December 2005 Archives

2005 Belltown Bravo! Aw@rds


My year-end Belltown Bravo! Aw@rds, barely worth the electrons they're printed on:

home_23.gif Logo 41.jpg 94 stewart.jpg
* Belltown restaurant of the year, 2005: Flying Fish. Celebrated its 10th anniversary, completed its transition to suppliers who practice fully sustainable and organic agriculture, continues to reward patrons with treats like oyster happy hour. No mean feat. Bravo, Chris Keff!
* Best newcomer, 2005: Black Bottle. (Cornichon had the first review back in July.) Knows what it wants to be, does it. Bravo, Chris Linker, Brian Durbin and Judy Boardman!
* Newcomer runner-up: 94 Stewart. Bravo Cindy and Lindsey Nelson!
* Best prospect for 2006: Boat Street Cafe
* Best new lounge: Suite 410.
* Best new happy hour menu: all those miniburgers at Cascadia. Bravo, Kerry Sear!
* Wish list for 2006: a pho parlor, please. Pretty please.

We pause to remember those who are no longer with us. The 2005 Belltown RIP roll call: Afrikando, U Wa Kitchen, Barocho, Torero's, Alexandria's, Axis.

That's it for this year, my friends. Oh-Five, you did a heck of a job!

Flying Fish on Urbanspoon 94 Stewart on Urbanspoon Black Bottle on Urbanspoon

Boat Street Café / Boat Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon Cascadia on Urbanspoon

Aux Armes, Cornichons!

The most ominous news of the year, received just today:

A new club called Twist has apparently leased the space vacated by Torero's: an outfit calling itself Good Karma, Ltd., run by a couple of guys from the former Club Medusa on Western (think shootings, think narcotics, think cops-on-the-take).

Medusa, for its part, has been sold to the fine folks who own Cowgirls in Pioneer Square and renamed Venom. Good to know, that.

The Pomeroy's condo owners are busily writing to the Liquor Control Board even as you read this. The 2300 block of First Avenue could become a battleground. To the barricades!

At Rick's gin joint in Casablanca, Viktor Laszlo leads a rousing Marseillaise.

Tomorrow: the 2005 Belltown Bravo! Awards.

Google pulls the plug

Double whammy.

First, Google canceled my Ad-Sense account and disabled the inoffensive little text ads it had been running on this blog, wiping out six months of accumulated pennies and nickels worth of YOUR clicks (about $125 worth). I squawked, they allowed me to write an appeal, but it's hard to know what you're appealing (which reader's "inappropriate" clicks? ); they won't tell me. Site looks naked without those little buggers, doesn't it? Will look for alternatives.

Then Starbucks announced it was discontinuing its indulgent Chantico, "drinkable dessert" chocolate beverage. A single six-ounce serving contained nearly 400 calories and 21 grams of fat. YIKES! Poor sales, rather than poor nutrition, are said to be the reason. Sure.

Meantime, I've started writing for, a neat blog that covers all aspects of life in our town (politics, sports, media, etc.). It's part of a larger group of 14 city blogs under the Gothamist banner: Paris, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington DC, etc.

Missing the boat


How's this chronology for the reopening of the much-loved and long awaited Boat Street Cafe: after two years of buzz:

* A dreamy online review ("an exciting development for our neighborhood") last month at Urban Seattle. Buzz!
* A dreamy writeup ("charming and complete") a couple of weeks later in The Stranger. Buzz!
* A dreamy review one week after that in Seattle Weekly ("sublime yet homey"). Buzz!
* A dreamy review online in Seattle BonVivant ("I'm happy, happy, happy!") . Buzz!
* Then the ultimate two-fer, Friday last: dreamy, same-day reviews in both the Post-Intelligencer ("Expect culinary magic") and the Seattle Times("A joy to behold"). Buzz! Buzz!

What great endorsements, and just in time for the holidays, right? Wrong! Ink wasn't dry on the pages before Boat Street had shut down, not to reopen until January. Oops.

DSCN36751.jpg DSCN36771.jpg

Boat Street Cafe & Kitchen, 3131 Western Ave. 206-632-4602

Away, in a manger

| 1 Comment

They're called presepe, nativity scenes, and they're a tradition in southern Italy. In the Sicilian town of Giarre, an entire museum is devoted to examples of painstakingly assembled miniatures.

Nativity scene 1.jpg Nativity scene 3.jpg

If there were such a thing as Volpe TV, some weird Neapolitan edition of Fox News, it would know better than to claim that Christmas is under persecution. In fact, the Italian government actually sponsors an annual competition for the best public presepe.

Nativity scene 2.jpg Church in Catania w full moon.jpg

So there. Peace on earth. Merry Christmas to all!

Etna's Challenge

So it's not Tuscany, with its enchanting landscape of dramatic hilltowns and stately villas of golden stone. But Sicily, at the very center of the Mediterranean, has centuries of history and a romance all its own. And it has Mount Etna.

Etna in sudden sunshine.jpg BuyEtna logo.JPG

The organizers of any tourism conference have divided loyalties. On the one hand, they're hosting journalists and tour operators from around the world to visit their region; on the other hand, it's the local guys--convention & visitor bureaus, the big bus companies, the airport authority, consortiums of mom & pop agriturismos--who pay the bills. The local guys have political connections, which gets them a budget to "promote tourism," but rarely with an agreement on what features to promote or how to go about it.

Which brings us to BuyEtna. If they're really going to build that bridge across the Straits of Messina, more tourists will drive to Sicily, and more of them will stay in the farmhouse bed & breakfasts on Etna. If they're really going to put an intercontinental airport in the middle of the island, more tourists will visit Catania, Acireale and Taormina. But are the innkeepers ready to invest in upgraded facilities, more staff, better language training? Are the local politicians willing to fund less glamorous transportation projects like secondary roads? And the biggest question of all: can Sicily absorb another 10 million visitors without losing the charm that makes it so attractive in the first place?

Questions to ponder.

Tartelettes in shop1.jpg Purple cauliflower in Acireale.JPG

Holiday shopwindow.JPG Fast-food stand in Catania.jpg

Etna's hospitality

More than simple generosity, it's abbondanza: a surfeit of good things to eat and drink. For everyday, a lavish buffet. For gala occasions, a cornucopia of antipasti, multiple courses of pasta, endless meat and vegetable platters, and an infinity of desserts. Mangia!, they said. And, good guests, we did.

Murgo buffet1.jpg Flags on antipasto1.jpg

Serving at banquet1.jpg Two pastas at banquet1.jpg Banquet service1.jpg

Party party1.jpg Party party party1.jpg

Just for the record, none of the happy people in these photos are Ugly 'Merkins. German, Belgian, Polish, Czech, British, Hungarian, as I recall, along with the hospitable Italians, of course.

Tomorrow: some parting thoughts from Sicily.

Under the Volcano: Part Three

One of the pleasant surprises of Sicily lies midway between the blue Mediterranean and crater of Mount Etna: vineyards! Not the Nero d'Avola of the island's southern hillsides nor the Marsala of the western shores; here, the grapes are indigenous to Etna's volcanic soil.

Vines share the slopes with olive groves and citrus orchards: red nerello mascalese, white cataratto, carricante and malvasia di Lipari. (The world being what it is, one also finds the ubiquitous cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.)

San Michele vyds w Etna.jpg Sparkling wine at San Michele1.jpg

We stopped for a tasting and lunch in the village of Murgo at a winery called Tenuta San Michele (no relation to the Ste. Michelle folks in Woodinville), owned by Emanuele Scammacca, the baron of Murgo. Behind you rises the snow-capped volcano, in front of you lies the azure sea. And in your hand, a glass of sparkling Murgo Brut, a sprightly aperitif. What could be better?

The journey continues tomorrow: what should we eat?

Under the Volcano, Part Two

A few particularly vivid memories from an all-too-brief visit to the Mount Etna region of Sicily.

First, in the town of Giarre, on the fall line from Etna's crater to the sea, a cup of unctuous, silky-smooth hot chocolate.

Chocolate ready to serve.jpg Chocolate served.jpg

Finocchiaro, housed in a stone building dating from 1914, is filled with all sorts of confections produced by parent company, Dolfin, known throughout the land for its penguin-shaped ice pops. Recent deal with Coca-Cola to produce Christmas packs. Inside, without fanfare, I'm served a melted chocolate drink so rich I savored it with a tiny spoon. Would tell you more but I didn't take notes, figuring I'd consult the fancy website mentioned in Finocchiaro's brochure, Will let you do it on your own.

Outside Catania bar.jpg Inside bar in Catania1.jpg

Next evening, on the Piazza del Duomo in the provincial capital of Catania, ducked into a cafe for a late-night pick-me-up. Your best local grappa, I asked the barman. He poured a generous glass of crystal-clear brandy from J. Milazzo, a winery on Sicily's southern coast and distilled from their nero d'avola grapes.

Bar in Catania.jpg Barman pours drink1.jpg Grappa in Catania1.jpg

Now, most grappa sold in the US is so strong, so volatile that it scares the paint off the walls, right? Not this one. A subtle bouquet of berries, mild and sweet on the palate, it could single-handedly restore grappa to respectability. Sure, it did cost three times as much (about $6) as the paint thinner, but, wow! Worth every penny.

Tomorrow: wine touring on Mount Etna.

Under the Volcano: Part One

The rocky isle of Sicily rises from the Mediterranean like a giant pebble kicked by the toe of Italy, a land mass the size of Vermont dominated by an active volcano: Mount Etna.

Etna summit.jpg Ronald on Etna.jpg
Fresh snow covered Etna's slopes well below the timberline during my visit last week.

At 11,000 feet, Etna would tower over Mount St. Helens (8,400 feet since its explosive eruption 25 years ago). Steam pours constantly from the craters at Etna's summit; lava flows periodically from fissures along its flanks. Its snow-covered cap gives way to a ring of dense forests, then to amazingly fertile hillsides, and, on Etna's eastern slopes, just ten miles from the summit, to Mediterranean beaches.

Etna in a literal and primeval sense dominates this island; one out of every five Sicilians lives on its slopes and feels its presence with every breath and every step. They do not fear it; they respect it. (And no, they don't sacrifice virgins to appease its wrath; local virgins have to look elsewhere for employment.)

A consortium of Etna's many tourist-oriented villages invited me to attend a travel workshop called BuyEtna in the province of Catania last week. A long way to go for a three day visit, leaving Wednesday before dawn (flying from Seattle to JFK to Milan to Catania), returning late Sunday night. I actually spent more time in transit than I did at my destination.

Turns out, the difficulty of reaching Sicily was at least part of the point: the conference organizer wanted to showcase a plan to build a new intercontinental airport in Etna's shadow, replacing the aging Fontanarossa with a facility that would accommodate jumbo jets from America and Asia. Coupled with a controversial, $4.5 billion suspension bridge across the Straits of Messina, a fancy new airport could turn Etna from a remote outpost into the gateway to southern Italy.

Helicopter takes off for Etna.JPG Etna looms over Mediterranean resort towns.jpg
A helicopter tour dramatized the volcano's proximity to Sicily's beachfront resorts.

A new airport would also give fresh impetus to the embattled bridge project, under fire for escalating costs, concerns over environmental degradation and (no surprise here) political corruption.

It will take years to resolve the problems. Meanwhile, the volcano lives on, with new fractures and fresh craters erupting occasionally from its flanks, gushing lava every couple of years. At higher altitudes, snowfall makes it all look pristine; further down, bright yellow Etna broom, spiky pulvino thorns and purple-flowering milk vetch eventually take hold, breaking down the lava, encouraging new growth, and giving further evidence of Etna's permanent and immutable power.

Link to Etna webcams: click here.

More on my visit to Mount Etna, and the food, wine and culture of Sicily, coming up later this week.

Still scraping

| 1 Comment

We were talking about raclette, the cheese that came in from the cold.

In Switzerland, melted raclette is served rather simply, with boiled potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons; in the French Alps around Grenoble, the custom is to pile on cold cuts as well.

Raclette cheese plate at Ptit Bistro.jpg Chacuterie plate B1.jpg

What's been missing, until now, is a way to enjoy raclette in Belltown. Small appliances to the rescue: a French kitchenware supplier, Tefal, makes a table-top raclette grill (sold in the US as T-Fal); it's perfect for the home or, better yet, an intimate evening at a cozy neighborhood cafe.

Laurent and Danielle Baldini, at Le P'tit Bistro, may be newcomers to Belltown but they're veteran ambassadors of Grenoble’s mountain hospitality. Their raclette is accompanied by potatoes baked with shallots and herbs and by a mound of air-dried ham, boiled ham, smoked meats, cured meats and sausages plus a mixed green salad, not to mention half a pound of cheese.

Inserting cheese into raclette grill1.jpg Pouring cheese onto plate1.jpg

You put the cheese on a non-stick tray and slide it under the grill to melt; pour it over the potatoes one chunk of cheese at a time for a festive (and filling) meal.

Raclette dinners are priced at $23.50 per person, including all the charcuterie. Trick might be to order one with, one without (cheese only, $13) for a terrific night out that doesn't break the bank.

Ah, much has improved for those isolated Alpine farmers since the invention of the snowplow: now they can market raclette year-round!

Le P'tit Bistro, 2616 2nd Avenue, 206-728-4141
Le P'Tit Bistro on Urbanspoon

Scraping by

Back when cows were cows and men were men, Alpine farms spent snowbound winters in virtual isolation. No grazing on shared mountain pastures, no massive cheeses like Gruyere and Emmenthal made in cooperative dairies where the milk was "cooked" in enormous communal kettles. But cows give milk year-round (though not as much when they're stabled and fed silage) so the resourceful farmers of yesteryear developed secondary products: smaller, intensely flavorful "winter" cheeses like Morbier, Reblochon and Raclette.

Raclette, especially, is the cheese that came in from the cold; it makes a perfect winter dinner. In Alpine lodges, half a wheel of raclette is exposed to a blazing fire until it starts to melt; the innkeeper scrapes off the oozing cheese onto a hot plate. In fact, the French word racler means "to scrape."

Raclette device in Paris.jpg DSCN8425.JPG

In Paris last year I found a restaurant that served raclette grilled on a contraption resembling a medieval torture device. But it worked, melting a hunk of cheese to perfection.

And you can do this at home, too: raclette grills are easily found online for about $50, and raclette cheese is available at The Cheese Cellar in Fisher Plaza; it's $3.99 for a quarter-pound.

Raclette cheese1.jpg

My personal preference, no matter what they say about discarding the "inedible" rind: believe not a word. Once the cheese itself is melted, the rind will be all crisp and crunchy.

TOMORROW: Raclette feast in Belltown!

The Cheese Cellar, 100 4th Ave. N., 206-404-2743

Staff of Life

The original name was Biofournil, which made me think the haz-mat squad might show up at any moment. In fact, it was the first US venture of the most successful organic bakery in France, based in Seattle's French sister city of Nantes. And with that combination of innocence, confidence and arrogance that characterizes entrepreneurs of all nationalities, Biofounil shipped its French bread ovens, French bakers, even a supply of its own sourdough starter to Belltown.

True, they'd picked a residential building with no parking for customers and no loading dock for deliveries. And the original configuration had room for barely ten seats: not really enough to make it a lunch spot. It took almost six years, but owner Jean-Yves Fouché finally agreed to remodel...and to rename the place.

Boulangerie Nantaise opening.jpg Boulangerie Nantaise breads.jpg Boulangerie Nantaise baguette wrappers.jpg

It's now called Boulangerie Nantaise and it seats 24. New graphics, new colors, and new packaging, too. They'll do sandwiches, pastries, coffee, soups, just like every other lunch spot in town. All this might be comical except for one thing: the signature baguette, $3. It's a terrific loaf, with crunchy crust and a chewy, slightly sour taste. It's got my vote for Seattle's best-tasting bread.

So why not just call the place Belltown Baguette and be done with it?

Boulangerie Nantaise, 2507 4th Ave., 206-728-1874 Boulangerie Nantaise on Urbanspoon

Enthusiastic Spectator

Which wine mag d'ya believe? The Expectorator or the Euthanasia? Both are out with their annual, rival Top 100 issues...easier to find in the wine shops than most of the wines they honor.


Oregon and Washington score six wines in both rankings, though it should come as no surprise that they're not the same six. Spectator ranks a Beaux Freres pinot noir #17, Columbia Crest's Walter Clore blend #33, Argyle's chardonnay #51. Enthusiast puts Chateau Ste. Michelle's Cold Creek chardonnay at #7, Quilceda Creek's 2002 cabernet sauvignon at #10 and L'Ecole No. 41's semillon at #23.

No overlap, no consensus, no conspiracy, no surprises. No nothing. If he put "Wine Enthusiast #10!" on the label, would it help Alex Golitzen sell any more of his $80 wine? Nope, it's been rationed for years, "on allocation," as they say in the trade. The point of the whole exercise--you've figured this out by now, right?--is to sell magazines, not wine.,

Tiny bubbles

'Tis the season, you must admit, for wine that sparkles. Zardetto Prosecco is my everyday choice, with Veuve Clicquot for special occasions, and now I'll add a stunning new favorite for the holidays: a sparkler from New Zealand, Lindauer Brut. It's fresh, balanced and elegant; best of all, it's only $10.

The Brut is mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, with a touch of chenin blanc, fermented in the bottle in the traditional Champagne method. This is only the second year it's been available in the U.S., thanks to a new marketing push by Lindauer's new owners, Allied Domecq, which assembled the base wines from vineyards in the Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne growing regions. Ah, the glories of globalization!

Lindauer Brut label.jpg Lindauer Brut.jpg

My local wine shop, Seattle Cellars, also carries splits (quarter-bottles) of several French champagnes for $10 apiece. Novelty items. The tasting on Thursday, December 15th, 5 to 7 PM, will feature four sparklers, to be opened by a sabre-wielding specialist. Stand clear!

Perrier Jouet.jpg Moet and Pommery.jpg Duval Leroy.jpg

Seattle Cellars, 2505 2nd Ave, 206-256-0850

Great Drinks Afire!

| 1 Comment

Goodness gracious, golly-gosh-gee: circulation's down at urban dailies (stay-at-home, beer-swigging fogies), up at urban weeklies (club-hopping, cocktail-sipping hipsters). So what's The Seattle Times to do?

How about sending a tag-team of 20-something reporters out to write a column about fancy bars? One of them's an Asian gal who gets "impaired" after a single greyhound; the other doesn't drink, but swoons when the handsome bartender at Suite 410 promises to set fire to a grapefruit cosmopolitan.

Sho-nuff, boss, this story actually ran last week, to city-wide snickers and guffaws.

Drinkboy's Robert Hess, the Seattle-based cocktail historian, points out that barman Aaron Garland actually ignited a spray of volatile oil from the cosmo's orange-peel garnish, the approved method of producing a brief flash. No comment for the record, but one could imagine the grownups--Bethany Jean Clement (The Stranger's "Bar Exam") and Liza Zimmerman (Seattle Weekly's "In Good Spirits")--just shaking their heads.

So the suspense continues: which saloon will Pamela and Nicole sidle into next? What drink will put Nicole under this week? Will their adventures sell even one more paper? Shake my nerves, rattle my brain ... Goodness gracious!

This little piggy

On its own, lean pork--promoted as "the other white meat"--is as tasteless as, well, chicken. Flavorful pork is fatty (think of bacon) or prepared with zesty ingredients (mustard, wine). Fortunately, pigs also come with tasty organs and appendages: hooves, livers, tongues and the like.

Pork tongue salad at Le Pichet.jpg

At Le Pichet, chef Jim Drohman cures fresh pork tongues in brine for two days, simmers them in an aromatic stock until tender, slices them, then soaks them in buttermilk. When you order his friture de langue de porc, he tosses the tongue slices in seasoned flour, fries them up like chicken nuggets and serves the crunchy, tender morsels atop a slaw of grated carrots dressed with a vinaigrette of cumin, orange, and black currants. It's the most delicious $8 lunch in town.

And where can you buy pork tongues, you might wonder, should you want to try this at home? Drohman's source is a wholesale slaughterhouse, Kapowsin Meats in Graham, Wash. Me, I'd ask Donnie Kuzaro at Don & Joe's Meats in the corner of the Pike Place Market.

Le Pichet, 1933 1st Ave., 206-256-1499

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2005 is the previous archive.

January 2006 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 4.32-en

Win this sterling silver wine collar!

Click here for details.

Aspinal of London Ltd.

Search here for Cornichon posts:


Who we are

Cornichon Seattle restaurants


Cornichon is Seattle's Global Gourmet


One of the Internet's Top Ten Food Blogs
"Focused, witty and informative"
Prominent blog, best at covering the restaurant scene
--Seattle Spin
One of Seattle's 15 Greatest Blogs
"Belltown's boulevardier"--Seattle Magazine
"An elder statesman among bloggers"
--Seattle Times
One of America's favorite independent wine blogs

Ronald Holden for website.JPG

I'm Seattle's Global Gourmet for a national network of blogs, Also Director, Wine Tours, for The International Vineyard. Write to me: ronald [at]

Many of these posts also appear on, part of another network of city blogs.
Seattlest logo.gif

Real Absinthe -- Thujone Absinthe
Absinthe Original offers a large selection of real absinthe varieties, also called the Green Fairy, containing varying amounts of thujone, derived from wormwood. Find absinthe liquors, spoons, glasses, and other accessories. Quick worldwide shipping.

No Whining, Yelping or Zagging on this new blog: The Short List: Seattle


Recent Entries

TIK logo.gif
The International Kitchen
Cooking school vacations in Italy, France & Spain.

Links, the new food directory and recipe wiki, just launched!

The International Vineyard, a new way to learn about wine in France, Italy and Spain: three-night programs for wine lovers in less-traveled regions.

The International Kitchen, the leading source for culinary vacations in France and Italy.

French Word-A-Day, fascinating lessons about language and daily life in Provence

Belltown Messenger, chronicle of a Seattle neighborhood's denizens, derelicts, clubs, bars & eateries. Restaurant reviews by Cornichon.

Small Screen Network, where food & drink celebrities like Robert Hess have recorded terrific videos.

The oldest and most comprehensive blog about Paris, BonjourParis, produced by a stellar team of writers and editors (including occasional contributions from Cornichon).

Maribeth Celemente's blog, Bonjour Telluride, with regular updates to her shopping guides, The Riches of France and The Riches of Paris.

French Chef Sally is my friend Sally McArthur, who hosts luxurious, week-long cooking classes at the Chateau du Riveau in the Loire Valley.

Local Wine, the worlds leading Food and Wine tasting calendar. Spirits and Beer events as well. Post your own event or sign up to be notified when new events are po sted to your own area.

VinoLover, Seattle wine promoter David LeClaire's bulletin board of tastings, dinners and special events.

Wine Educator Dieter Schafer maintains a full schedule of Seattle-area tastings and seminars for amateur wine drinkers and professional alike.

Nat Decants, a free wine e-newsletter from Natalie MacLean, recently named the World's Best Drink Writer at the World Food Media Awards in Australia. Wine picks, articles and humor; no ads.

More blogs about food wine travel.
Who links to me?