January 2006 Archives

Still thinkin' Reuben

Tacos and enchiladas I'd expect at Scottsdale's Mercado del Rancho Center. Not a genuine New Yawk deli, yet there it is: Chompie's, founded a quarter-century ago by the Borenstein family from Queens.

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Now, as you loyal readers know, Cornichon loves a good pickle and a good Reuben, and Chompies offers several on its mile-long menu of mile-high sandwiches. Ordered the variation called Bob's Brisket and glad I did: moist & tender braised beef, grilled red onions, coleslaw, 1000-island dressing, jack cheese, held together by properly grilled [not just toasted] rye. Juicy, with unexpected sweet flavors from the caramelized onions, and crunch from the coleslaw. Pickles crisp and garlicky, too.

Didn't need the side of gravy, or even the fries; Reuben alone well worth the $10.99. No surprise that Chompie's was voted best deli in the Phoenix area.

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Chompie's, 9301 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 480-860-0475 Chompies on Urbanspoon

Jolie Croque Madame


Pretty woman, that Jolie Madame. Parisian crooner Charles Trenet sang her praises 20 years before Roy Orbison. The great French designer Pierre Balmain named a perfume Jolie Madame in 1953 (gardenia, bergamot, jasmine, leather).

But hey, enough of this perfume & pop-music vamp. This is a food column, so let's get to the classic Croque Madame, a staple of French cafes for the past century.

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3 PM and we're in an elegant development called Kierland Commons on the dividing line between Phoenix and Scottsdale. The place is the tres tres French Zinc Bistro, and the "Off Hour Menu" features an intensely flavored onion soup; mussels steamed with white wine, leeks and thyme; and as ideal a Croque Madame as you can hope for: brioche bread, a layer of bechamel sauce, thin slices of ham, melted Gruyere, and (this is what sets it apart from the Croque Monsieur) a perfectly poached egg.

Served with a (literal) tub of fries, it's all of $12. Add a small carafe of Macon blanc for $8 and you've got yourself a fine, fine meal. Merci, Madame!

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Zinc Bistro, 15034 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale AZ, 480-603-0922 Zinc Bistro on Urbanspoon

They came, they poured, they left

What if you're not Chateau Margaux, Veuve Clicquot, or Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, with international renown and worldwide demand? What if your name is Luc Luyckx, for example, and your property, Chateau Famaey in the Cahors appellation of southwestern France, is unknown to American importers, distributors and consumers?

The answer, for some 15 French wine producers, was the classic one: go on the road, pour your samples for whoever shows up...and hope for the best.

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Proprietary red wine from Tramier; buyers from Ray's Boathouse taste Alsatian wine.

Back in France, Maison Tramier sells three million bottles a year of a blended vin de tablecalled Secret Royal, and not a drop of it from supermarket shelves, either. Instead, it's literally marketed door-to-door, by shoe-leather reps who come right into kitchens and living rooms with their samples. Export manager Laurent Dufouleur knows he can't duplicate that business model in the US, but he's hoping the wine's modest export price, 2 euros, will help him build a market. Great wine? No, but decent enough, especially if it can come in at a shelf price under five bucks.

But there's the rub. Importers and distributors won't take on a new line unless there's a demand; retailers and restaurants already have a wide range of choices. Which is where the French Trade Commission comes in: setting up trips like this for producers, organizing tastings, "facilitating contacts" between visitors and home team.

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Luc Luyckx and Jose Salinas at dinner for visiting wine producers.

Puzzled by our quaint customs, our complicated regulations, our bizarre tastes, our foolish pride in homegrown vintages, they do what they can while they're here to make an impression. They visit Chateau Ste. Michelle and Costco, then "Au revoir, merci," and they're gone.

Beyond Gold: Platinum

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A wine judging, like life, is unpredictable: you often wonder how much luck is involved. But when a handful of Northwest wines comes out on top in competition after competition, you can be pretty sure it's because they're more than lucky: they're really, really good.

Starting with 233 Northwest wines (some good, some lucky) that had already won gold medals or better in 30 national and international wine competitions, a panel of judges assembled by Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest retasted everything and designated their 23 top selections as Platinum, 6 of them with the rare distinction of Double Platinum. Knockout!

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Perdue with some of the Platinum wines

Andy spends half his time as the brains behind the Tri-City Herald website, the other half as editor of Wine Press Northwest (a quarterly magazine, an extensive online presence and a weekly e-newsletter). Started the Platinum thing six years ago. Unassuming, unprejudiced, he's got my vote for "Pope of Northwest Wine."

Double Platinum wines: Columbia Winery 2001 Columbia Valley Merlot; Vin du Lac 2003 Cabernet Franc; Jackson-Triggs 2003 Grande Reserve Sparkling Riesling Ice Wine; Sumac Ridge 2003 Gewurztraminer Ice Wine; Three Rivers 2002 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Thurston-Wolfe 2003 Burgess Vineyard Syrah.

Download a complete list of eligible wines and winners (PDF format).

"Burgundy At Work"

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Leave your tassled loafers at home; this trip, end of March, is a jeans-and-flannel wine tour with British wine merchant Martin Raeburn.

"It's not the traditional trip with a leisurely morning tasting, a long lunch and an afternoon nap," says Raeburn, the director of Amadeus Wines Ltd. "It's a professional trip for me and at the most four guests; we're going to be in the vineyards and the cellars and tasting, tasting, tasting. It's serious business."

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Not to mention that it's likely to be cold, wet and windy. But you'll be well-housed, well-fed, and drink great wine.

I've known Martin for years. He's not one of those show-biz media types at the center of glamorous tastings in hotel ballrooms. Instead, he's down among the barrels with the winemakers and cellar masters, or in the fields with the vineyard managers, doing the real work of Burgundy: putting his money on the line to actually buy commercial quantities of the wines he likes.

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In the cellars at Louis Jadot and Bonneau du Martray.

Download a PDF of the complete itinerary by clicking here.

To book the trip, go to the InTouch Travel registration page. Because of the extremely limited number of guests, full prepayment is required to hold your booking. Call me if you have any additional questions: 206-770-9567.

Should you go? Read on.

Going to bat for Fledermaus


UPDATE. Jan. 18: Jane Eaglen writes in Slate today about her opening-night tribute to the late Birgit Nilsson.

It's sometimes translated as Revenge of the Bat, a Viennese operetta, composed 150 years ago, a frilly entertainment with musical staying power beyond its flimsy, conventional plot.

Dialog in English, with lots of fresh, topical jokes. Lots of lively tunes, too, though 19th-century English lyrics frankly on the musty side. (Many options when it comes to translating opera lyrics ... more shortly.) All ends happily, as required by the operetta form, with giant bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne making welcome appearance. .

Domaine Ste. Michelle's excellent bubbly poured in lobby for $7. Perfect to jump-start the afternoon.

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Fledermaus poster; the sensational Sarah Coburn (top); glass of bubbly at intermission

Soprano Sarah Coburn gets loudest applause as chambermaid Adele. Additional sustenance, if you can call it that, from Grant Neale whose non-singing jailer Frosch provides big slab of ham.

This witty, sumptuous Seattle Opera production of Die Fledermaus was directed by Chris Alexander, twice named the company's Artist of the Year, and conducted by music director Gerard Schwarz.

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Champagne gets the blame for everything at Prince Orlofsky's decadent party.

Die Fledermaus through Jan. 28. Tickets online or call 206-389-7676

Hawks 20, Skins 10

Was going to write about beer from Georgetown, a snappy pale ale called Manny's, but got distracted. Epic rainfall: 27 days & counting. Worst weather in memory. Ark jokes no longer funny.

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Historic football game: first playoff appearance for hapless Seahawks in decades. Best-ever season earns them home-team advantage, supposedly worth a "12th Man." Capacity crowd at Qwest Field raucous, capacity crowd at Sport Restaurant in Fisher Plaza pumped as well. TV monitors everywhere, unattached women everywhere! (Who knew?)

Order my Manny's, finally. Bartenders slammed. Endless draughts of Manny's, ESB and Bud, non-stop shots of tequila and Knob Creek, gallons of cosmos. Occasionally the kitchen sends out a burger or a pizza. Four women at bar down shots of Jaeger, then switch to greyhounds. Alexander fumbles, leaves game with concussion; bar goes quiet. Then Jackson catches TD pass; another round of Jaeger! Hasselbeck runs for TD, another! Hawks win! Euphoria!

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They're going to do this again next week. Without me, I suspect. Plan to file next report, about performance of Fledermaus, from Grand Tier at McCaw Hall.

Location, location, location

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Now we're getting somewhere: a clear example of terroir. On one side of the road, the wine smells like violets, on the other side like kid gloves. Distinctions like that are no longer Burgundian; they're here.

Example: two wines from the same winemaker, L'Ecole No. 41, same basic "Bordeaux blend" of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon and merlot, grown in Walla Walla Valley vineyards just 10 miles apart, but with markedly different profiles. If they're siblings, one of them's the evil twin ...

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Apogee (the furthest point from earth on the lunar orbit) comes from Pepper Bridge Vineyard, planted on ice-age deposits. Spicy, forward fruit, aggressive tannins.

Perigee (nearest the earth) comes from Seven Hills Vineyard, planted on rich, wind-blown aloessial soil. Elegant, balanced, firm, with black fruit and tobacco overtones.

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Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards: close, but no cigar.

Let's be clear: while I much prefer the Perigee, both sell for the same price, between $45 and $50 depending on the retailer.

So it's really one for the wine geeks. Elegant vineyard profile (link to PDF) here; graphic soil profile below. Da rest of youse can move on.

Return of the Pleasure Police


First an international caveat on caviar, now a fatwa against foie gras? That's what Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia says: he's introduced legislation to ban the force-feeding of birds. Never mind that most American foie gras is produced out-of-state, by a French family (of course) in upstate New York, Williams is against it.

Williams admits he did eat foie gras once, but tells the Everett Herald he didn't know where it came from. (Right, and Clinton didn't inhale.)

Shocked, shocked he was to learn it involved gavage, overfeeding to enlarge the duck's liver, a centuries-old practice that engenders modern outrage when applied to animals but remains enshrined as freedom-of-choice when it comes to Twinkies, Big Macs and venti double-chocolate-chip Frappuccino. With extra whipped cream, please.

By the way, there are some ghastly alternatives to foie gras out there for the PC crowd, made with mushrooms and tofu. Be my guest.

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Contended geese--foie gras on the hoof--along the Dordogne River in southwest France.

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Gavage with softened grain has been practiced since Egyptian times as winter approaches to encourage the natural accumulation of fat in the goose's liver.

Bellini, Seattle Style

Drink called Bellini , classic cocktail, was invented at Harry's Bar in Venice, where it's made with a puree of fresh peaches and prosecco. Great atmosphere! Six or seven euros, can't recall, under ten bucks.

Suite 410, here in Seattle, adds a grace note: a spring of fresh thyme to give the peach aroma a little nudge as it wafts toward your nostrils. Brilliant touch! About nine bucks.

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Mixing Bellinis at Harry's Bar; Bellinis at Suite 410

Then you walk a couple of blocks to the urban megaplex and get a ticket for Casanova. Hearthrob Heath Ledger and siren Sienna Miller cavort along the Canal, plow through the Piazza, canoodle in the Palazzo. Good, clean fun...but would have preferred a bit less plot, a lot more Venice.

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Gondolas, Heath Ledger, Grand Canal

Queen of the Grill

What's all this fuss about "small plates," anyway? Three or four people ordering five or six items, the dishes arriving at your table at the kitchen's whim. Can be fun, sure; can be fatal, too.

At Belltown's venerable Queen City Grill, they've come up with an alternative to small plates, basically an update on family-style: call it the Platter Experience. Everyone's order is served at the same time, but on a single, elegant platter along with individual sets of serving implements. Share or hoard, it's your call.

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Platter of appetizers: shrimp cocktail, tuna carpaccio, grilled quail, foie gras on brioche.

Midweek visit. Brick building, Miles Davis, dark wooden booth. Cocktails. Genial GM Robert Eickhof (Il Terrazzo, Rosellini's 410, Il Bistro) sends over bottle of Pommard 1er Cru. Fabulous wine list, moderate prices. We divvy up appetizer platter; favorite is generous nugget of seared foie gras with lush currant & star anise sauce.

Caesar salad follows, with freshly made garlicky dressing. Entrees next, including grilled lobster tail with saffron butter, New York strip loin, and uhu (fancy name for Hawaiian parrot fish).

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Entrees & vegetables: lobster tail, Hawaiian uhu, sirloin strip, squash, sprouts, spuds.
Desserts: pear tarte, espresso-chocolate flan, Key Lime pie.

Desserts also arrive platter-style, along with after-dinner drinks. Kudos to chef Alan Davis, who's been part of the Queen's kitchen since it opened.

Queen City Grill on Urbanspoon
Queen City Grill, 2201 1st Ave. 206-443-0975

They're coming ... !

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On First Avenue this afternoon, the old Torero's sign was getting a makeover, a new Twist, if you will. Backstory here.

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Looks charming, doesn't it? One of the owners, Rita Martin, promises that Twist's music will be softer than traffic noise. Furniture this weekend; opening by end of the month, she said.

But there's no liquor license yet, and a strong protest has been filed with the liquor board. Meantime, John Pehrson of the Belltown Community Council will chair a land-use subcommittee meeting Monday evening to try to sort this out. [That's the same John Pehrson who posted a comment about the Belltown Bravo! Aw@rds the other day.]

One Pacific Towers, 2000 First Ave., 6:30 PM. Be there!

Too cute! Too sweet!

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Blogger Wonkette is so obsessed with Butterstick, as she calls the baby panda Tai Shin at the National Zoo in the Other Washington that the New York Times even ran a sober report about the phenomenon it calls The Cute Factor. Premise: we're hard-wired to adore helpless, big-eyed babies.


Someone ought to do a piece now about The Sweet Factor, explaining to Starbucks (among many others) that just making something sugary and chocolatey, like Chantico, isn't enough to make it yummy. (Granted, I've been spoiled by a transcendent cup of hot chocolate I had last month in Sicily.) Anyway, Chantico's already been fingered for extinction: there's not enough lush chocolate flavor, just annoying and cloying sweetness. Hopeless, not helpless. Sorry, Starbucks, saccharine ain't cute.

What? No more caviar?

It's not Roe v Wade but illegally harvested sturgeon roe v CITES, the United Nations agency that regulates international trade of endangered species. (Link to New York Times article describing the CITES export ban; registration required.) Most of the Russian caviar on the market these days is black market anyway. Iran's production, under the control of a central, authoritarian government, is less vulnerable to poaching.

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Tin of poached caviar (NYTimes photo); caviar & blini tasting in Seattle

The Emerald City is home to one of the country's most respected caviar houses, Seattle Caviar Company, a wholesaler and retailer whose caviar.com website offers a helpful primer on caviar. Owner Dale Sherrow gets his supplies through legitimate channels: his Iranian osetra, for example, costs $175 an ounce though supposedly similar products are available online from questionable sources at $35 to $65.

Though he's pleased that CITES has taken steps to control the black market, Sherrow knows it makes his whole industry look bad. But fear not: domestic, farm-raised species are spawning, and their eggs are tasty-tasty!
Montana Golden Whitefish Caviar from Seattle Caviar Company

Further afield, caviar called Baerri, very similar to Sevruga, raised in the waters off Bordeaux, as well as white sturgeon roe from Italy. Can't wait.

One of the Top Ten!

Unexpected good news for the New Year: Cornichon is on About.com's list of the internet's Top 10 Food Blogs Good Enough to Eat !


About.com, recently purchased by the New York Times, is a compendium of information written by some 500 outside experts and specialists in fields as diverse as electronics and foreign languages. In this case, the basic category was Food & Drink, leading to Gourmet Food, then to Media for Foodies. A chef named Brett Moore made the picks, including blogs from Mexico, Vietnam, France and the US.

I truly don't know what to say. Seattle alone has half a dozen terrific food blogs (Mamster's Roots and Grubs, Kate Hopkins's Accidental Hedonist, Viv's prolific Seattle Bon Vivant); the internet is chock-a-block with mouthwatering blogs. Rarefied company indeed to be on the list.

Footnote: Paris-based pastry chef David Lebovitz, on the Top 10 list with his own blog, www.davidlebovitz.com, is also a host for InTouch Travel, a Seattle company that matches adventurous travelers with local experts in half a dozen countries. (InTouch has a big ad in the right-hand column of this site.) I'm a host, too, and editorial director for the InTouch website. Kudos to InTouch founder Andrea Nims for having two out of the Top Ten bloggers on her roster!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2005 is the previous archive.

February 2006 is the next archive.

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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


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


Foodista.com, 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 Events.com, 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.

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