June 2006 Archives

French Kiss

Bachelorette party Lyon.JPG Yves and girls at Cafe Fed.jpg

No, I'm not talking about the bachelorette party on the prowl in Lyon, nor about the cute waitresses at the Café des Federations.

Besides, the Fed is full on this warm summer evening; they can't possibly squeeze in even one more body, so they send me up the hill to another bouchon serving Lyon specialties, the Comptoir des Deux Places. First time here, and they had me at bonjour: an exquisite plate of lamb tongues covered with a sauce gribiche. Tender slices of tongue, crunchy cabbage as a garnish, and a piquant dressing of mustard, vinegar and...chopped cornichons! Lip-smacking good!

Deux Places napkin.JPG Lambs tongues sauce gribiche.JPG

The local market

Market day in Beaune. The artichokes (one euro apiece!) come from fields along the coastline of Brittany. The asparagus (5 euros a kilo!) comes from Argenteuil in the Loire. Herbs and olives come from Provence, of course. But the runny Epoisses cheese didn't have all that far to run, and the piglets, well, they didn't run quite fast enough.

Beaune market1.JPG Setting out artichokes1.JPG Asparagus2.JPG

Epoisses, runny1.JPG Piglet on skewer sideways1.JPG

And what does the succulent suckling pig sell for, you ask? On special, spit-roasted & skin all crackling, about ten bucks a pound. Bone in.

Table d'hote in the vineyards


Hardly haute cuisine, it's a simple backyard barbecue: tomato & mozarella salad, grilled steak, fruit cobbler. What makes it memorable is the location, in the Burgundian vineyards between Pommard and Volnay. Elsewhere in France, it's Pride parades; in downtown Beaune, they're having a big community picnic.

Vineayrds w Pommard thru window.JPG Dinner in the garden.JPG Laurence w Yann 2.JPG
View from an upstairs window; dinner in the garden.

The bed & breakfast is called Clos des Saunières, named for medieval salt boxes once kept on the property. The current owners have traveled the world (seven years in Florida); their remodeling project added an American-style kitchen and five charming guest rooms. Around the table: vacationing couples from Belgium, Holland, Italy, Paris. I give them my card. "Cornichon?" they exclaim. "How...amusant!"

PS: Today's the day, at long last! The International Vineyard is finally supposed to go live. We'll be adding more trips, including one to this spot in Burgundy, over the next few weeks.

Ham & Cheese


Meet Beaune's Madame Jambon and Monsier Fromage.

Mme Penaud w jambon persille.JPG Alain Hess 21.JPG

She's Anne-Marie Penaud, who has a charcuterie that sells homemade sausages, pates and the town's best jambon persillé. [Had confessed, earlier that there should be an accent aigu on the final e of persille. Thanks to Robin Garr for telling me how to type it so it doesn't come out all screwy with ?? on your screen.] Homemade parslied ham.

The pigs come from local famers, delivered weekly, which are cut up and salted at the back of the shop. The knuckles are simmered overnight to make an aspic, then molded with chunks of ham and lots of fresh parsley. Sliced from a terrine or sold in half-kilo rounds, price is exactly 18.96 euros per kilo Works out to about $11.50 a pound.

He's maitre fromager Alain Hess, who matures and sells artisanal cheeses from the region's goat farmers from an elegant shop on the main square. In his workshop nearby he also makes a cheese of his own. Triple creme studded with mustard seeds. It's called Delice de Pommard, sold worldwide, and it's true to its name. About $5 per each. Breakfast tomorrow! Can't wait.

Poisson for lunch

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Wine bar on a pedestrian street here that I've been coming to for 20 years, Bistrot Bourguignon, run by Jean-Jacques Hegner and his wife, Agnès, a hangout for local growers who like to get their bottles into one of the 16 slots. A hangout for jazz fans, too; Jean-Jacques runs the local jazz society.

Dropped by for a glass and a bite to find Pink Martini's "Hang On Little Tomato" playing. Pink Martini! A group from Portland, Oregon!

Jean Jacques Hegner.JPG Grilled tuna at Bistrot Bourguignon.JPG
Hegners under awning; tuna at the bar

Glass of white St. Aubin 1er cru as an aperitif, glass of red St. Romain with the plat du jour, tuna provencale. Grilled fish sits atop flavorful sauteed Swiss chard, next to cylinder of couscous topped with herb-scented ratatouille. There's a fresh tomato sauce, a smokey sour cream sauce and a bit of balsamic on the plate as well. For a $10 luncheon dish, it's a bit over the top, sure. Tasty, though; mighty tasty.

Fromage for breakfast

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Back in France, where they eat cheese whenever they can. And not the processed, packaged stuff, either.

Breakfast at Le Cep.JPG Breakfast cheese tray .JPG

This is the Renaissance patio of Le Cep, a delightful hotel in the Burgundian town of Beaune. The cheese--Langres, Epoisses, Chambertin, Aisy Cendre, Saint Andre--comes from Alain Hess, whose shop is just around the corner. A cafe au lait, a croissant, some freshly squeezed orange juice ... and wi-fi.

Seattle, specifically Belltown, is now the country's official epicenter of restaurant wine service. As if we needed another reminder.

Campagne's wine steward, Jake Kosseff, took first place in the Chaine des Rotisseurs “Jeune Sommelier” competition, held over the weekend at the Sonoma Mission Inn. (The day before he left town, he was running a delightful tasting of French rosés in the cozy courtyard of the Inn at the Market.) A 16-year veteran of the restaurant biz, Jake also used to be the wine & spirits director at Cascadia.

Jake Kosseff.JPG Rose tasting at Campagne.JPG

"Tough group," Jake reported from California. A dozen "ridiculously qualified" competitors evaluated by a team of six judges led by Master Sommelier Fred Dame. Key to victory: his knowledge of spirits and beers. And preparation. "I worked really hard."

Parenthetically, Seattle's been a great source of culinary talent for the Chaine. Couple of years back, the Rainier Club's sous-chef Scott Megargle won the Chaine's national “Jeune Commis” competition and finished second in the world championship.

And let's not forget that Lindsey Norton of 94 Stewart, right across the street from Campagne, was recognized last week for one of the country's top ten wine lists. And Le Pichet, around the corner, has the most comprehensive list of French country wines in town.

Campagne, 86 Pine St., 206-728-2800

Pick up the paper, feel queasy. Billionaire buys a Klimt for $135 million. Nestle, meanwhile, pays $600 million for Jenny Craig.

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Jenny Craig model; Museum Associates/Agence France-Presse - Getty Image

OK, OK, Jenny dumped Monica years ago. Sorry. (It's Kirstie Alley now, they tell me.) And the Klimt was purchased from legitimate heirs, not looters. (But they had to sue the looters to get it back.)

Will you sleep better at night knowing that a Swiss industrial food corp--the same outfit that airdrops formula to African villages and bottled tap water to Bellevue minimarts--now intends to profit even more from our collective gluttony? The official doublespeak is Orwellian, Nestle talking about its "commitment to nutrition, health and wellness."

Do you feel gratified that the surviving niece who inherited a painting commissioned by her uncle gets an obscenely huge bundle? Or still vaguely queasy?

Hungry...for revenge

The best moment at Intiman's new production of Richard III this week comes before the first word is spoken: Bart Sher himself emerging from the wings, coyly holding a box that he opens to reveal a statuette: the Tony for best regional theater. Well-merited applause.

Sadly, the rest of the evening's a mess; it's one long, long winter of discontent.


In the title role, Stephen Pelinski does a creditable Ian McKellan impression, though with a disconcerting midwestern twang. The rest of the cast is unable to keep up. The House of Lancaster women fare worst, Lenne Klingaman as Lady Anne sounds like a high school student reciting lines she doesn't understand; Suzanne Bouchard as Margaret ("hungry for revenge") wielding a hysterical sword as she descends from the set's upper levels to wreak her hateful havoc.

Problem lies with Sher's concept: he overlays Shakespeare's rhythms with percussion, positioning two drum kits high atop the auditorium's scaffolding. Relentless thuds and clangs exude menace all night long. Works in operas, worked in Jaws, right? Yeah, but not for three hours straight, drowning the actors, trivializing the action and frustrating the audience. By the time Richard offers his kingdom for a horse, we're ready to surrender.

Listen to this post (1:38): podcast-mini4.gif
Intiman presents Richard III through July 15th. 206-269-1900

A lapse of taste


Joint called 520 Bar & Grill, opened last week in Old Bellevue (nothing to do with the bridge) has already perfected the art of removing flavor from food. Used to be, only low-end places like Olive Garden had figured this out. Bistro Romain chain in France, too, where you stuff yourself silly because your brain doesn't get any signals of satisfaction.

Chicken marsala.JPG Yes no maybe.JPG
520's chicken marsala: a decidedly mixed verdict.

520's menu talks about big-flavored "social plates" and fresh, hearty neighborhood favorites made for sharing. So we take over a fourtop and dig in. Yikes, what a disappointment! Tasteless coconut prawns in an uninspired mango-papaya salsa ($14); Caesar salad ($9) without character, but with a side of salty fries ($2); bland CHAOS salad ($9, supposed to be chicken, avocado and mandarin orange) doused with unsweet honey-poppy seed dressing; chicken marsala ($14) in a sauce that lacked any evidence of marsala; and filet gorgonzola ($16) of unseasoned beef, unseasoned spinach and mildly cheesy sauce. Chicken & beef both bear grill marks, yet remain virginally flavorless. Whoever's frying up those fries ought to do the right thing: at least share the saltshaker.

And this lack of zip doesn't come cheap. A couple of glasses of wine apiece, and the tab, by the time we tip the hapless waitress, is $200! Fifty bucks apiece for wine and apps! Do we feel stuffed? Hardly. Do we feel mellow? Uh, no.

The owners aren't foodies, as if you couldn't guess, but real estate people. On the other hand, Michael Degginger is the exec chef, formerly at Troiani, and ought to know better. Dude, put in an order for some spices, will ya, or else get a patent on that flavor-extracting process of yours.

Listen to this post (2:34):

520 Bar & Grill, 10146 Main St., Bellevue 425-450-0520 520 Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

One glass at a time

Look who's in Food & Wine magazine's "Ten Best New Wine Lists"...Seattle's own Lindsey Norton of 94 Stewart !

Not bad for a 25-year-old without formal wine training. Then again, she did grow up in a restaurant family; her mother, Celinda, ran a string of cafes in Longview over the years, including the highly regarded Cibo Con Amici, Rusty Duck and Pig Feathers Market before moving to Seattle a year ago. Cindy's the chef and runs the kitchen, Lindsey handles beverages, brother Nic is the cheese steward, dad's the official handyman.

Lindsey Nelson at 94 Stewart.JPG 94 Stewart logo.jpg

Lindsey's wine list names some 300 bottles, half from Washington, Oregon and California, the balance from Italy, France, and more distant shores. Over a dozen by-the-glass pours, including an $8 mystery wine dubbed "The Brown Bag Experience." Ya gotta guess the grape variety...or ya don't get dessert.

Matching wines to her mom's cooking is Lindsey's strong suit. Every dinner entree comes with a suggestion for an appropriate bottle, from a modest Inama Soave Classico ($38) to wash down the $18 Market Mac to an elegant Domaine Drouhin Oregon pinot noir ($75) to accompany a $30 plate of Copper River salmon. Bottle of bargain bubbly? Sure, a $20 cremant de Bourgogne or a $22 prosecco. Splurge? Sure, there's a Penfold's Grange Hermitage at $350, and a couple of Burgundies in the same range. You'd be better off bringing your own bottle; there's no corkage fee on Sunday nights.

We've been among the cheerleaders since 94 Stewart opened. Now, with a year's worth of downtown Seattle experience, the Nortons are ready to launch a series of monthly, 5-course wine dinners around a communal table starting with Alexandria Nicole Cellars on June 29th.

For her part, Lindsey says she's not interested in getting professionally certified. "Too trendy," she feels. Besides, they're not going to teach inspired answers to questions like this: what to drink with scallops in coconut cream? Why, a gewurztraminer from the Alto-Adige, of course. You can't learn that kind of match by rote; it comes from an exceptional palate and exceptional confidence.

94 Stewart, guess the address, 206-441-5505 94 Stewart on Urbanspoon

Sacred salmon, demon rum

Until the mid-17th century, the Royal Navy would give its sailors daily rations of brandy. Then they captured Jamaica and switched to the local hooch, rum, which they diluted with water & lemon juice. The citrus prevented scurvy, kept the Brits healthier than the French and Spanish, whose sailors were still knocking back brandy; Britannia soon ruled the world.

With such historical cred, you'd think rum would get more respect. Instead, the Temperance Movement named its bogeyman "Demon Rum" and blamed it for every imaginable evil. Until last night, when it was redeemed by its association with the Sacred Salmon.

Lineup of rums.JPG Rums at table.JPG
Lineup of Cruzan (light, dark, Diamond) and Pyrat (XO, Bin 23) rums

The altar was Elliott's, an appropriately ecumenical fish house (oysters, crab, salmon), where chef Jeremy Anderson officiated at a series of ambitious marriage ceremonies, each uniting salmon with grog.

First there was a rum-kippered Copper River King Salmon, dry-cured and marinated in black strap rum, alder-smoked and paired with Cruzan Single Barrel rum. Superb match of sweet and mellow flavors. Grilled Stikine River White King was plated with a vanilla rum-butter sauce and Cruzan Estate Diamond, a savory (and safe) vanilla-on-vanilla combination.

Then came the most imaginative and successful creation by far: the chef's red curry and dark rum treatment of a Taku River wild salmon. But first, a question: what to drink with curry?

The default answer, beer, works only if you want to douse heat and wash away the spices. Yet curry is a blend of exciting flavors, to be savored, not drowned. The answer is spirits--in this case, Cruzan Estate Dark--whose volatile heat actually emphasizes the complexity of the spices. Also on the plate, providing a sweet and crunchy contrast to the curry, were a slaw of chayote squash, some tropical papaya and a lime-melon salsa.

It was one of those unexpected, wow! moments. This is a dish (like Tom Douglas's original kasu cod 20 years ago) that deserves to become a Seattle classic.

Chef plating red curry salmon.JPG Red curry salmon 21.JPG
Chef Jeremy Anderson plates up Red Curry salmon.

Anderson (who's been getting a lot of mention in Cornichon lately) is a local lad, a grad of Shorecrest HS who attended WSU and the CIA in New York. As an executive chef in the corporate orbit of Consolidated Restaurants, he's got creative freedom in the kitchen without having to worry about filling seats; that's GM Greg Hinton's job. In this case, Hinton's palate for premium rum provided the challenge, and the kitchen's response merited tots of Pyrat Cask 23 ($240 a bottle) all round.

Elliott's Oyster House, Pier 56, 206-623-4340 Elliott's Oyster House on Urbanspoon

Crispy, crunchy

They're called Crispy Prawns with lime and ginger, and an order of six costs $4 during happy hour at Belltown's spanking-new Umi Sake House. A generous happy hour it is, with snacks and drinks at reduced prices from 4 to 8 every day on the "front porch."

Umi Sake House.JPG Sake wall at Umi.JPG Crispy prawns at Umi.JPG
Wall of sake choices, crispy prawns at Umi

It's past 7 and no longer happy anywhere else on First Avenue, so I sit myself down in a clean, well-lighted, bamboo-paneled and skylit front room whose wooden benches remind me a bit of a high school cafeteria. No matter. Former Bada Lounge has been totally redone to resemble Japanese country house.

Bevy of charming hostesses and servers bring menus for dozens of sake choices, pages and pages of dinner entrees and some 20 bar snacks (sushi, sashimi, rolls, tempura) at about half the cost of the dinner options.

Now, like most Seattle folk, I'm a pushover for shellfish, so I order the aforesaid crispy prawns along with a $5 Hot Sake. Presto, they arrive, the prawns considerably warmer than the sake. Not curled up, either, but mysteriously straighted, each one the dimensions of a Magic Marker, wrapped in egg noodles and deep fried.

The first two or three go down like popcorn. Giant, shrimpy popcorn. Good thing there's a sweet chili dipping sauce for the fourth one. By the fifth, I'm out of sake. By the end, I'm prawned-out, shrimped-out.

Dinner? Hah! And don't even mention breakfast. Turns out there's a guy in England with the screen name Prawn Overdose. I know how he feels.

Umi Sake House, 2230 First Avenue, 206-374-8717 Umi Sake House on Urbanspoon

On the (virtual) wine road

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Imagine a road actually called the Washington Wine Highway linking Washington's major wine-producing regions, with signs to tell you what wine was all about: it would begin in Puget Sound, meander a bit in Woodinville, cross Snoqualmie Pass and take in the entire Yakima Valley. Or it could cross Stampede Pass and noodle around Lake Chelan, follow the Columbia Valley downstream to the Tri-Cities, and end up in Walla Walla.

A highway, in other words, connecting the state's four wine centers. Great for the wineries, great for tourism. But the state's wine and tourism bureaucracies are too bureaucratic, too politicized to make this happen; just look at the Taste of Washington fiasco earlier this year.

WWH.JPG Wash Wine Highway sign.JPG

Enter the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, which counts two dozen winery members. "Let's put on a show," they said. Without asking for permission from the Wine Commission or the Department of Tourism, they invented a whole new festival, Washington Wine Highway, and took it for a spin on the ground of Chateau Ste. Michelle this weekend.

Each regional pavilion clustered winery tables, restaurants and "travel partners" (hotels, tourism bureaus, even local farmers), over 80 participants in all. Tickets were $75; some 1,500 people showed up on Saturday (nice weather). Soggy Sunday didn't fare as well, but there was an optimistic, "just wait until next year" spirit.

Fernando Marlene Divina.JPG Elliotts chef.JPG Dieter w Willis Hall wine1.JPG

Among the exhibitors: Fernando Divina, the brilliant chef at Tendrils (the restaurant attached to the Cave B resort on the Columbia) and culinary historian, author with his wife, Marelene, of the 2005 James-Beard winner Foods of the Americas.

Among the most sought-after plates: mussels flavored with jalapenos, dished up by young Jeremy Anderson of Elliott's Oyster House. Yummy!

Will the Wine Highway become an annual event? Does the Woodinville Chamber's "go it alone" mentality reflect a new maturity on the part of the state's wine industry or a breakdown of the old order? To me, it looked like everyone was having more fun without the Wine Commission looking over their shoulder.

Marriage counseling


Taittinger Champagne toasts last night in the Spanish Ballroom of the Fairmont Olympic. The French ambassador, His Excellency Jean-David Levitte, was in town to attend the 20th anniversary gala of the French-American Chamber of Commerce and used the occasion to describe the state of French American relations after two centuries: Lafayette, Pershing, Normandy, Iraq.

Back on track after a few troubled moments, he told the 200 guests. In short: "Over 220 years of marriage counseling."

Jack w Ambassador.JPG Medal ceremony.JPG Le Boeuf.JPG
FACC executive director Jack Cowan with French ambassador Jean-David Levitte; awarding medals; beef tenderloin.

Like any long-married couple, our interests are inextricably intertwined. US investment in France is responsible for 500,000 jobs while French investment in America ($150 billion) has created jobs for 600,000 workers here. A lot of French technology goes into the Boeing Dreamliner, while 40% of the new Airbus 380 is being built in the US. We have our differences, to be sure, but we're "best allies" nonetheless, with a lifetime of shared values.

Does this mean we can stop making rude-French-waiter jokes? Probably not. But "cheese-eating surrender-monkeys"? A bit much.

The real beef? On your plate, where it belongs. That would be the Fairmont's oven-roasted, center-cut American Kobe beef tenderloin topped with a shallot and oxtail braisage, encircled by a ring of Yukon Gold whipped potatoes and a melange of baby rainbow carrots. Along with a glass or two of Moulin-A-Vent from Georges Duboeuf, it was quite delicious.

Medals awarded to three Seattle stalwarts of the French community, Susan Gates (Evergreen Bank), Michel Robert (Les Boulangers Associes) and George Lyden (Peterson Cheese), for meritorious service to France. Felicitations, Madame, Messieurs.

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