November 2007 Archives

Wolf at the Door

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Angela, Francia, Ethan, Kent; vitello.

For a quarter century, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, artistic directors of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, stood at the summit of Seattle's cultural elite. Russell founded the company's ballet school and still travels widely as a consultant. Among his many achievements, Stowell choreographed Seattle's holiday favorite Nutcracker before stepping down three years ago. So what's he going to do for an encore? Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, the Stowell's son, Ethan, had became a self-taught chef, opening Union four years ago and Tavolata back in January with his business partner, Patric Gabre-Kidan. Then a tiny space atop Queen Anne beckoned, too small to be a restaurant, just right for an intimate wine bar. The designers of Tavolata worked their magic (stone, light woods, cork counters) and created a 10-seat bar with tables for 20 along the wall.

The name, How to Cook a Wolf (website to come), is the title of a book by food writer M.F.K. Fisher. Not exactly tripping off the tongue, but easily shortened to Wolf. Ethan himself plans to spend a couple of nights a week in the kitchen; his wife, Angela, will run the wine list; the sous-chef from Tavolata moves up the hill as chef de cuisine. That leaves dad, who's still looking for something to do. Inspirtation! Dad can be the Maitre d'.

With fond memories of Tavolata's agnolotti with calf brains we tried Wolf's version, stuffed with caramelized cauliflower. Delicious, if expensive ($14 for six or seven bites). A plate of Vitello Tonnato ($13) substituted marinated chunks of tuna for tuna mayonnaise and lacked capers, no doubt an oversight.

A surprise drop-in at the informal opening last night was Enza Sorrentino, who has her own Italian trattoria a block away. The vitello tonnato? Not really, she says. The veal should be cooked, not raw; this was carpaccio. Still. "Welcome to the neighborhood," she says to Ethan and Angela. It's Queen Anne's new restaurant row, what with Vuong Loc's Portage right across the street and Orrapin Chancharu's Opal on the corner. As Wolf's doorman, Kent Stowell will have little more to consider than choreographing entrances and exits.

How to Cook a Wolf, 2208 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-838-8090 How To Cook a Wolf on Urbanspoon

The Bookshelf: Three Women

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Local autograph parties for Kat Flynn, Phoebe Damrosch, Shauna James (with husband Dan Ahern)

On the holiday bookshelf: three first-person, "coming of age" stories by women who were journalists before they became foodies: the chef, the waitress, the survivor.

Kat Flynn leads things off with The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. A journalist and Seattle native, she was working as an editor for an Internet publisher in London, gets laid off, and decides to use her severance pay for tuition at Le Cordon Bleu, the prestigious culinary school in Paris. Her boyfriend soon joins her, and they have a great time learning how to cook. We watch Kat fillet a sea bass, dispatch a live lobster, rip the tendons from a guinea fowl. We watch her drink cold Chablis in an apartment overlooking Paris streets; we watch her sip Champagne at three-star Ledoyen. Living, Kat points out, requires that you taste, taste, taste.

Service Included is subtitled "Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter." Nonsense. Not a single overheard secret makes its way into these pages. Phoebe Damrosch, born into a family of famous writers and musicians, had a Master's in Fine Arts in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence and was living in New York, waiting on tables to support herself. She drools over the French Laundry Cookbook, and when the call comes for front-of-house staff at Thomas Keller's Per Se, she's ready. A full month of rigorous training follows; then the opening is delayed by a kitchen fire. She falls for one of the sommeliers, Andre, whose love of wine and tasting expertise became his ticket out of the slums of New Orleans. Phoebe is quickly promoted to Captain and waits on the New York Times reviewer, Frank Bruni. Four stars! Soon Phoebe and Andre settle into the easy life of restaurant workers: late nights and revelry fueled by relatively large amounts of ready cash. New York Times calls this one of 100 best books of 2007, but it's neither insightful nor enlightening.

My sentimental favorite is Gluten-Free Girl by Seattle writing instructor Shauna James. For the first decades of her life, she's neither all that happy nor all that healthy. One day she hears about a condition called celiac disease: an allergy to gluten. Bingo! Shauna starts a blog,, which takes an unexpected turn when she starts to date. An optimist, she tattoos "YES" on her wrist. Still, no dice, until the day before her online dating subscription expires, she gets an email from Dan Ahern, executive chef at Impromptu in Madison Park. It's love at first sight. The whole time, she continues writing her blog, occasionally making reference to her friend (now husband), "the Chef." But most of the book, Gluten-Free Girl, is chatty recipes, no doubt helpful for sufferers of celiac disease. I liked the love story that forms the bookends: a lot more interesting, and better written, too.

All three books are lively reads, technically proficient with occasional flashes of charm. But I feel as if I've been speed-dating or snapping up light hors d'oeuvres; superficially satisfying, but not quite enough substance for a complete relationship.

Afoot in Belltown

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Looking into Txori from the sidwalk; one of the pintxos

One wanders.

¡Mira! is no more. Not even the upside-down exclamation point was able to save it from the, er, difficult location (basement of the Labor Temple). Intrepidly going where so many others have failed is the Middle-Eastern Zaina, installing a clone of its Pioneer Square falafel stand in subterranean Belltown.

Cafe Minnie’s is no more. Belltown’s greasiest greasy spoon, and only 24-hour joint at that, was finally done in, not by crappy food and crappy service but by the ban on indoor smoking. That's the owner's story, and he's sticking to it.

Now, the guys behind the Virginia Inn Tavern, they know all about smoke-free. Never allowed a leaf or a curl in the joint since it opened. And are they crying? Nope! They're taking over the former gallery space next door and building themselves a full-fledged kitchen. Follow the details on the News page of

And lo, we come upon Txori. Part of the recolonization of Belltown by Madison Park. (Outbound, lest we forget, Café Presse and Quinn; inbound, the culinary influence of Crush on The Local Vine.)

Hey! You can get a short glass of Stella for two bucks! It's called a zurito. And a gilda (anchovy, olive and peppers on a crunchy slice of bread) for $3.50. Haven't had this much fun standing at a counter since, well, tapas in Spain.

Txori, 2207 2nd Avenue, 206.204.9771 Txori Bar on Urbanspoon

Power to the Pedal!

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Green is in, we're told. Big carbon footprints are out. But while Pierre in Paris is pedaling his Vélib along the boulevards, studious Seattle Stu will soon be riding an electric scooter-bike across the U-Dub campus.

Yup, given the opportunity to promote healthy green bikes, U-Dub's planners fell for a pitch from Colorado's Intrago for a motorized "transportation solution." Non-polluting they may be, but even a modest electric putt-putt is five or six times as expensive as pedal-powered bikes. Hardly a step in the right direction.

The Bookshelf: Mixed Flavors

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Braiden Rex-Johnson's new book, Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining, is a fine complement to Kurt Dammeier's Pure Flavor (reviewed back in August). Affectionate portraits of leading players: wine makers Bob Betz Kay Simon, Harry McWatters; unique restaurants, cooking techniques, recipes. Rex-Johnson, a familiar name whose previous books include the iconic Pike Place Market Cookbook, writes a food & wine column for Wine Press Northwest and served as food editor at Seattle Homes & Lifestyles.

This volume, part of a series of regional books published by John Wiley, doesn't quite come together: a two-page introductory essay, “What Is Northwest Cuisine?” reads like it was written by an editorial intern in New York (“emerging wine industry” my foot); the table of contents is limited to twelve sub-regions (Seattle & Environs is one, yet Woodinville is separate); the index includes a “Wineries” heading but no “Restaurants.”

To make up for the lapses, there are heartwarming stories like Earl and Hilda Jones's quest for the ideal tempranillo grape, the primacy of climate, and the amazing results: Abacela Winery.

Shaken or Stirred

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Satan%20whisker.jpg Cascadia's new cocktail menu (now that we've dispensed with Big City interlopers) includes a classic called Satan's Whiskers, a combination of gin (high-end Plymouth, ideally), sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, orange juice, Grand Marnier and (very important) orange bitters. All ingredients I'm very fond of, so let's go for it.

Bartender Michael Candelaria, long a master of his craft, builds the drink with care, measuring precise amounts of liquor into an empty glass, squeezing fresh juice, then adding ice cubes and shaking vigorously. Wrong! Drink comes out “broken,” full of ice crystals that remind me of glass shards at the scene of a car wreck. On second attempt, Michael stirs the ingredients together with stern determination rather than frenzy. Much, much better.

My own sense is that some liquors, like vodka (the iceberg lettuce of spirits) deserve to be shaken within an inch of their lives, cracking all the ice and giving the customer the sensation of drinking a boozy Slurpee. More sophisticated drinks, no way. But I checked my hunch with two of the best. Comments from Robert Hess, author of, and Murray Stenson, ZigZag's barman extraordinaire, follow the jump.

In any event, Cascadia's chef, Kerry Sear, says they've now decided to stir rather than shake most of the classic cocktails, unless the customer expresses a preference.

Once again, it's all a matter of taste. Gotta know yourself first, and the bar of life is a good place to start.

Noosepaper Wars

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Bashing the Noo Yawk Times is just too easy. Story in today's edition that's getting lots of attention: The Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, visits Seattle for the express purpose of sampling happy hours. Goes to Cascadia, naturally, but is disappointed to find the $1 miniburgers "bland and overcooked, they tasted like they'd been sitting under a heat lamp."

Dude! The dollar miniburgers haven't been around for ages. Now $2.50. Don't they have fact-checkers at the Times? Go ahead, google "Cascadia Miniburgers"--if you don't believe Seattlest or Cornichon, you've still got HTML of the current menu.

And why izzit that some reporters always seem to get the stale donut, the overcooked lamb chop? The sparkle goes out of Champagne as they raise the glass, the flame of romance dies as they approach the scented candle. Here I thought the Pee-Eye's Leslie Kelly was the only restaurant writer with that particular attribute. Seems Matt Gross has the same magic touch.

Wherefore art thou, Walldeaux?

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In 1987, the British illustrator Martin Handford creates a cartoon character named Wally for a series of children's books. Renamed Waldo for the American edition, he becomes an icon of pop culture.

Meantime, Marie-Eve Gilla moves from graduate school in Burgundy to the Pacific Northwest, becoming the first classically trained French winemaker in the Washington, working at Covey Run and Gordon Brothers before being recruited as general manager for the new Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla. She also married fellow Frenchman and fellow winemaker Gilles Nicault, who's the day-to-day winemaster at Longshadows.

To the present: combining various lots of merlot, cabernet, syrah (!) and zinfandel (!!) from Alder Ridge, Boushey, Klipsun and Pepperbridge vineyards (so far, kinda like an unconventional Bordeaux blend), from the 2005 and 2006 vintages (unthinkable!), Gilla comes up with a blend--Walldeaux Smithee--that by rights should be sold as jug wine...except that the pedigree of those vineyards kicks it up by several notches.

This "red table wine" is better than most of the over-oaked, over-extracted single-variety monsters on the market. A nose of cedar and ripe plums, with full-bodied, mouth-filling, juicy flavors, Walldeaux's a dream come true: delicious and affordable. Yup, $16 retail.

Only trouble is, like the cartoon character, Walldeaux ain't gonna be all that easy to find. Esquin (of course), Metropolitan Markets and Pete's. That's it. Hurry!

The Boulevardier Meets His Cocktail

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Boulevardier.jpg RH%20on%20Blvd%20Opera.JPG So I wander into ZigZag and plop myself down at the bar. As usual, I tell Murray what I've had to drink so far (a Negroni), and he suggests a Boulevardier.

Well! Seattle Magazine called me "Belltown's Boulevardier" earlier this year, so a Boulevardier it had to be:

1 1/2 ounces bourbon (or rye)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Stir with cracked ice & strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, lemon twist or orange slice.
I'm not really a bourbon fan, but I do like the distinct bass note that the bourbon provides, am grateful for the orange bitters, and ask only for a splash more Campari to make the drink perfectly balanced for my palate. Dude to my right, having finished his cocktail, asks Murray to make him the same thing. Then we get to talking, and everyone mentions Paul Clarke's recent post on his blog, CocktailChronicles. "Yeah, Paul really liked that," says Murray.

Craft Brewers Alliance? Gulp!

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Aw geez. Another noble Seattle name goes into the toilet. Redhook Brewery, the brand launched by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker more than 25 years ago, will become part of a corporate entity called Craft Brewers Alliance after it takes over Portland-based Widmer Brothers for a reported $50 million.

Names are terribly important, as Bowker would tell you himself, were not the most modest of men. It was Bowker, a Ballard native, who co-founded and named Starbucks. It was Bowker, the journalist for the original Seattle Magazine, who helped David Brewster launch Seattle Weekly. And it was Bowker, along with Chateau Ste. Michelle marketing manager Paul Shipman, who co-founded and named Redhook.

(Remember that old Rainier Beer commercial, with the motorcycle shifting? Raaay-Neeeeeer-Beeer. It's on YouTube, if you haven't seen it. That was Bowker, too.)

Oh, sure, there was some grumbling when Anheuser-Busch bought a one-third interest in the company some years back, but that was done to get into Budweiser's national distribution system. And they'll keep the brand names like Redhook ESB and Widmer Hefeweizen that the founders worked so hard to establish, along with the stock-exchange symbol HOOK. For now. But a quarter-century after that first, banana-flavored "Belgian" brew flowed from the tap in a converted machine shop on Leary Way, it seems that yet another northwest icon has been lured down the slippery slope of commercial success. More power to them all, big payday, bravo, I guess.

News happens to coincide with latest results from competitor Pyramid, taking a big hit from legal settlements but staging SnowCap Ale anniversary party this weekend. And downtown Seattle's Pike Brewery, owned by Shipman's former Ste. Michelle colleague Charles Finkel and his wife, Roseanne, is going gangbusters. Cheers to you, Finkels, for having the energy to reclaim the company you founded, and keeping your commitment to genuine craft beer.

Oh Stinkbug, My Stinkbug!

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Blogger named Adam Roberts, aka The Amateur Gourmet, knows his limits. Couple of weeks ago he admitted he's not qualified to review restaurants (would that the Pee Eye's Leslie Kelly would do the same). Today, preparing dinner at home, he's freaked out to find an insect in his arugula.

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Oh, Adam! It's organic arugula, hence no pesticides, and that tiny critter's all "I can has green leef?" Little does it realize that its fearful trip is done. Fallen cold and dead.

Born Toulouse

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May%20Belfort.jpg Francophiles attending the Beaujolais Nouveau gala in Bellevue Friday will have the chance to bid on more than a dozen travel packages as well as some rare and valuable works of art. An original lithograph by the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is likely to draw the most interest.

(The gala, which celebrates the release of the first Beaujolais of 2007, is sponsored by French-American Chamber of Commerce and takes place at the Westin Bellevue.)

The “restrike” lithograph, donated by Seattle artist Isa D'Arleans, shows the Irish cabaret performer May Belfort in a scarlet gown, holding a cat. “I love this bold image, which demonstrates the artist's fascination with the overt sexuality of Paris nightlife at the end of the 19th century,” said Ms. D'Arleans. On stage, May Belfort often dressed in a baby bonnet and performed with a girlish lisp songs like “Daddy's Going to Buy Me a Bow-Wow” and “I've Got a Little Cat, I'm Very Fond of That.” The estimated value of the piece is $1,500.

More traditional (though hardly less desirable) travel-related auction items include a pair of first-class tickets on Delta Airlines, two round-trip tickets to Paris on Air France, four round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines, and two round-trip tickets on Continental, and a seven-day cruise on Holland-America.

A five-night stay at Le Lagon resort on Vanuatu is one of several vacations offered.

Among the local experiences offered: a private discovery tour of Seattle, a happy hour pub crawl in Belltown (that would be Cornichon's contribution), a private tour of the Seattle Art Museum's Roman art exhibition, a salmon dinner for 12, and a one-day trip aboard a Foss tug.

Last-minute tickets remain available, either online or by calling the FACC's office at 206-447-4703.

Beaujolais Nouveau Gala

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collage.jpg Beaujolais, perhaps the world's most popular wine, goes through life as a comic's punchline; its brash and awkward youthful incarnation--Beaujolais Nouveau--gets no respect. Fun to be around, but nothing all that serious. (Eddie Murphy isn't Nelson Mandela, Wanda Sykes isn't Condi Rice, etc.) Sure, Beaujolais Nouveau provides the excuse for a great party every November--Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! It's Beaujolais Nouveau time!--but over the years, the folks who enjoy the ritual of raising a glass to the new vintage, would prefer a higher quality of wine with their three-figure din-din.

Fair enough, according to the French-American Chamber of Commerce, organizers and beneficiaries of the annual fund-raising bash in the Pacific Northwest. The other day, they assemble a lineup of older and better wines from the Georges Duboeuf stable to match up with the feast prepared by the Westin Bellevue. A first-time venue for the gala, which moves from the downtown Fairmont to the Land of Simpler Access and Easier Parking.

First, an appreciation of the diversity among the wines, several notches above the fruity and quaffable Nouveau. They share that unmistakable quality of "Duboeuf-ness"--a distinctive richness of ripe cherries with a hint of bananas; no surprise, since it's Monsieur Duboeuf himself who selects each wine and approves each blend. (By the way, Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau website,, is far better than the "official" Beaujolais site.)

The oldest wine in the Bellevue tasting, a 2003 vintage from a single vineyard in Fleurie (one of the ten best Beaujolais villages), has the plummy maturity of a wine with a far more prestigious pedigree (an Amarone, say, or a fine Bordeaux). Better with the salad and the salmon, however, is a 2003 Regnié (the most recently upgraded village). A 2005 Fleurie from the Domaine des Déduits is the panel's unanimous choice to accompany the main event, a cassoulet.

Culinary expert and FACC board member Jacques Boiroux provides feedback for the Westin chefs: "crispier skin on the fish," "more endive in the salad," "larger beans (coco or canellini, rather than navy) for the cassoulet," and, while we're at it, a big oui to the recipe with a touch of tomato sauce.

Crémant with the poached pear ("more poached," says Jacques) to close the night, the brut rosé from Pierre Spaar in Alsace. Call it a sparkling sendoff from a neighbor, friend and admirer of Beaujolais. Hard work, this gourmet planning.

Beaujolais Nouveau Gala, November 16th at the Westin Bellevue. Tickets $150. 206-443-4703 or online.

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

October 2007 is the previous archive.

December 2007 is the next archive.

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