new airport in Moses Lake, by the way.) Ag exports to the TPP nations came to $2.5 billion last year.

Not so fast, says the Seattle City Council and the statewide Labor Council over concerns that TPP will put up barriers to action on climate change, income inequality, labor issues, and human rights in other countries. The WTO demonstrations are apparently still fresh in the minds of many, even though Seattle hosted the event back in 1999. Looks like TPP will become a political football, too, since one of the earliest declarations of opposition comes from none other than Bernie Sanders.

Strangers in a strange land

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Who are all these people standing on your doorstep, and what do they want, anyway? Oh, wait, you promised to give them dinner. Good thing you remembered to vacuum the living room rug, dust the dining room chandelier, and wipe down the kitchen counter. Whose idea was this again, to share your house with random strangers who followed up on your Craiglist post? So you open a modestly priced bottle of Hogue Sauvignon Blanc and pour a taste for your guests. "Not so fast," says one, a 40-ish woman with close-cropped hair. She pulls a badge out of her purse. "Agent Smithers, Liquor Board Enforcement," she says, and writes out a $250 ticket for serving alcohol without a license. "Hold on there, buddy," says another, a cheerful lad in jeans and a blazer, "County Board of Health, this kitchen hasn't been inspected." A uniformed policeman walks in. "The neighbors have complained about suspicious cars out front. Do you have a license?" Right behind him is your landlady, lease in hand. "No parties," she reminds you. And so on. And on. And on.

Now, we've written admiringly about folks who do this sort of thing in Paris, where no one much seems to care. But here in the litigious USA, you're talking liability, health codes, liquor laws, land use regs, consumer protection statutes. Don't believe me? Read this Seattle Times article. You'll never throw a dinner party again without signed waivers and notarized liability releases from all your guests. Nice knowing you guys, ciao, and watch out for the dog poop in the front yard.

In the beginning, there was Ernest

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In football, it's called piling on. "Why do they do that?" you wonder, as yet one more heavily armored linesman leaps onto the pile. The ball's not going anywhere, and it takes the refs forever to peel away the bodies. Similarly, you might wonder why a restaurant would get a ton of gushing reviews the week it launches. You'd think Seattle had never seen a café with a literary name and an Italian menu! Can it ever be worth the hype?
I'm referring, of course, to Ernest Loves Agnes, newly opened at 600-602 19th Ave. E. on the site of the departed Kingfish Cafe.

Well, I can say with confidence that in a season of restaurant openings, Ernest Loves Agnes is at least as good as any of the newcomers. The Kingfish, where the Coassin sisters held court for two decades, has been given a makeover that retains much of its original feel (a long, narrow room with kitchen, rest rooms, and private dining on one side, bar and booths on the other). I mention the rest rooms because one of them is papered with pages and pages of letters that Hemingway wrote to his friends around the globe. (According to the New York Times, he wrote the first drafts of his novels and short stories in longhand.) The restaurant's eponymous Agnes is identified as Agnes von Kurowsky, who served as a nurse at a World War One field hospital in northern Italy. One of her patients was a wounded 19-year-old ambulance driver named Hemingway, who wanted to marry her, but she declined. In the movie version, the couple was played by Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock.

But we're here to talk about the restaurant, which was created by Guild Seattle. They don't mind if you've never heard of them, even though they run high-profile restaurants around town. Relatively new (November, 2014) the founders ar eJason Lajeunesse, David Meinert, and Joey Burgess. Their projects, so far: Lost Lake Café & Lounge, the Comet Tavern, Big Mario's Pizza, and Grims Provisions & Spirits. There are running ties as well to Capitol Hill Block Party; to Mike McConnell's coffee (Caffè Vita) and pizza (Via Tribunali) empire; and to Seattle's music scene (as agents for artists like Hey Marseille and Lumineers). which feeds into venues like Crocodile and Neumo's. Until now, Guild's restaurants have all been in the Pike-Pine corridor, but there are plans to expand on Lower Queen Anne. Maybe some day we'll see a corporate organization chart, but don't hold your breath.

At Ernest Love Agnes, the chef is Mac Jarvis (with experience in Hawaii, at Coastal Kitchen, and at Lola), assisted by sous Tia Hawley (late of La Spiga, Altstadt, and Skillet). They've created some mighty fine Italian-American fare. (As part of their menu research, Burgess and Lajeunesse made the rounds of top Italian spots in New York.) Garlicky meatballs; bucatini with herbed marinara; squid-ink ravioli filled with lobster; a spectacular grilled trout; beet salad with fennel; pizza topped with crispy kale and Mama Lil's pickled peppers (kinda looks like the Italian flag, all green and red and white); another pizza with baked eggs, jack cheese, and speck. Also on the menu: roast chicken, skillet-seared steak, and pastas with bolognese, lamb, or spicy Italian sausage.

Best for last: a citrus-scented cream called Orange Blossom. At the preview dinner I attended, they were piped into bite-size pastry cups, delicious finger food. Bet ya can't eat just one.

Ernest Loves Agnes, 600 19th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-535-8723   Ernest Loves Agnes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sweet Sweetgrass

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There's a category of restaurant, more elaborate than a coffee shop, more elaborate than a salad bar, that's not quite fast food, not quite fast-casual, that targets a specific clientele. Not your voracious, burger-scarfing roommate (he's a lost cause) but, more likely, your fussy, salad-forking cousin. Call it fast, healthy food; call it healthy food served fast, but it's a real thing. Especially in Seattle.

Chipotle wants to dominate this lucrative segment, especially now that Subway, which used to be a contender, has fallen into disgrace. It's not a category that lends itself to chains but rewards sincere, hands-on operators. A couple of years back, Heather Nuicifora and Steve Hooper opened Kigo Kitchen in South Lake Union to feed Amazon's hordes of hungry, busy worker bees. In Pioneer Square, Gaba Sushi represents the concept.

Kerr & Moon.JPGAnd, as of today, a new entrant: Sweetgrass Food Co. It opened in the Metropolitan Tower at Westlake and Virginia, a long-awaited venture from a first-time restaurant couple, Colleen Kerr and Mike Moon. first reported on their project back in February.

Kerr is an executive with Washington State University; Moon is a former business consultant. Their venture, which already includes a second store (still under construction in Pioneer Square), is based on the concept of locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients with minimal processing. Meals are available for sit-down diners as well as grab & go. Most of the dozen or so items are salad bowls assembled to order. Nothing is over $10.

The owners are getting support from a couple of restaurant veterans, concept guru Ken Batali (Chop Shop, Athletic Supply) and Sharon Fillingim (Grub, Le Reve). "We've never opened a restaurant before," Kerr admits, "so we need all the help we can get." The branding company Civilization, on Capitol Hill, provided assistance with concept development and the logo, and Huxley-Wallace chef Brian O'Connor contributed recipes.

Sweetgrass Food logo.jpgMoon says he never imagined how much work was involved in remodeling the space, which used to be a jewelry store. "I built the bathrooms, the mezzanine, the stairs, the banquettes." The couple ended up with a 2,400-square-foot space, with downstairs seating for 60 in addition to the 30-seat mezzanine level.

The signature dish is called Five-Color Sweetgrass Rice Pottage, a flavorful variation on Asian congee. "The name sounds like French for soup," Kerr explains. (In the Bible, Esau sells his birthright for "a mess of pottage." In England, there's also a thick lentil stew called pottage.) Sweetgrass's rice pottage is made with long grain brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, greens, adzukibeans, pickled sweet chilies, cilantro, shaved fennel, fresh ginger and scallions.

Another flavorful dish is the Buddha Bowl, consisting of coconut brown rice, quinoa, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, avocado, lentils, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette scented with kaffir lime and turmeric. "Everything has to be delicious," is Kerr's motto.

Sweetgrass plans to be open from 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday, and from 8 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays.

Sweetgrass, 1923 7th Avenue, 206-602-6656  Sweetgrass Food Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

"Definitely not a Ponzi scheme"

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Remember this guy, Labsong Dargey, onetime Tibetan monk? He got Mayor Murray and TV star Tom Skerritt to show up at the groundbreaking for his $190 million, 41-story hotel-and-apartment tower in Belltown. Dozens of foreign investors had paid half a million apiece for a slice of the action, in a program that gave them and their families a coveted EB-5 Green Card in exchange for the cash, which was ostensibly used to "create jobs" in economically depressed areas (like, ahem, Belltown).

Side note: Congress is supposed to renew this cockamamie scheme (that's the only term that makes sense) before the end of the month, assuming they get their act together.

But Dargey has been under SEC investigation for the past month for defrauding investors, and not just in Seattle. Up in Everett, local prosecutors are also looking into financial irregularities. The FBI, among other entities, is wondering what's going on, and have shut down construction on the Seattle and Everett projects.

Nothing to see here, Dargey's people contend. Everything's above board. "These projects are real. This is definitely not a Ponzi scheme and it is not alleged to be," Dargeys lawyers say.


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