November 2006 Archives

Hamming it up in Parma


Parma, capital of, duh, Parma ham, of parmesan cheese, of theater and opera. Wine...not so much; it's the simple, slightly fizzy red called Lambrusco, but, whaddya know, it goes great with Parma ham.

Serving Parma ham.JPG Salumi plated.JPG Torta Fritta.JPG

And go it does at the Corale G. Verdi, a century-old restaurant and music venue where dinner guests are treated to occasional operatic blasts by glee club members (think Seattle Mens Chorus). Prosciutto and other cured meats are served by a phalanx of cheerful waiters, and the chef , bringing out piping hot pillowcases of fried dough, slaps your hand if you're crass enough to be nibbling plain bread. A six-course dinner gets pricey, but you can have just the salumi misti and the torta fritta for 13 euros, well under 20 bucks.

More from Emilia Romagna coming up all week.

Glug, glug, glug

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Pete Wells, the guy who notoriously hates food bloggers, is now the Dining & Wine editor at the Noo Yawk Times. Cornichon, who wasn't indicted (in fact, escaped mention enitrely) is thus inclined to be charitable, despite, well, problems in several recent items.

Wells's latest article, a melancholy piece underappreciated cocktail of his own invention, only serves to reinforce Seattle's place in the cocktail universe. (Leaving aside, for a moment, that NYT editors almost never introduce their own bylines into the paper, let alone to discuss their own creative effots.) Prominently featured in the text, headlined in the accompanying photos, is none other than Seattle's cocktail king, Ryan Magarian. Good to see our guys recognized as authorities.

Ryan mxing drink.jpg Robt Hess.jpg

And what else has Wells been up to? Hey, why not ask the Eastern European correspondent for the Times to write on local drinking habits? Response: a nutball article titled "Vodka World Shaken, and Stirred, by Fruit Spirits."

As usual, cooler heads prevailed in Seattle, where drinks guru Robert Hess hangs out. "I'm all for clear definition, delineation, and celebration of quality spirits, but this vodka debate just doesn't quite cut it for me." His email to Cornichon continues:

It's fine to look at "modern" vodkas and say that they are "traditionally" made from grain, with some of the ones that are pretending to be "premium" made from potatoes. But looking back through history (as this article does a decent, but incomplete, job of) vodka has historically been made from anything. In fact, vodka was "traditionally" a catch-all phrase for anything that was a distilled spirit... what we refer to as modern vodka, is more properly referred to as "white vodka". It refers to the clarity and quality of the distillation as opposed to what it was distilled from. Anything went back in those days, and grain was the cheapest and most plentiful product, and so that's what they would often use, but didn't feel constrained to it."

Then there's the "sommelier shortage" (another one of those "the editor dreamed this up, so we'd better find some examples" surveys) claims, without justification, that restaurant patrons "...from Seattle to San Francisco are feeling the dismaying effects of a sommelier shortage." Hey, if I were the editor, I'd ask for stories about the opposite: wine lists written by distributors, wine lists with exorbitant prices, wine lists with two dozen California chardonnays and cabs, and did I mention extortionist pricing?

Off the wagon, meantime, the Newspaper of Record weighs in on the fact that ocean-caugh fish aren't "organic." (What planet do these people live on? "Organic" hasn't had anything to do with food for years; it's a political term, literally.) The illustration: a fish-farming operation on Bainbridge Island. And, while we're at it, only a newbie bureau chief like Bill Yardley could sell a soggy story about rainy Seattle.

One more thing: sadly, to access the Noo Yawk effing Times's content, you have to effing "register." Something you'll never have to do to read, ahem, effing Cor-Nee-Shawn.

Off to Italy, we are now, camera & laptop in hand. We'll be hamming it up in Parma on our fist stop, and will be posting as often as wi-fi conditions permit. Footnote: In the poll on Local Wine Events, Cornichon is by far the most popular non-commercial blog. Thanks for your support!

Any art in a storm


Painting mural at Wann.JPG Dude at Wann.JPG Painting mural in snowstorm.JPG

Tattooed guy, Larry (I think it was Larry) Conner (I think he said Conner), headphones, cigarette, ignores last night's snowstorm under makeshift tarp and jury-rigged work lights to complete tattoo-themed mural outside Wann Izakaya on Second Avenue. Hey, if Hasselbeck and Alexander can work in the snow, let alone artists like Conner (or did he say Cotter?), then the rest of us ought to as well, right? On the other hand, too cold & windy to actually take out trusty reporter's notebook. Easy to remember a name like...Potter, was it?

Wann Japanese Izakaya on Urbanspoon

A Tale of Two Bistros


In Bellevue, no less than in Belltown, you are where you eat. Tasting notes from two opening nights.

Basil chef Alan Kaufman.JPG Basil mint sorbet.JPG
Chef Kaufman, basil-mint sorbet at Basil's Kitchen

Basil's Kitchen describes itself as Mediterranean. It's in the atrium of the newly renovated Bellevue Hilton, formerly the Doubletree. "Casual yet sophisticated ... with a menu to suit all tastes."

The Belllevue Hilton's management company, Dow Hotels, are so thrilled with the concept that they're looking into franchising Basil's Kitchens beyond the six they've already opened in their various properties around the country. Says chairman Murray Dow, it's "a restaurant concept that not only would work in a hotel, but be transferable to other upscale hotels, regardless of brand." Basil's increases food service revenues by 40 percent, Dow claims.

Aside from the mechanics, Basil's has some neat things going for it. New York-born executive chef Alan Kaufman, an alumnus of the Sheraton, executes the signature dish, Basil's Salmon, with aplomb: smoked red pepper and Fontina atop a salmon fillet, surprisingly delicious. As a main course at dinner, it's $20, an iconic price point for expense-account travelers and timid tourists alike.

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Chef Thiessen, smoked duck breast at 0/8 Seafood Grill

No such caution up the street at the Hyatt Regency. Dan Thiessen, who's positioning himself as Seattle's next Tom Douglas, is gambling $2.5 million that Bellevue needs both an upscale wine bar and a high-end grill. Where the original Eques and Chadfield's faltered, he is opening two adjoining concepts: 0/8 Seafood Grill and Twisted Cork Wine Bar. (Thiessen wedding anniversary is August 8th, hence the cutesy name.)

The question is whether he can pull off his concept of approachable fine-dining. One indication in his favor: the tea-smoked duck-breast with frisée salad and currant jelly on a chive pancake, $13 as an appetizer, $34 as a main course. Lots of seafood, natch (planked salmon, grilled salmon, crab cakes, sashimi scallops, fresh oysters). But with a 7,600-square-food, 300-seat emporium to fill, Thiessen is already planning to keep the grill open throughout the afternoons, an à-la-carte weekend brunch, live entertainment, and a selection of 20 bubblies by the glass in an elevated champagne lounge.

The decision to appeal to suburbanites rather than downtowners seems like a no-brainer, what with. Maggiano's, McCormick's and Trader Vic's all anxious to serve Eastsiders. Good thing Thiessen has a partner, dot-com business maven Matt Bomberger, to keep the finances on track. And though there's wi-fi at 0/8, the desired clientele isn't computer nerds but Beautiful People too bored with Belltown to leave Bellevue.

0/8 Seafood Grill, Bellevue, 900 Bellevue Way SE, 425-637-0808 0/8 Seafood Grill & Twisted Cork Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
Basil's Kitchen, 300 112th SE, Bellevue, 425-455-1300 Basil's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Leaving Home vs. Coming to America


Sent my passport off to Philadelphia last week for routine renewal, then got unexpected assignment to cover a travel symposium in week! No chance of getting new passport in time. Called State Department, expecting endless bureaucracy, got helpful advice on first ring. Used automated system to schedule interview in Seattle, got appointment within the hour. Impressive staff at Passport Office. At least one federal agency doing things right, makes leaving home a breeze.


Sadly, not so easy for foreigners to visit US. "Rude immigration officials and visa delays keep millions of foreign visitors away from the United States, hurt the country’s already battered image, and cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost revenue," according to a Discover America Partnership report.

No surprise: the value of international tourism has never been appreciated by most Americans. We have 15 times the population of Australia, for instance, but the government Down Under spends 15 times as much as Uncle Sam to promote tourism, over 200 times as much per citizen. Two cents for the US, four bucks for the Aussies. "G'day" brings in billions.

No wonder that the perception (let alone the reality) that we're a xenophobic nation hurts the domestic tourism industry. (Latest estimates: $40 billion a year in lost revenue.) We need to dust off that welcome mat. Homeland Security could take a few lessons from State about customer service.

Canonizing Quilceda Cabernet

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"Ripe, grapy and tannic, with a bitter edge to the finish and clumsy feel to the structure." That the Wine Spectator's evaluation, back in October, 1989, of the 1985 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. Granted, the price was only $17, but the rating was a kiss-of-death 78. It would be another four years before the Expectorator tasted another Quilceda, still grumbling about its rough edges.

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So let's fast-forward by another decade, to June of this year. The Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 vintage, is now $85. And the tasting notes are quite different: "Richly layered with gorgeous, focused currant, plum and blackberry fruit, shaded with touches of dusky spice and smoky notes from oak, but it's almost subliminal to the harmonious, seamless fruit character. The wine glides over the palate, submerging its tannins to let the flavors soar." The Spectator rating was 95; wine guru Robert Parker gave it a perfect 100 points.

Now we're talking. In fact, the Spectator's editors are falling all over themselves. They've just named the Quilceda the top American wine of the 13,500 wines they tasted this year, number two on their year-end list of the world's Top 100 Wines.

Says founder Alex Golitzen, whose son Paul is now the winemaker: "Our wine is what it is today because of Paul's attention to quality, from the vineyard to bottling. He has an exceptional palate and is incredibly innovatative in the cellar." All 3,400 cases were sold long ago; there's a waiting list just to get on the mailing list.

Where did the Golitzens get their knack for winemaking? Terroir, perhaps? Alex was born in France. His uncle, André Tchelistcheff, was winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, where he essentially created the "California style" of rich, ripe, oaky reds.

But technique can only go so far; a wine's underlying quality is in the vineyards; in the case of the 2003 Cab, the grapes come from a quartet of neighborhing vineyards at the lower end of the Yakima Valley: Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun and Taptiel. If there's a "Grand Cru" terroir in Washington, this would be it; if there's a Consecrated Cabernet, this would be the one.

Return of the Prairial


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Based in Tahiti to patrol the South Pacific, with occasional humanitarian and diplomatic missions, the Priarial is a 307-foot, 2600-ton French survillance frigate with a crew of 90. When she last visited Seattle, in 1997, the SuperSonics were already a year past their last, near-championship season. Now c'est différent! The team includes a couple of tall, athletic French guys, forward Mickaël Gelabale and centerJohan Petro, who turned up at ceremonies to welcome the Prairial and invited Captain Frédéric le Boucq de Rupilly and his crew to show the tricolor at Monday's game against the Nets. You might not recognize the Prairal's 30-man commando unit in the crowd, but French sailors in uniform will be wearing adorable/silly berets with red pompoms.

Pizza Parkway

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"Hey, Zeek, beam me up a pepperoni!" ... Bambino adds cheese to a Tropicale.

That's what Seattle's Fourth Avenue (Belltown's Garlic Gulch) has turned into, between downtown and Denny Way. At the north end, the venerable Zeek's takes intergalactic orders for traditional, predictable, topping-heavy slices. Bambino, a block away on Cedar, styles itself as "East Coast Pizza," whatever that means (thin crust, light toppings, one assumes). Given the flap over Domino's so-called Brooklyn Pizza, probably not a great idea. Ordered a Tropicale (east-coast-speak for Hawaiian); despite 575-degree, wood-fired oven, pizza was limp, soggy; application of freshly-grated Parmesan no help.

Gyros wrap at Zeitoon.JPG Inactive spit roasters at Zeitoon.JPG

At Zeitoon, where Sub-Pop once had offices, pizza takes second place to stuffed pitas and wraps. Named for the olive trees of Iran, Zeitoon promises spit-roasted meats (the traditional Mediterranean gyros), but the machines hadn't been plugged in when I visited. So my reasonably tasty gyros consisted of a pita (toasted on a panino grill) filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt sauce and that gritty gray substance known fondly to anyone who ever frequented a college dining hall as Mystery Meat.

Serious oven at Serious Pie.JPG A Serious Pie emerges.JPG Enza w pizza.jpg.JPG

Best of the newcomers is Serious Pie, a Tom Douglas operation tucked in back of Dahlia Lounge. A serious oven, first of all. Pies aren't round but rectangular. Crust is crisp, crunchy; pizza is uncomplicated, tasty. Had one with Yukon Gold potatoes, olive oil, rosemary, very satisfying.

Fact is, I don't often eat pizza. Gold standard for me is Mamma Enza's thin-crust Sicilian verson at La Vita è Bella. An electric oven; nothing fancy. Nobody cuts up your pie (are you a baby?); you eat it with a knife & fork (like a grown-up).

You can vote once a day for Cornichon as your favorite wine & food blog. Go to to cast your ballot. Many thanks, merci infiniment, mille grazie, tausend Dank.
Serious Pie on Urbanspoon Bambino's East Coast Pizzeria on Urbanspoon Zeitoon Café & Bistro on Urbanspoon Zeek's Pizza on Urbanspoon La Vita E' Bella Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Hot potato


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To your roster of historic and colorful rhizomes (Russets, White Rose, Blue Victor, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, Red Ruby...Cascade, Nooksack, Ontario, Seminole) you can now add the Ozette. It's a fingerling grown for centuries in the gardens of Makah Indians on Washington's most western coastline, brought there, it's believed, by Spanish conquistadors who had discovered all manner of edible tubers in the South American Andes.

Thus the humble Ozette was in all likelihood the first potato to reach the Pacific coast of North America; now it's coming to a dinner table near you. Thanks to a coalition of farmers, chefs and food historians, it's been given "heritage" status, and, for the next few weeks, you'll find Ozettes on the menu at Stumbling Goat Bistro, Palace Kitchen, Portage Bay Café, Sitka & Spruce, Eva, Lark, Tilth and Ferrara Ristorante on Vashon. Even at Le Gourmand, which has no website. Retail? Look for Ozettes at the Ballard and U-District Farmers Markets.

Over 75% of our spuds these days are genetically engineered Russet Burbanks, two-thirds of which go into frozen fries (freedom!); fortunately, there's still a taste for entries like the ungainly Ozette, with its firm, waxy texture and nutty, earthy flavor. Its champion, Gerry Warren of the Seattle chapter of SlowFood USA, presented the Ozette's story to the Salone del Gusto in Torino last month as part of its mission to support, sustain and celebrate the diversity of regional food traditions. It may be just a lowly potato, but it's part of who we are.

PS: There's a new poll for your favorite wine & food blog. Please go to LocalWineEvents and cast a vote for Cornichon. Merci beaucoup, mille grazie, many thanks!

Belltown is dead

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How bad is it? So bad that anybody, anybody, can open a storefront on First or Second; within an hour it will be filled with dozens of under-30 bodies. Cute, pulsating, throbbing 20-somethings. They come in all shades; the females invariably petite, wide-eyed, smartly dressed, the males chunkier, slovenly, indifferent. They sip brightly colored cocktails and pick at whatever the kitchen has delivered. (It could be grilled garbage, for they seem to care.) No pleasure, no adventure, but, hey, it's Friday night and we're in Belltown, baby, and that's enough.

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Leong demonstrates his skills at Hing Hay Park; seared scallops and Purple cocktail at Karma.

Martial arts instructor David Leong (co-owner of First Avenue's The Apartment) has just opened a new place on Second called called Karma. Your actions in the previous incarnation account for your happiness in this world. (I deserve Veuve Clicquot, surely.) Could just as well call it Chrome, or Shiny, or Silver; nothing remotely Eastern or mystic about the decor, the fixtures or the menu. Can-they-really-come-that-size giant sea scallops with angel-hair pasta, $17. "Purple" cocktail made with blackberry-infused vodka and Gloria Ferrer champagne, garnished with a hideously thick twist of lemon peel, $8. Flat-screen TV has far too much red tint. Karma, eh? One of the babes at the bar promises to send pictures. Of what, one wonders.

Up the street at Buddha Bar, amateur night. Newbie owner Monte Clarke, former barman at Il Gambero, is on a stepladder aiming a spot at the disco ball (tells you something right there, doesn't it?) as the doors part for opening night invited guests. Not-quite-ready-for-prime-time karma (that word again!) extends to bartender ("my first night here") and to tepid steamtable fare (though there's supposed to be a full Thai kitchen). Buddhism, the menu intones, is "the doctrine attributed to Buddha that suffering is inseparable from any existence" (so far, not the best motto for a bar) "but that inward extinction of the self and the senses to culminate a state of illumination called nirvana." Illumination or intoxication, d'ya suppose? Two quick "Cosmic Cosmos" from the neophyte barkeep and I'm g-gone. Monte, who has descended from his ladder, plugged in the DJ's amps, set up the steam tables, stuffed the register with cash, appears at the door. "Thanks for coming," he says. Well, no. If this guy can open in Belltown, then Belltown's beyond saving.

The present is extinguished; can only hope for a better afterlife.

Belltown Buddha, 2222 Second Ave., 206-441-4449 Buddha Bar on Urbanspoon
Karma Lounge, 2318 Second Ave., 206-838-5590 Karma Lounge on Urbanspoon

Taking the awwk! out of auction

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beaujolais images.jpg BN Portland logo 2.jpg

Il arrive, il arrive, le beaujolais nouveau! On its way, the Beaujolais Nouveau! Was in the vineyards ten days ago, where the excitement is palpable. The hype around BN is the mother of wine marketing campaigns, and a natural for parties around the world. Especially to raise money for organizations with French connections.

Nonprofits raise a lot of money through auctions, and the French-American Chamber of Commerce's annual Beaujolais Nouveau fundraiser is no different: a silent auction during the cocktail hour, a live auction during dinner.

This year, down in Portland, with the help of online outfits AuctionPay and cMarket, the silent auction is online. Bidding ends on Nov. 12th. Among the items, a very French machine à écrire with an AZERTY keyboard. Nothing like it, even on eBay.

Actual events are on Friday, Nov. 17th at Portland's Heathman Hotel (buffet, $50), and Seattle's Fairmont Olympic (sit-down dinner, $150). We'll be there, don't worry.

Morning in Seattle


Whole Foods on Westlake.JPG

Rains have stopped, mostly. Dems have won, mostly. And Whole Foods has finally opened in Allentown (Westlake & Denny). Nearly 50,000 square feet of groceries. Plenty of free samples. Three sit-down eating stations (seafood grill, Asian bistro, market café). About 200 employees. Makes Trader Joe up on Queen Anne look like a miner's shack.

Whole Paycheck? Not if you shop carefully, not if you're willing to spend more for "organic." Lotta Birkenstocks in evidence, very few Pike Place Market tourists. "That's some store," says the cop on duty out front. "Yup," we say.

Olive bar at Whole Foods.JPG Asian Bistro at Whole Foods.JPG


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'Twas billed as a New Year's party of sorts, the 14th annual Oyster New Year held at Elliott's Oyster House on Seattle's Pier 56. Executive Chef Jeremy Anderson had just returned from Henderson Inlet to inspect the latest restoration work. Some 20 Washington wineries on hand, along with Olympia's Fish Brewing Company and Canada's Pearl Vodka.

Oyster Bar1.JPG Oyster New Year.JPG Rowley at ONY.JPG

The stars of the show, arrayed on the "World's Longest Oyster Bar" (90 feet, end to end): more than 30 types of oysters (Baywater Sweets, Chelsea Gems, Penn Cove Selects, Snow Creek Flats, Kumomotos, Westcott Bay petites) grown on Pacific Coast oyster grounds ranging from Tillamook Bay to Hood Canal, Willipa Bay to the San Juan Islands. Oyster guru Jon Rowley among the many shuckers.

Oyster luge.JPG Oyster luge slurper.JPG

Lots of action, too, over at the "Oyster Luge," where intrepid slurpers waited on their knees at the bottom of a slab of ice, mouths agape, for their delivery of slippery bivalves.

Portobello, grilled


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The kitchen at Belltown's imaginative gastropub Black Bottle stays open late, thank goodness; where else could I get midnight food this tasty? Latest addition to the menu is a portobello mushroom, grilled up (by sous-chef Zach Stockman) with rosemary, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, served atop a salad of butterbeans, red pepper strips and cucumber dressed with rice-wine vinegar and dill. Like eating a prime steak. Nine bucks.

Gone a month and all kinds of new places open, and not just in Belltown. Gotta get out & try 'em.

Black Bottle on Urbanspoon

Of mice and monkeys

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Serious science writers must tear their hair out over the general ineptitude of the news and feature editors at daily newspapers, wire services and TV networks.

Lucky mice.jpg Unhealthy monkey.jpg

It's common knowledge that animals and people live longer on restricted-calorie diets, and that drinking red wine prevents heart disease. And you'd think that editors would know the diff between a "study" that merely reviews existing literature and a "report" on genuinely new scientific research. But no, such distinctions are lost on the kids on the beat and too wonkish for the few pros that might happen to sit at the copy desk.

So begins yet another round of astonishment that a breakfast of fermented soybeans prolongs life (yeah, but who wants to live like that?) and that a compound in red wine, resveratrol, keeps mice active and healthy (if you drink a lot).

Once again, a mixed-menagerie of a message. Eat rabbit food or drink like a fish and you won't have to suffer the consequences of a piggish lifestyle.

Wifi oui, wifi non

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Used to say, half seriously, that one could live anywhere with indoor plumbing and a dial tone. That was before wireless. Trot the globe, we do, laptops on our knees. Can't live without wi-fi.


Oui, le wifi, on a ça," they say proudly at the hotel desk, pronouncing it "oui-fee," like Fifi the dog. This past month, have tried to connect from hotels in a dozen cities across France and Italy with mixed results. Often the signal is limited to the lobby, sometimes, despite assurances, there's no connection at all. Pourquoi? one asks politely, only to be met with that infuriating Gallic shrug that says "Pff," I don't know, it's beyond my control. "Je n'y comprends rien," the girls say. "C'est le modem, je pense." The modem, right!

Have these people never heard of the reset button? C'mon, folks. Connecting to the Internet is not a luxury, not an upgrade, not an toy. Nowadays, access to broadband is almost as essential as running water. It's as important to tourism as the phone or the fax machine. Even before we start raling about extortionist pricing, this message for innkeepers: when you install wi-fi, two things: first, buy a reliable system and second, teach the staff how to keep it running! < /snark>

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