January 2008 Archives



Here's something you don't see much anymore, outside of reservation smoke shops: display cases of cigars. Cohibas, Coronas, Partagas. Romeo y Julietas, Macanudos, Rocky Patels. Sure didn't expect to come upon this lineup at the Spar, a traditional lunch counter & pool room much loved in Olympia.

The Spar's been around for three score years and twelve, a citadel of rugged male drinking and a bastion of union strength back in the days of Olympia's prominence as a seaport. Over time, as the local industry turned from shipping to politics, lobbyists replaced longshoremen at the bar.

Longtime owner Alan McWain sold the Spar to McMenamin's a year ago, and there were concerns it would lose its soul. Fears proved unfounded. The McMenamin brothers have saved countless treasures in and around Portland, and haven't done the Spar any harm. (In fact, they're about to launch a micro-brewery in the back room, using the Spar's own artesian well.) The food hasn't changed; it's standard diner fare, burgers, Reubens, crab cakes.

As for the cigars, says one Olympia lobbyist, "You buy one or two after you've had lunch at the Spar, but they're cheaper to order online."

Spar Cafe Bar & Tobacco, 114 4th Ave E., Olympia, 360-357-6444   Spar Cafe Bar & Tobacco on Urbanspoon

Waving to the French

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Outsiders.jpgAh, those crazy Frenchies, at it again. This time, they're going to pull off a robbery. The gang that couldn't shoot straight, but with accents, The Band of Outsiders. The cute gal is Anna Karina, her boyfriends are Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey, and the director is the emobidment of French cinema's nouvelle vague, Jean-Luc Godard.

Ah, callow youth! Squandering your time in darkened cinemas, what good will ever come of it? Invest that time on the golf course, you might become a pro; at the pool hall, you might become a hustler. At the movies? Memories that flicker and vanish! Cornichon feels like a sleeper cell, awakened four decades later by the Seattle International Film Festival.

The dance at the café, we've seen that before! The "minute" of silence, we've heard that before! Godard, we now realize, was a genius who made one life-changing film after another, seemingly without effort, films that passed into our collective lexicon of images, of how we once viewed the world, of how, even now, we still view the French.

It's a SIFF double bill; the other feature is Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Starts at 7:15 tonight, at McCaw Hall.

Here's that dance, by the way, decades before Pulp Fiction.

And The Beets Go On

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Beet%20salad%20at%20Tavolata.JPGAll beets are equal, more or less: tiny babies at Portage ($8), shredded at Place Pigalle ($7), lumpy at Cafe Presse ($7), chunky at Tavolata ($10). But some vegetables are more equal than others, and the question is, whose are tastiest?

Beets have become Seattle's default winter salad, served with a vinaigrette or mayonnaise dressing, sometimes accompanied by bitter greens or crunchy walnuts, almost always enhanced by a bit of cheese.

Tavolata adds a hefty slice of Spanish goat cheese, cana de cabre. Couple at the bar one night say they drove down from Canada for a serving. Worth the wait at the border, yes? But isn't ten bucks a lot to pay for the most humble of root vegetables? No, not when they're this good.

And if you're lucky, you get to see the consequences of beet-eating: beeturia. Turns pee and pooh dark red. Lucky because only 10-15 percent of the population reacts in this way, lucky because it's not hematuria (blood, which would be serious). Whew!

Portage, 2209 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-352-6213 Portage on Urbanspoon
Place Pigalle, 81 Pike St., 206-624-1756 Place Pigalle on Urbanspoon
Café Presse, 1117 12th Avenue, 206-709-7674 CafĂ© Presse on Urbanspoon
Tavolata, 2323 Second Ave., 206-838-8008 Tavolata on Urbanspoon

Walrus%20Carpenter.gif Oyster%20Picnic%20for%20Seattlest.jpg

The time has come, said Cornichon,
For bivalves on the beach:
The moon is full, the tide is out...
We'll have an oyster feast!

Okay, so it doesn't quite rhyme. And you have to know your Alice Through the Looking Glass to remember that "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem about two unlikely buddies who invite a bunch of oysters to their midnight picnic...and eat them.

But it's not nonsense at all, a couple of nights ago, as oyster guru Jon Rowley leads an expedition of intrepid foodies from Seattle to the Taylor Shellfish oyster beds on Totten Inlet in the South Sound. Full moon, extreme low tide, f-f-f-reezing temperatures, and all the oysters one could gather, shuck and eat. A bonfire to keep body and soul together. Fresh-off-the-beach bivalves, notably Totten Inlet Pacifics and the thumbnail-size Olympias. Oyster-friendly wines, too, notably the Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc.

"The best oysters you'll ever taste," Rowley had promised. "A benchmark oyster experience." No kidding. Oh frabjous day, oh frabjous night!

Txori's Txrifecta

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Carolin%20and%20Joseba.JPGYou know how sometimes it seems like you read about the same damn thing every time you turn around? Like Britney. Or Ron Paul. Or the Sonics. It's going to happen again this week, and the name you'll be hearing is Txori. (Think "chirp," like a birdie.) It's the new Basque café (more accurately, a pintxos bar) in Belltown owned by Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez and his wife, Carolin Messier de Jimenez, the couple who own Harvest Vine in Madison Park. Well, this is their week.

Seattle Pee-Eye plans a review on Friday. Stranger plans a review in Thursday's edition, and Gourmet.com launches its new website with a review by Mamster today. Seattle Times already did a piece (Small Places) and a mention (best bites). Cornichon and Seattlest? We were there weeks and weeks ago.

Txori, 2207 Second Ave, 206-204-9771 Txori Bar on UrbanspoonTxori Bar on Urbanspoon

Golden Globes Atonement

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Read it, loved it. Saw it, not so much. Sorry, Golden Globes. Really. Wanted to like it, but no. Really sorry. Did we say we were sorry? Well, we are . Really. How many more times do we have to say it? You know, that we're sorry. In our dreams we still kiss your sweet, wet "worst word you could imagine," but we we'll get over it.

No Comedy Tonight

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Palombi%20as%20Canio.jpg Picture a small town in the south (southern Italy in the 1950s, as it happens) where people talk slow and not much happens until the sun goes down and the church bells ring. (Think Faulkner, Song of the South, Porgy and Bess.) Then a travelling circus comes to town, a whole troupe of clowns (those irrespressible pagliacci), squeezed into a real clown car, a tiny black Fiat 500. You can guess what happens next: sex, jealousy, violence and death.

We're going to hear the exciting Gold Cast at the end of the run, with superstar tenor Antonello Palombi as Pagliacci, the divine Nuccia Focile as Nedda and Gordon Hawkins (a standout last year in the title role of Macbeth as Tonio.

This weekend, with conductor Dean Williamson leading a talented Silver Cast, the smoothest singing came from Morgan Smith, who had impressed us in the title role of Don Giovanni last year. He makes a convincing hunk as Silvio, the local pretty-boy who catches Nedda's eye.

The lecherous Tonio, whose advances Nedda spurns, overhears the two lovers planning to run away together and reports the news to Canio, knowing that Canio's jealousy will provoke disaster. As he suits up for the play (singing Vesti la giubba, whose recording by Caruso became the first opera disc to sell a million copies), Canio expresses the clown's classic anguish: to make people laugh even as his own heart is breaking.

By the time the curtain falls, on the line (spoken by Tonio in this production), La commedia è finita, Canio is a mental wreck, having stabbed both Nedda and Silvio. Show's over, folks. Wasn't a comedy at all.

One reservation, the schtick with the acrobats (imported from California for the dream sequence at the opening of the second half of the show): no disrespect, but we think our home-grown Circus Contraption does that stuff better.

Seattle Opera presents Pagliacci at McCaw Hall, through Jan. 26. Tickets online or 206-389-7676.

Seattle Opera photo by Rosarii Lynch

Pagliacci Comes to Dinner

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When we're not blogging about food, wine and opera, Cornichon works as the sommelier at Sorrentino atop Queen Anne. (Keeps us out of the bars, don't you know.)

Antonello%20Palombi%20and%20Nuccia%20Focile.JPG Pagliacci.jpg
On their best behavior at dinner; jealous lovers onstage.

So last night, who comes in but a devoted Seattle Opera volunteer shepherding soprano Nuccia Focile and tenor Antonello Palombi (with wife & adorable kids). Since they weren't drinking anything alcoholic other than a glass of Prosecco, we didn't spend much time at their table. Took a while for the coin to drop, but then we overheard someone say "Pagliacci" and we said, yes, we were going to attend the Sunday matinee.

Sunday? (Mock) outrage! But the Sunday performance has the alternate cast, not Nuccia and Antonello !! (Now it hits us who they are ... )

Gee, we stammer, the Saturday opening night press tickets were all gone ...Maybe we can ask for tickets to your performance later in the run, we say in our halting Italian ... what do you think? Not Wednesday because we're short-staffed and we can't get away, but one of the others?

We happened to have the laptop along and had just received an email from the opera's PR department with rehearsal photos and a link to the new video ... which they hadn't seen, so we show it to them and all ends well.

Unlike the opera, in which Antonello's character, Canio (as the hapless clown, Pagliacci) stabs Nuccia's character, his unfaithful wife, Nedda, in a jealous rage. They leave the restaurant in good spirits, with the high drama and the immortal curtain line ("La commedia è finita") still to come.

Seattle Opera presents Pagliacci at McCaw Hall, Jan, 12-26. Tickets online or 206-389-7676.


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Absinthe%20bar%20in%20Paris.JPG Absinthe-glass.jpg
The green fairy of absinthe: Myth or ...?

There's a place called l'Absinthe in Paris, on a charming square near the Opera Garnier, with an improbable "New York" decor (featuring a giant clock face). It's part of Michel Rostang's restaurant group, the first Michelin-star chef to open informal bistros next door to his fancy properties. But despite its name, it doesn't actually serve any absinthe. Real absinthe, stuff of mystery and legend, is perhaps the most maligned of drinks.

Painters from Degas to Van Gogh to Picasso have portrayed its magic. Edward Rothstein, fellow Yalie and former music critic at the NYTimes, reviewed the mystical powers of absinthe in a recent column. Three years ago, Seattle Weekly had a long piece about the underground culture of absinthe in Seattle.

Slowly but surely, absinthe has been making its way into local bars and liquor stores. Now, an outfit called Buy Absinthe aims to keep the momentum going, with a website as well as a Buy Absinthe blog to answer your pressing questions.

Absinthe itself isn't illegal; the villain would be a psycho-active chemical called thujone that could cause hallucinations. Modern absinthe doesn't contain enough thujone to harm a cat, let alone create visions of green fairies.

If you can't find absinthe (and absinthe paraphernalia, like spoons and glassware) locally, you can order it online. And if all this sounds like an advertisement, well, it is.

Return of da King

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Shultz at meeting.jpeg Schultzie's back! In the year since Uncle Howard stepped aside from his day job (running Starbucks) to spend time on sexy stuff like movies and music and yogurt, the company's stock price dropped by half. Not good for an outfit that claims to be the world's most popular retailer. Worse, customers started complaining.

Okay, with tens of thousands of employees, most of them part-timers, responsible for customer satisfaction, you can't get it right every time. But the premium coffee biz that Starbucks created has become competitive as hell, and those customers have plenty of choices. Schultzie decided that his hand-picked successor as company prez, Jim Donald, wasn't paying enough attention.

(Not that Schultzie's been all that responsive himself, selling off the Sonics to a bunch of right-wing investors from Oklahoma. What kind of hometown loyalty does that show your Seattle customers?)

Now, there are plenty of heart-warming Starbucks stories, none more uplifting than Michael Gates Gill's How Starbucks Saved My Life. But that's beside the point. The 800-pound gorilla of fast-food retailing, McDonald's, is about to get serious about the coffee game, hiring and training hundreds of baristas to staff new espresso bars.

Gulp! One thing's for sure: Schultzie ain't lovin it.

Local Treasures

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Saveur.jpg McDermott%20%26%20Rowley.JPG

There they were last night, perched at the counter at Steelhead Diner, enjoying a glass of bubbly and gossiping with the chef: Jon Rowley and his wife, Kate McDermott, quietly celebrating their appearance in the new issue of Saveur. The least ostentatious of Seattle's food stars, Rowley is probably the most influential. He's the oyster guru, the peach guru, and above all the salmon guru. No one in town has done more to change the way we eat, or the way our farmers and fishers think about the food they grow or catch.

Saveur names Rowley to its Top 100 list for 2008. (Most of the entries aren't people but food trends and restaurants.) His 500-word biographical sketch is titled Disciple of Flavor. "We admire the passion that's sustained him in his pursuits, which, in hindsight, more closely resemble a quest than a career."

The quest is never-ending. "Rowley is acutely curious about what makes a particular food taste good. Environmental factors are crucial, he's discovered, whether it's the unique blend of local algae and minerals that allows the Virginica oysters of Totten Inlet, in Washington's Puget Sound, to grow incomparably plump and sweet, or the precise proportions of water and compost that beget the perfect blackberry." Rowley carries a refractometer to measure sugar content and tell him everything he needs to know about the plant, whether it's a blackberry or a peach.

And speaking of blackberries, that's Kate's blackberry pie in the upper right-hand corner of the magazine cover. Recipe here.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

February 2008 is the next archive.

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