February 2006 Archives

Cosi Cosi


Two incarnations of Cosi in Seattle these days: the restaurant Cosi at the downtown Macy's, and the Mozart opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, at McCaw Hall.

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Stone hearth oven bakes pizza, flatbread, breakfast "bagels"

Cosi the restaurant originated some 20 years ago on the rue de Seine in Paris, where patrons selected their own fillings for toasted sandwiches while opera tapes provided entertainment. Concept now replicated at almost 100 shops in the US, baking artisan breads with choice of toppings. Tasty breakfast sandwich with egg, tomato, bacon, cheese & coffee a reasonable $3.49.

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On to opening night at the opera. Glass of bubbly, then a new modern-dress staging of the familiar tale: two friends engaged to sisters. On a bet, they disguise themselves and woo each other's girls. Soprano Alexandra Deshorties plays Fiordiligi as Paris Hilton in a ditzy pink jacket. At first she stands up to the challenge of fidelity ("Come scoglio"--Like a rock) but crumbles midway through the second act with the opera's most moving aria, ("Per pieta"--Have pity).

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Miller directs Deshorties; onstage duet. Seattle Opera photos.

Traditional staging has both couples excusing the indiscretions because, after all, Cosi fan tutte: women are like that, fickle. And the music is so joyful, it sounds like a romp.

But contemporary foursomes can't switch allegiances so easily. Consider recent films like Closer (2004) and you'll realize that a modern Cosi can well be a lot darker. Here's where the vision of Jonathan Miller comes in. A brilliant director, he coaxes a full range of emotional performances from all six singers without compromising their voices.

It's probably the most persuasive staging of an opera I've ever seen. When it's over, with the lovers all despising each other, it's infinitely more credible than the "conventional" happy ending. Big bravo!

PS: Seattle Times arts writer Melinda Bargreen interviews Jonathan Miller: link

PPS: And a final question: what do you say if your sandwich is too cold? "Che gelida pannini" perhaps? Or, if it's too hard, "Come scoglio"?

Cosi, 1601 3rd Ave., Seattle, 206-405-3294
Seattle Opera presents Cosi Fan Tutte through March 11. Tickets online or call 206-389-7676

Gut feelings about junk food


UPDATE: Just when you're ready to throw in the towel, Alice Waters comes along with some sage advice to restore the soul. A Delicious Revolution indeed!

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Harriet Brown, a poet in Wisconsin, gets it. The New York Times printed her Op-Ed essay titled "Go With Your Gut" this week.

Her point, like Mireille Guiliano's in French Women Don't Get Fat, is that we should simply enjoy the food we eat.

Ironically, the Times itself, doesn't get it. An editorial yesterday argues that "Government" should regulate the advertising of junk food to youngsters on TV.

That's the same refrain we hear regularly from the Food-Is-Bad cranks.

Marketing drives the demand for junk food, sure. But the problem's not whiney kids, it's lazy or stressed-out parents battered by the media and the Pleasure Police. The bad guys aren't so much Kraft or the makers of Twinkie's (think of them as co-conspirators), they're the scolds at the so-called Center for Science in the Public Interest. Shame on the Times for listening.

No place like foam

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Mistral's ever-changing menu features hamachi, parsnip soup with scallop

The best chef in Belltown, hell, the best chef in Seattle, William Belickis, no longer has a menu. He and his kitchen crew at Mistral ring improvised changes on a classic framework. Last time I was here, there was a 5-course "market menu," a 7-course "chef's menu," and a 9-course "Mistral Experience." There were printed menus and a printed wine list; you could pick your bottles or let the servers pour a glass to match each course. That was then.

Now there's only a brief, uncertain conversation with the waiter, who explains that you've really got one choice: 7 courses or 8. Like a symphony, like an opera, you’re in for a predictable structure: an appetizer (amuse-bouche in French, incorrectly called "amoozay"), a soup, one or two fish courses (that's your choice, remember?), foie gras, a meat course, a cheese plate and dessert.

That's like announcing the team's starting lineup: enough to make you head to the ballpark. Ya gotta know the players; the excitement is the game itself. And what a game it turns out to be!

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William Belickis serves a guest; guinea-hen with spinach

The amuse is a piece of sushi-grade hamachi atop shavings of hearts of palm, bits of grapefruit and a gram or two of microgreens; the subtle flavors and contrasting textures are brought together by a remarkable froth with the tangy bitterness of celery.

Celery bubbles? Indeed. More below.

Mistral, 113 Blanchard, 206-770-7799

Twist Again

We warned you in late December and early January that this was coming: a confrontation between residents of the Pomeroy and its new tenant, Twist.

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The mainstream guys are finally onto the story now: big piece in today's Post Intelligencer describes the concerns of condo owners, although they're made out to be bad guys who want to undercut the mayor's desire to bring more people downtown.

But the real doofus here is Twist's managing partner Ted Rodemeyer, who shows he's got no concern whatever for the neighbors. Dude! You thought you could waltz into Belltown, open a yuppie lounge in a residential building and not face restrictions from the liquor board? "I never would have signed our lease if I'd known these were the rules."

How big a doofus? "If I don't sign [the conditions] I can't get my liquor license so it seems I have no choice but to forfeit my rights as a business owner..."

Forfeit my rights, indeed. Unmitigated chutzpah, that's what it is.

Feb. 16 UPDATE: Seattle Times weighs in; article by Sanjay Bhatt riddled with errors. And Rodemeyer still claims Twist isn't a night spot. I ask you, dear readers, is this the restroom of a fine dining establishment or a club?

"Immediate buzz"

Whether it's a pub crawl in Berlin or a peek into the hidden courtyards of Paris, adventurous travelers are increasingly choosing "lifestyle" tours that give them instant access to the "immediate buzz" of a city's culture, writes Gisela Williams in The New York Times. Her article in yesterday's Travel section profiles half a dozen such tours and points readers toward a Seattle company, InTouch Travel to book others.

InTouch, in case you're new to all this, is a client of Cornichon Communications, and we're thrilled with the recognition. The full article is available online (free registration required), or you can download this PDF.

"The phone hasn't stopped ringing, and we've had dozens of email inquiries," says InTouch Travel's founder Andrea Nims. "More and more travelers want to experience something new, and a couple of days of cultural immersion is very appealing."

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Henrik on his pub crawl in Berlin; Josef's guests in a Paris passageway.

One of the InTouch Travel hosts, Henrik Tidefjard, was prominently featured in the Times article. The founder of Berlinagenten, he takes his private clients on a one-night, five-course "gastro-rallye." His InTouch guests accompany him for two days and nights as he prowls the city and its neighborhoods, gathering material for his website.

Another InTouch host, photographer Josef Schomburg, recently hosted a couple from New York City for two days while he did historical research for his "behind closed doors" walking tours of Paris.

InTouch Travel was launched less than a year ago to provide a variety of opportunities for "cultural travel." The company offers the services of 73 hosts in 11 countries. They are fluent English speakers in a wide range of professions, from journalists to university professors.

Travelers pay a flat rate of $650 per guest per day, which covers all meals and expenses as well as a stipend to the host. Hotel accommodations can also be arranged for guests.

It's the second time this year that InTouch has received international attention. Last month, two InTouch hosts with food blogs (in fact, the only two bloggers period) were listed among the Internet's Top Ten Food Blogs Good Enough to Eat by the editors of About.com. They were DavidLebovitz.com in Paris and, ahem, Cornichon.org based here in Seattle.

Seattle, Mon Amour


Bernard-Henri Levy occupies a position in France roughly comparable to...well, we don't have anyone like him. Rock star Bono comes close. Jon Stewart, maybe, except that BHL writes his own material. Sporting an unruly haircut, clad in the requisite uniform (black shirt, black blazer), he's a familiar figure on French TV, the embodiment of the Public Intellectual. Atlantic Monthly sent him on a year-long assignment to retrace the intellectual journey taken by de Tocqueville; the resulting tome, American Vertigo, has just been published, and BHL came to Seattle as part of the book tour.

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Turns out, it's his favorite town. "If I had to pick one American city to live in...it would be Seattle." He sees the Space Needle in the dark-pink sky, and it's his epiphany: "poetry and modernity...the haunting quality of darkness, tall trees and steel." He especially loves Le Pichet.

Unfortunately, the rest of American Vertigo is a dreadful collection of self-conscious and self-indulgent travel blogs (mega-malls, mega-churches, gun shows); it recycles every politically correct, liberal cliche of the past quarter century (despite latent racism, there's hope in the New South); it treats the obvious as if it were a treasured artifact (Guantanamo is hell on earth, Woody Allen is a genius). DeToqueville, at least, was breaking fresh ground.

Married to an American singer and actress, BHL clearly loves the US, but in a bull-headed way, a bit like a blindered horse. He sees what he wants to see, what fits in with his European perspective and Cartesian intellectual constructs. Like a guy trying to figure out what women want, he has a tin ear for the nuance of American culture.

While he's signing books at the University Bookstore, I ask him who, in America, might be qualified to write a similar book about his own country. He looks up, raises a Gallic eyebrow and mentions Adam Gopnick, whose dispatches to The New Yorker chronicling a five-year stint in France were published as From Paris to the Moon. But Gopnick, a graceful writer and an acute observer, won't ever challenge BHL's stature as a Public Intellectual. Then again, he won't have to interview Woody Allen, either.

"I left my heart in Frappuccino"

Notes from the annual Starbucks shareholders meeting, a razzle-dazzle, stomp-your-feet, clap-your-hands get-together on Wednesday.

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Capacity crowd fills McCaw Hall; chairman Howard Schultz

Item: There are now 11,000 Starbucks stores in 37 countries.
Sounds like more than any coffee-addled person could possibly visit. Well, OK, 5 stores a day might be reasonable; would take 6 years. But you'd never catch up: they're opening 5 new stores a day. China, Brazil, Russia, India all huge untapped markets. For that matter, so are small towns across America where, to date, there's only one Starbucks.

Item: Starbucks has 125,000 employees.
If you brought them all to Seattle, they'd fill every seat in Howard's Key, Paul's Qwest Field and George's Safe with thousands more on the streets outside. If you sent them all to the Middle East, you'd have enough "partners" in green aprons to hand-deliver an iced Frappuccino to every American soldier in Iraq.

Item: stock price at all-time high, company's market cap $26 billion.
Almost as much as Weyerhaeuser and Amazon.com combined. If you'd bought $10,000 of SBUX in 1992, you'd have stock worth $650,000 today.

Item: Starbucks serves 40 million customers a week.
Average patron visits Starbucks 18 times a month. It's probably the most frequented retailer on the planet. Average revenue per store: a cool million.

Other news: upcoming products (a bottled Frappuccino, among others), feel-good reinforcement (social responsibility, "the most respected brand in the world"), winding up with a pitch for the first-ever Starbucks movie ("Akeelah and the Bee") and its ever-expanding music sideline.

With that, curtain up for a command performance by 80-year-old crooner Tony Bennett, smooth as a caramel macchiato. And yes, of course he sang "I left my heart." We'd expect nothing less.

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"The best is yet to come," Bennett assures SBUX shareholders.

Can't get no?


Get no wha? Don't ask, I'm a stranger myself here.

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From neutral California, these observations:
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"Yo mamma eats grass, dude." "Well yours eats dirt, bud."

So there. Just a game. God forbid, this should have been, like, important.

Salty of the earth


It's no wonder that banquet chefs at successful restaurants are easy-going types. They're rarely the owners, they've got a dedicated sales force, and their customers are getting a free meal: pressure's off! Still, banquet chefs don't get nearly enough respect. Who else is going to plate up 200 salmon fillets for your cousin's wedding or stand guard behind the baron of beef at the corporate reception?

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Noah Maikisch has been at Salty's on Alki for 7 of his 33 years, running the kitchen for one of the Seattle's busiest banquets-and-catering operations. (The others: the Space Needle, Ray's Boathouse, and the major hotels.)

Sure, it's a great view, but it's the combination of skyline, food and welcome that make Salty's reputation. Get it right, keep it on track (800 brunches on weekends, respectable wine list, a string of "favorite" and "best of" awards from the media) and the wedding planners and corporate event mavens will follow.

Salty's, 1936 Harbor Ave. SW, Seattle, 206-937-1600
Salty's on Alki on Urbanspoon

Four for the road

And they're off, the leading ladies of Seattle's culinary stage, to do a couple of cameo performances in Washington, DC.

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Chefs Smith, Murphy, Keff, McCown

Here's their schedule: Monday, at a fund-raiser for Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, a "dine-around" reception for 100 guests:

Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita: Wagyu Carne Cruda with Truffled Lardo Crostini
Tamara Murphy of Brasa: Smoked Salmon Tartar with Creme Fraiche, Paddlefish Caviar and Walnut Golden Raisin Crostini
Christine Keff of Flying Fish: Spicy Bigeye Tuna Cones
Sue McCown of Earth & Ocean: "Sweet Oysters on the Half-Shell" and Triple Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Then on Tuesday, a fund-raiser for Sen. Maria Cantwell, a sit-down dinner for 25:

Smith: Squab Tortellini with Ginger Squab Brodo with Delicata Squash
Murphy: Rack of Suckling Pig with Chorizo, Clams and Pickled Shallots
Keff: Wild King Salmon with Fermented Black Bean Vinaigrette and Cucumber Salad
McCown: Lemon Soaked Cake with Preserved Huckleberries

Sen. Cantwell has a huge 12th Man poster in her office, natch. Don't know what's in store for the Hawks on Sunday in Detroit but the ladies can't lose, can they? Meantime, Sue, can I have an extra one of those sweet oysters, pretty please?

It pays to read Cornichon

Save ten bucks! How? Read on.

Have written several times now about the Art Institute of Seattle and its "teaching restaurant," the Portfolio Room. Now a special offer: Cornichon readers and their guests pay only $65 (including tax & gratuity) for the next special event, a dinner with winemaker Matt Loso of Matthews Cellars on Thursday, February 16th at 6 PM.

Normal cost for the dinner is $75, and worth twice that, given the price of comparable events at commercial restaurants. To get the discount just mention you're a Cornichon reader when you call (or email WineDieter@cs.com) for your reservation.

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Chef Instructor David Wynne and his brigade of upper-level students will prepare a five-course Northwest menu accompanied by matching wines. It's a great opportunity to learn from the winemaker and from Maitre d'Hotel Dieter Schafer about the elements in the food and wine that make them great together. I've had those short ribs before: lip-smacking good!

The menu details follow.

The Art Institute of Seattle, Portfolio Restaurant, 2600 Alaskan Way, Seattle, 206-239-2363

Desert Classic

Making fun of the French is a national sport. Even if you're French. But before we heap more abuse on the Land of the Brie (and risk getting whistled for piling on), let's reflect on something particularly French: culinary talent. The ability to create memorable meals from the ingredients at hand. Classical training is key; it teaches a chef to be rigorous yet flexible.

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Before Vincent Gueritault opened his own place on Camelback Rd. in Phoenix 20 years ago, he'd worked at La Baumanière in Provence, Maxim's in Paris and Le Français in Chicago; he knew his stuff, and understood that stuffy French food would never fly in casual Phoenix. Instead, he looked to what's usually dismissed (in France and elsewhere) as "peasant food," in this case, the staples of Arizona's Hispanic community. Early-on, he adopted and adapted its ingredients and flavors, enhanced them with classic techniques and gained a reputation as the classiest restaurant in town.

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Enroute to the airport we were, and stopped off for a light lunch. Heirloom tomato salad in green, yellow and orange, topped with home-made buffalo mozzarella and a cloud of tiny green and purple arugula, simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar: refreshingly unpretentious. Then one of Vincent's classic appetizers, tamales wrapped around a filling of duck spiced with Anaheim chiles and raisins. Not hard to see why the dish has lasted two decades! For dessert, a classic of the French repertoire, souffle Grand Marnier, delivered in twin ramekins because, the waiter explained, it just cooks better that way.

Not often that a place with a lofty reputation delivers so convincingly. If ya gotta get out of Phoenix, this sure makes a pleasant send-off.

Vincent on Camelback, 3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ, 602-224-0225 Vincent on Camelback on Urbanspoon

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

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