October 2007 Archives

No Flexcar for Tourists

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Outfit called Not For Tourists has just published a guide to Seattle. It's a handsome book, looks just like Moleskine journal, complete with oilcloth cover, fat elastic closure, gorgeous paper. The Seattle version is tenth in a series, cobbled together by a design staff in faraway Noo Yawk with input by a locally based "city editor" named Fred Beldin, who contributes occasional music reviews to The Stranger.

NFT Seattle starts out with a grid of 49 neighborhoods (Belltown to Redmond), each with a map that mashes up Essentials (banks, car rental, coffee, community gardens, gas stations, landmarks, parking, pharmacies, post offices and schools) with Sundries (copy shops, gyms, liquor stores, movie theaters, nightlife, pet shops, restaurants, shopping and video rental stores). Copy-wise, each nabe also gets a couple of 60-word blurbs. According to Beldin (I guess), Belltown was "formerly seedy...but don't fret, heroin can still be scored on the proper street corners." Other advice: "Shorty's is the closest thing to heaven in Seattle"..."Shop with all the cool kids at I Heart Rummage." And that's just Belltown, but without the links.

Each Essential and Sundry then gets a breakout with repeats of addresses (a total of 4,152 listings) and a breezy, snide, sarcastic or cynical comment. Hempfest: "Who can think about politics after a few of those brownies?" Bite of Seattle "Showcase for local culinary excellence." (Maybe they served leftover brownies?) It calls Flexcar "Flex Car" and complains that it has only 100 vehicles; in fact, there are some 300 in the Seattle market. And some nabes (like top of Queen Anne and Ballard) get short shrift; others include listings for long-shuttered restaurants.

The problem with a 374-page book like this is that it's out of date even before it goes to press (and, yes, it was printed in China). It's not so much a 2008 guidebook as a 2006 directory, and it's competing with much more current information online (CitySearch, AOL's CityGuide, NWSource, UrbanSpoon, even Yelp). Ah, but wait: not to be outdone, NFT Seattle has a website of its own! In fact, the whole book is online, though only as PDF pages. It's possible, if you're patient, to find live links to major sports facilities, though not to Metro or to Flexcar.

So it's a good thing NFT included a baker's dozen categories in an "Ultimate Web Index." Seattlest.com makes the cut (of course), but they get onto really shaking ground with the Food & Drink category. Four sites, and the only food blog is Seattle Bon Vivant. Nothing against Viv, but, gee, her most recent post was back in September. And before that, mid-August. What about Accidental Hedonist, Orangette, Gluten-Free Girl, Roots & Grubs, Eating Seattle, Hogwash, TastingMenu, DeliciousCity, or even Cornichon, for crying out loud. Hey, Beldin! Wake up over there! Your own blog hasn't been updated since May!

Meanwhile, more about Flexcar. State of WA bureaucrats went back to calling Flexcar a "car rental company." It's not. It doesn't rent cars to the public. It's an association whose members share cars. Not a fussy, semantic question, either; the state gets an extra ten percent tax on fees if gets away with classifying Flexcar alongside Hertz. Gov. Gregoire thought this was stupid on its face, but she couldn't convince her own Dep't of Revenue. Mind you, this isn't about paying sales tax, as some have said, but the supplemental tax on rental cars charged to out-of-towners. By definition, Flexcar members are local. First the state said it would impose the tax, then it said it would hold off, now it says there's no way around it without a directive from the Legislature. Geez, what a no-brainer. But don't hold your breath; the folks in Olympia seem somewhat preoccupied.

Besides, Steve Case (founder of AOL, who bought the company a couple of years ago), has apparently grown tired of the whole thing. Word came last night that he's sold Flexcar to rival Zipcar. Official spin is that it's a merger, but headquarters moves to Boston shortly. Guess it's time for a new NFT entry.

Lunatic Fringe

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Corner of 3rd and Union last night, the air's full of crazies. The rabid anti-Hillary crazies, fueled by and fueling right-wing panic even as they convince the mainstream that she's unelectable because she's so polarizing (“Just look at us!”). The Ron Paul crazies, all suited and tied. The 9/11 crazies in search of evil conspiracies.

So what do the street crazies have to do with, say, the newspaper crazies? It's the possibility, however small, that they're right, the maybe-maybe grain-of-truth. And by the rules of the game, if it's possible it must be given credence.

How else to explain the story in the Chicago Tribune, that rediscovers Prohibition? A "lifestyle" writer in the Windy City googles her way through the latest pseudo-science and finds three unrelated “studies” that blame alcohol consumption for death by cirrhosis. Throw in a couple of senseless charts and bingo: drinking kills you.

Some jackass editor at Fairview Fanny (and nowhere else in the country) rips the piece off the wire and slaps it on the front page of Sunday's Seattle Times. Below the fold in the print version, it somehow gets top billing online. Naturally it becomes the most-emailed story of the day. But nobody's calling bullshit, because, supposedly, we know alcohol's not really healthy. ("Researchers have known for 20 years...")

Bullshit, I say. Every reputable scientific study over the past 100 years shows that moderate consumption of alcohol—red wine, distilled spirits, whatever--is good for the heart, and makes life more pleasant.

I don't blame the writer for her initiative, just for her sloppy reporting and for taking dictation from the pleasure police. I do blame the editor for running the story without the slightest qualm that it flies in the face of scientific consensus without a drop of balance.

Reporting has to be more than aiming a videocamera at the crazies on the corner. It has to be more than partisan blogging. And it desperately needs intellectually honest editing. Not because "It could be true." Yeah, sure, and George sent the Watergate Plumbers into the World Trade Center with explosives.

"The Wine Knows" Smells Something Fishy


Andy Perdue, the Pope of Northwest Wine, runs the region's leading wine publication, Wine Press Northwest, the Platinum Wine Awards, and a lively blog, The Wine Knows. The other day he wrote about Cornichon's online feud with the Pee-Eye's substitute restaurant writer, Leslie Kelly. (Read the post here.)

A strange duck, that Leslie. She whines about everything. Last week, she slammed The Local Vine for its food, even though it's not a restaurant at all but a wine bar. (What's more,.the original chef is g-gone; ya don't review a place under circumstances like that.) She complains because a patron at one of the sidewalk tables, 50 feet away, lights up a cigar. She complains that the Riedel glasses are too small (they're not, trust me), but doesn't mention that she could select from a list of 100 wines by the glass.

Today she complains about prices, that last year's 25-for-25 Dine-Around promotion will cost $30 this year. Right.

Isn't there anything Leslie likes? Why, yes, now that you mention it: she recommends Ali Scheff's yummy food blog Eating Seattle. Too bad it's not reciprocal: Ali herself thinks Leslie's a nutcase: read the comments in Somebody Give That Woman a Flyswatter. Actually, Ali should probably have Leslie's job, and Leslie could go back to whining on her blog.

That blog is called, yup, LeslieKellyWhiningAndDining. But don't waste your time; the site's down. More, if you're up for it, on the DeliciousCity blog.


King of Yogurt

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Prince Howard of Schultz, the man who would be our entertainment king, also wants to feed us frozen yogurt. Lost his heart in Frappuccino, wants us to lick his Pinkberry. Hmm.

The instrument is Maveron, a private investment firm Schultz and Wall Street banker Dan Levitan started ten years ago. (Levitan, then with Schroder Wertheim, had handled the Starbucks IPO.) Maveron, duh, is a mashup of maverick and vision. They've put money into local startups like Cranium, food service like Potbelly Sandwich Works, and sure things like eBay, Motley Fool, Shutterfly and Drugstore.com.

Now it's Pinkberry, a West Hollywood dispenser of frozen yogurt founded by two immigrants from South Korea. Not yet three years old, Pinkberry already has 33 stores, mostly in southern California. (The State of California, though. says it's not really yogurt, since its bacterial culture is too low.) Schultz has plans to take the brand nationwide despite the ice floes of competitors (Berri Good, Roseberry, Kiwiberry); he's particularly impressed with the "customer loyalty and emotional attachment" that Pinkberry has built up, likes it enough to spend $27.5 million. Cornichon wonders if Schultz has simply fallen for Lady Tigra.

Sacrificial Lambs

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Seattle Opera photo by Bill Mohn

Gluck's operatic masterpiece, the much-neglected Iphigenia In Tauris, premiered this weekend at Seattle Opera. Inexplicably, it's only been staged once at the New York Met, and that was some 90 years ago. In Seattle, never. But it's suddenly hot: San Francisco and Chicago did a co-production with Covent Garden last year, and the Met, looking to spread the cost and risk of staging new productions, asked Seattle to co-sponsor a new Ipigenia, enlisting the artistic team of director Stephen Wadsworth and stage designer Thomas Lynch.

Why revisit this museum-piece from the Baroque, composed ten years before Mozart wrote Don Giovanni? Why revisit the Trojan Wars, for that matter? Because it's a timeless story of blood and vengeance, love and redemption, that resonates to this day. Yet its music is considerably more subtle than, say, Wagner; the instruments of bombast and reverb hadn't been invented yet, so the words, voices and stagecraft have to convey the story's terrors.

Iphigenia's tale of woe begins when she is sacrificed on the altar of Diana by her nutso dad, the Greek king Agamemnon, who wants the gods to send favorable winds so he can lay sack to Troy. Diana saves the girl, but sets her down on the isle of Tauris, where she in turn becomes the high priestess in charge of human sacrifices. (Crime begets crime, circle of violence, etc.) And hey, this is grand opera, so further complications are assured: two Greek refugees wash up, and the fearful local ruler, Thoas, says they must die by Iphigenia's hand. Except that the refugees are Orestes, Iphenegia's brother, and his BFF Pylades.

Placido Domingo will sing Orestes when this reaches Noo Yawk, but the best singing at the Sunday matinee in Seattle came from tenor William Burden as Pylades, who vies with Orestes over who gets to die to save the other. Set free, Pylades mounts a successful rescue mission that results in that operatic rarity, a happy ending.

Plenty of dramatics including an intriguing, three-part set, a giant statue, a flying goddess and a big swordfight. My hunch is that director Wadsworth will tone down choreographer Daniel Pelzig's pointless distractions (priestesses in swooping ballet, guards-in-kilts doing a Highland Fling) before the production moves to the Met (literally, in five semi-trailers). In addition to Domingo as Orestes, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and tenor Paul Groves will repeat their roles from the San Francisco & Chicago productions. The only Seattle cast member to follow the trucks is the adorable French-Canadian mezzo Michèle Losier, who drops from the sky as Diana at the opera's conclusion in a Deus ex Machina ("God Contraption") with a lyric message of forgiveness.

It's going to be a hot ticket in Gotham, and we saw it here first.

Seattle Opera presents "Iphegenia in Tauris" at McCaw Hall, through Oct. 27th. Tickets $25 and up: 206-389-7676 and online

No Country For Old Men, Dude


Foul weather holds off until Sunday afternoon, leaving plenty of time under cool gray skies for Cornichon & friends to launch a Flexcar and sail out to the farm. Once we get past Redmond, the familiar trappings fall off: shopping malls, housing developments, the last Whole Foods, the last gas station & mini-mart.

We ford the Tolt River at Carnation and sail into a vast theme park called Remlinger Farms. Indoors, a country market replete with home-grown produce and a full-service restaurant. Outside, in return for 15 dubloons, access to a country fair with tame rides. Families exit from Suburbans, SUVs and minivans, unfold their strollers and organize their toddlers in matching GAP hoodies. Dogs? No dogs. Farm animals? No farm animals (other than the pony ride pony). But plenty of scarecrows and pumpkins.

A few miles to the north, just outside Woodinville, South Farm 47 has an unpaved parking lot and a giant corn maze. (Insert forced pun: maize=maze.) Six dubloons for the maze, unless you're under 3; then it's free. No independent takers. Lots of pumpkins here, too, and toddlers riding in wheelbarrows. No animals except a couple of pygmy goats. Clap hands, clap hands!

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Department of Corrections


Noosepapers have a subtle way of acknowledging their mistakes, and a heavy-handed slant with stories about bloggers. Two recent posts, two recent "corrections."

Regarding "Just Friends," this New York Times Editor's Note, dated October 6th:

An article in the Dining section on Sept. 26 by Eric Asimov reported on the restaurant scene in Portland, Ore., and one of the establishments mentioned was Paley’s Place, owned by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley. Mr. Asimov said it had “a warm and intimate dining room” and that Paley’s Place “is recognized as one of the top restaurants in the Northwest, if not the country.” He also wrote that Paley’s Place was one of several restaurants that had “served as an incubator for much of the talent that is making its mark today.”

Mr. Asimov is a friend of the Paleys, and while doing reporting for the article in Portland, he selected wines for a dinner he attended at Paley’s Place, which promoted his presence in advance.

Even though Mr. Asimov was not reviewing or assessing the restaurant, he should have disclosed in the article his friendship with the owners, and he should not have created the appearance of favoritism toward them by participating in the wine dinner, for which he accepted no compensation.

Guess that's that, then. No harm, no foul? Asimov didn't get paid, so it's all smoothed over.

For its part, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer responds to our post "Leslie's Lasagna" with a new capsule review. In this space last week we castigated a freelance resto writer for failing to mention that a dish she apparently enjoyed actually came from a neighboring kitchen to which she'd given her lowest-rating. Setting the record straight:

A lone pasta entree is a lovely lasagna made for Via Tribunali by Enza Sorrentino, who has a restaurant that bears her name just down the road.
Does that mean we can say "never mind"?

Well, not really. Wall Street Journal weighs in with one of those shocked, shocked feature on "food bloggers" who get free meals. (You'll notice that bloggers don't write similar pieces about newspapers with deep pockets. And BTW, WSJ, Yelp commenters aren't food bloggers; CitySearch ain't no blog.) Restaurants give away food, newspapers give out free papers: dat's called marketing. What the newspapers want, duh, is for the restaurants to spend their marketing budget on newspaper advertising. Bloggers are threatening; we must be ridiculed, misrepresented, stamped out!

Where to Lay My Weary Head?

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Stand at the corner of First and Pike, and you almost hear the thunder of Seattle's hotel wars, the howitzers of the future as they battle for attention in the trades, the travel mags, the lifestyle glossies.

First into battle: a new Four Seasons, across the street from the downtown Art Museum: 21 stories, 149 hotel rooms, 36 residential condos, opening 2008. If your memory goes back more than two years, you'll recall that Four Seasons once owned the Olympic; now they're building their own, putting huge marketing efforts into the condo side of the equation. (Lease Crutcher Lewis, the general contractor, has a nifty webcam of the construction site.) Though the Four Seasons is at Ground Zero of Seattle's dining scene, they're nonetheless planning a water-view restaurant, no name or chef announced.

Next, a new concept from Starwood: 23 stories at 2nd and Steward, 176 "city suites" (guest rooms) and 51 condo residences for the first-in-a-series of "green" projects called 1 Hotel. Opening in 2009. Starwood's owner, Barry Sternlicht, was in town last week to promote its eco-friendly credentials. New York restaurateur Stephen Hanson (17 stores, including Ruby Foo's, Atlantic Grill, Isabella's, Primehouse) came along to outline plans for a "chef-driven" operation here. Hanson was named Bon Appetit's Restaurateur of the Year a couple of years ago, so he ought to know what works. Watch for a seafood-related name.

Meantime, let's not forget the Candela, a 36-story project just up the street at Second & Pike. Plans call for 150 guest rooms, 90 condo units, and, of course, a restaurant, opening in 2009. Company founder is local boy and venture capitalist Tim Piggott (the PACCAR family), who plans a chain of Candelas around the world catering to luxury travelers.

And when it gets really quiet, listen for echoes from across the lake: in Kirkland, a new Heathman is about to open. Beloved in Portland, where it's home to James Beard-winning chef Philippe Boulout, Heathman joins migrating Portlanders McCormick & Schmick in expanding from Rose to Emerald cities. Ninety-one guest rooms + restaurant (Trellis), headed by veteran Brian Scheehser. Instead of an invite to the opening, someone at the hotel emailed a PDF of recent bills. Oops! Shoulda been this.

How else but from the shell casings of the hotel howitzers will the editors of travel mags determine what to cover, how else will the trendsetters learn where they want to live? How indeed will clueless travel agents figure out where to send their sheep? How else will Seattle maintain its status as an enviable place to visit, a desirable place to live?

Just Friends?

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NYTimes writer Eric Asimov, Portland restaurateurs Vitaly & Kimberly Paley

It's a big, bad world out there, and there are plenty of reasons to be mad as hell. An undisclosed conflict of interest? Well, depends on the circumstances: whose conflict, whose interest?

Used to be, reporters of all stripes were treated to trips, tickets, meals, drinks. Then came a wave of holier-than-thou moralizing and publishers began to insist on paying reporters expenses. Granted, Cornichon gets an occasional free beer, but big whoop. More of an issue: should a salaried journalist at a major publication disclose personal relationships with the subject of a review?

Case in point: the New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, whose byline appeared on a popular survey last week of the restaurant scene in Portland. Turns out he's good buds with one of the chefs, though this is nowhere mentioned in Asimov's 1,900 words of adulation. The chef in question, Vitaly Paley, moved to Portland in 1994 and opened Paley's Place [website has a long flash intro], which Asimov describes as "a warm and intimate dining room on the first floor of a Victorian house in northwest Portland ... recognized as one of the top restaurants in the Northwest, if not the country, and Mr. Paley has been celebrated for applying French techniques to the Northwestern palette of ingredients."

Enter Portland blogger Kevin Allman, who wonders why Asimov allowed himself to be welcomed so warmly at Paley's Place.

It's not uncommon for food and wine writers to be chummy with restaurateurs, sommeliers, chefs, farmers, etc. -- just as it's not uncommon for political reporters to socialize with politicos. But when a restaurateur describes a wine critic as a "good friend," and the critic then goes on to praise the restaurant twice in two months in the pages of the newspaper and online -- where should the line be drawn?
The problem is that the Times has an explicit ethics code, and Asimov seems to have crossed the line. Allman asked Asimov to comment, and posted the reply, but he's still not satisfied. Indeed. Here's just one of the Times caveats: "No journalist may report for us about any travel service or product offered by a family member or close friend."

Asimov, meantime, is in France, conducting interviews on the new crop of Beaujolais and blogging about his his lunch in Fleurie. And, like many a traveling shlub, he can't get his international cellphone to work. Would this be a good time to mention that his uncle was Mr. Science himself, Isaac Asimov?

We sit here in Seattle, proudly watching baby brother Portland get all that attention (while noting smugly that Seattle's housing market is named the nation's "most stable" by Forbes). Should we wonder, wistfully, how much of that attention comes from the fact that Paley's mother gives Asimov's son piano lessons? Should we even care? Should the Noo Yawk Times be held to a higher standard than, say, Cornichon?

Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World

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It's not Yeats's centre that cannot hold, it's the right wing. For some time now, to quote The Second Coming,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Dems betray us with wimpishness while the radio rethugs rush to attack phony soldiers.

Further signs of unraveling: GOP house organ WSJ discovers that business interests no longer trust the GOP. Smart, those corporate business guys. Like all bullies, they can smell fear. Like all cowards, they know when to run.

Worse yet, prosperity engine Wal-Mart is sputtering. Having destroyed America's commercial and social landscape, they're facing the backlash of success: bitter, disappointed customers who find that low price equals low value.

And did we mention that the vaunted greenback, down for the count, may be down for good?

On the positive side, the Pike Place Market is named one of the top ten neighborhoods in America. We can retreat to the high stalls and make our last stand between the fish mongers and the flower vendors.

Leslie's Lasagna

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Consider this recent newspaper excerpt, which we'll call Exhibit T:

There's but one non-pizza entree, a wonderful lasagna built on layers of thin, tender noodles, ricotta, provolone and a complex ragu, then baked until bubbly.
Now, an earlier excerpt by the same writer in the same paper, which we'll call Exhibit S:
Lasagna was layered with a sauce in which the meat was pureed, giving it a funky, almost pasty texture, and the tomatoes had a tinny quality.

"T" receives 3 stars for its food, city-best for a pizza parlor. Alas, poor "S," a Sicilian-style dinner house, gets a humbling 1-1/2 stars, the lowest rating of freelance writer Leslie Kelly's six-month tenure as a substitute restaurant critic at the Pee Eye.

Ah, but it's the same lasagna, Leslie! Made for Via Tribunali by Mamma Enza, the same dish served at her own restaurant, Sorrentino.

Can't be easy, eating out all the time. We understand: tastebuds get confoozled when listening to "That's Amore."

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2007 is the previous archive.

November 2007 is the next archive.

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