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The town of Soave, midway between Milan and Venice, in the picturesque rolling hills of northern Italy, counts fewer than 7,000 souls, but the Soave name is applied to some 50 million bottles of white wine a year. Recognized for the quality of its vines--some 18,000 acres, the size of Napa Valley--Soave is the product of garganega grapes planted on volcanic soil, and is an ideal complement to the lighter foods (fish, shellfish, rice, pasta, cheese) of the region. The DOC, today's formal organization (borders, production protocols, and so on) date from the early 1930s, but the vineyards have been admired since the days the hills were occupied by a Germanic tribe, the Svevians, in the Middle Ages. Some 3,000 growers work the land today; four-fifths of their production is exported. The big competition comes from three gorillas: chardonnay, riesling, and pinot grigio, all of which are more familiar to the American palate than the less flamboyant, more mineral garganega.

Which is why the promotional arm of Soave has an elaborate road show: a Master Class with a blind tasting of twelve wines; a celebrity presenter (Master Sommelier, author and restaurateur Evan Goldstein); an intermezzo of cold cuts and a glass of Soave; then a multi-course lunch with six more wines; and a small library of glossy documents to take home. The road show alit at Tavolata one morning this week, with some 50 local sommeliers and wine writers in attendance. It's possible they were drawn by the prospect of a repast prepared by chef Addam Buzzalini and that they didn't notice the disclaimer: "Campaign Financed according to EC Regulations N 1308/13." That's the European Union's honey pot, doling out significant sums for the promotion of under-appreciated but politically significant wine via producer associations that are nominally self-financed. EC N1308/13 provides a little sweetener.

We've seen several of these projects across western Europe in recent vintages, to promote the wines of Puglia, Chianti, Collio, Sicily, the Alto Adige, the Loire, Champagne, Alsace, and so on. Sometimes entire countries (Portugal), sometimes appellations within sub-regions (Bordeaux Supérieur, Vino Nobile). Dutifully we go, to the trade shows, the road show luncheons, the receptions, the dinners; we taste, we take notes. (Not always wine, either. SOPEXA sponsors cheese tastings; there's even a Consorzio for Parma ham.) Then we say goodbye to the visitors, shake their hands, and wish them well on the next leg of their exhausting journeys. Back at their hotels the next morning the visitors don freshly-laundered shirts and freshly pressed suits, and fly on to the next market. Seriously, it's a tough life.

Lords of the Jungle

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Two of the nicest people in Frelard are Perfecto Rocher and his partner, Alia Zaine, behind the counter at Tarsan i Jane. Rocher's grandfather was a shepherd and opponent of Franco who had to hide out in the hills between Barcelona and Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain; with a long beard and wild ways, they called him Tarzan. Even today, the people of Catalonia maintain a fierce independence and even a separate language. When he visited his grandfather's mountain hideout, Rocher was in charge of the ducks, the chickens, the rabbits. On a day off at the beach he encountered Alia, a traveling American; they moved together to Los Angeles, where they both found work in restaurants.

Familiar story: they wanted their own place, they wanted a smaller city, so they came to Washington (Valencia is the same size as Seattle), and found a ready-made space where Heong Soon Park had been running his third restaurant, Tray. One too many; he had his hands full with a young family and two other spots, Bacco and Chan. Now the space will be home to the wood-fired cuisine of the Spanish countryside and the Mediterranean coast.

"The dining experience at Tarsan I Jane is based on trust," it says on the menu. It's a challenge that goes in both directions. "We trust our diners to be open minded, adventurous, and inquisitive eaters. In return, guests can be confident our kitchen will provide a one-of-a-kind culinary sampling that draws on local producers, seasonal crops, and a deep passion for mixing modern techniques with traditional cuisine."

In practice, it means, well, yes, paella on Sundays. Dinner à la carte on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Spanish wines, but local carrots, for example. A dish described on the menu as "pastenaga" promises "carrot in textures," garnished with crispy kale. A roasted carrot, a puréed carrot, and a garlicky carrot salad surmounted by a green sail. Admirable artistry, to be sure, but nothing in the flavors made me think, "Ah, now that's a carrot." I want to return, though, and sample the tomato-garlic toast with botifarra sausage, the arros caldos, the polp a la brasa. Five courses, chef decides. And I'll definitely come back for the paella.

You might have to abandon your ride in the car wash across the street because Leary Way is a tough cookie, but I think it's going to be worth the effort to find parking.

Tarsan i Jane, 4012 Leary Way NW, Seattle, 206-557-7059  Tray Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunrise for Sunset Chicken

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You may recall, a few weeks back, that I stamped my foot impatiently inside Rachel's Ginger Beer, demanding to know more about the long-promised pop-up, Sunset Sandwiches. Steady, boy. They've got all their issues sorted out now, and I'm pleased to report that the result is one of the tastiest morsels in Capitol Hill, at 1610 12th Ave.

The inventor of the Sunset, if we can designate such a person, is Monica Dimas, an imaginative Seattle chef whose travels have taken her to gastronomic capitals like Los Angeles and New Orleans, where fried chicken sandwiches are more common.

In the end, Dimas says, she reverted to the sandwich that was sometimes served as a staff meal at McCrady's, in Charleston, South Carolina, where she had interned: brined in buttermilk, dredged in seasoned flour, golden-fried, stacked high and topped with slaw, pickles and spicy mayo.

There are a couple of variations (spicy, vegetarian), but I'm inclined to stick with the original. As for the ginger beer, there are now several cocktail options, including a drink called the Porch Swing. It's made with gin and aperol -- sort of a mild, ginger Negroni, which makes a good aperitivo while you're waiting for the Sunset.

And yes, they're expanding to Portland soon, but this is here and now, and it's damn good. Eat your hearts out, Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A.

Rachel's Ginger Beer, 1610 12th Avenue   Rachel's Ginger Beer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rock On, Dude

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'Twas two years ago the folks at Hard Rock Cafe overlooking the Pike Place Market realized they weren't gettin' no respect from foodies, so they had a bunch of us over for supper and brews, and showed off their collection of rock-star memorabilia (Eddie Vedder's acoustic guitar, for example). Hundreds of Hard Rock locations these days, most of them franchised.

No fewer than 425 seats in the Seattle place, on three or four levels, depending on the weather because there's seating on the roof as well with a great view. One entire floor transforms into a performance venue. The menu is a mashup of "faux-Seattle" and "faux-southern" so you get burgers, wings, nachos, and so on.

The news today is that the building has been sold. The Hard Rock is staying, but the new owner is shelling out nearly $21 million for the real estate. Who? An investment trust from Noo Yawk, natch. Their first venture in Seattle. Not bad for a former pawnshop, eh?

Hard Rock Café, 116 Pike St., Seattle, 206-204-2233  Hard Rock Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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