April 2008 Archives

Anthony%20Anton%20with%20cornstarch%20fork.JPGFor two days earlier this week, over 10,000 restaurateurs swarmed into the Convention Center, where some 500 exhibitors at the Northwest Foodservice Show were offering samples (deep-fried churros, prepackaged burgers, imported desserts), showing off new equipment and point-of-sale systems, offering consulting services. Keynote address from Anthony Anton, CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association, who took us on a quick tour to show off ecologically correct green packaging (forks made of cornstarch). "We have to get ahead of the regulators," he maintained.

The R-word was never spoken. Other parts of the country might be in trouble, he says, but not this state. Instead, Anton talked about rising food costs (not getting better anytime soon) and the growing labor crunch (going to get worse if there's an immigration crackdown this summer).

Over 50% of all food dollars are being spent outside the home, Anton points out. Five meals a week, on average. And the economic drivers in this state remain strong: Microsoft, Boeing, agriculture (the weak dollar helps exports), ports (again, exports), and construction (with transportation projects picking up the slack of the weak housing market).

Two solutions for restaurants: sell lottery tickets (seriously), and buy labor-saving equipment.

Oh really? Our inbox gets a flurry of press releases from restaurants, and the theme past month has been downsizing: simpler food, comfort food, even (at Veil) TV dinners. One longtime restaurant operator, facing skyrocketing food costs, lack of qualified staff, high gas prices, and an increasingly nervous clientele, says "the industry's response is head-in-the-sand denial."

Da Best Oysters, Da Best Wines


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Puget Sound is home to some of the world's best oyster beds, thanks to cold, clean water and nutrient-rich runoff from the Cascades and the Olympics. Ya got your Kumamotos, your Pacifics, your Olympias, your Virginicas. Yup, Virginicas, "east cost" oysters whose seed was brought to Washington by transcontinental train nearly a century ago, grown on the banks of Totten Inlet. And, get this: in a blind tasting last week, sponsored by the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, those "west coast" Virginicas were judged number one. "Stunning" said Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Geography of Oysters. Local grower Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish Farms, was humble: "A thrill to have our oysters appreciated by such an esteemed panel."

Meantime, oyster guru Jon Rowley has announced the top oyster wines after a three-state competition. Chateau Ste. Michelle's sauvignon blanc and Willamette Valley Vineyards' pinot gris head the list of repeat winners, along with newcomers from Amity, Covey Run, Simi and Clos du Bois. Complete list here.

Claycamp.JPGCouple of weeks ago, we got an email that sounded pretty grim: someone had tipped off the Liquor Board, and now Western Civilization was going to collapse. Around town, bloggers cried foul, falling right into the outlaws' trap. No and no, wrong and wrong. These guys aren't romantic Zorros, they're behaving like petulant teenagers.

Might as well piss off our good friends at Gypsy, Vagabond, Caché, OnePot, KillTheRestaurant and Culinary Communion. You got busted. Somebody called the Liquor Board to complain that a cooking class used—oh my God—wine to deglaze a dish. Argues the state: if you use a controlled substance (like wine), you've gotta get a license. And not just some one-off, ten-buck Class J permit, either.

Well, you'd think the sky had fallen. “Betrayal!” said the email announcement by Culinary Communion's chef Gabriel Claycamp (in photo at right, before auditioning for the Food Network).

Well, now, look, fellas. Every restaurant in the state (except, maybe, Minnie's)--padlocked by the IRS for non-payment of taxes--plays by the rules. They pay rent while you use private premises, they pay utilities and insurance, they pay B&O on their gross receipts, they pay accountants and lawyers, and, above all, they pay their effing taxes. 13.7 percent on liquor sales, my friends, in addition to sales taxes and all the rest.

You want to be like Costco, complain that you're so big you deserve “special treatment?” Think again. Costco lost its suit against the Liquor Board last month. You want “special treatment” because you're edgy and underground? Hey, every legitimate, taxpaying restaurant in the state will fight you, tooth and nail. What makes you think you're so goddamn special that you can thumb your nose at the world?

You've been on national TV, for heaven's sake, with Anthony Bourdain! How can you complain about being betrayed??

Elderflowers On Parade

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St%20Germain%20cocktail%20at%20Txori.JPGFirst, pigs. Wrote last week (previous entry) about new food: pork from Mangalitsas. Drool over this great recipe blog by Matt Wright.

Onward, new drinks. St. Germain has come marching into Belltown. Not the café from Madison Park, which closed earlier this year, but a French artisanal liqueur subtitled "Délice de Sureau," distilled from freshly picked elderflower blossoms. (The website, stgermain.fr, tells the story, probably apocryphal, of a cohort of old men on bicycles gathering the flowers.)

Many drinks are based on the elder, a common name for shrubs that grow in northern Europe, most with fragrant blossoms. Steep them in hot water, you get a very pleasant concoction. Coca Cola sells a Fanta called Shokata (only in eastern Europe) that's flavored with elderblossom.

Yamihll Valley Vineyards smuggled some cuttings into Oregon a few years back, made a delicious elderberry-scented riesling.

Elderberry wine, you may recall, was the poisoned cordial in Arsenic and Old Lace; Elton John even recorded an "Elderberry Wine" video using clips from the movie.

Anyway, St. Germain is but the latest use of the elderberry blossom. It won best-of-show at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco last summer, and is now available in Seattle, at the Basque wine bar Txori, where barman Brett Paulson tops off a shot of the liqueur with bright pink cava rosada. Smells like honeysuckle and pear blossoms, tastes lemony. Very refreshing summer cocktail, just the thing for Txori's open-any-day-now back patio. Now all we need is summer.

Txori Bar on Urbanspoon

Seattle Is "Edible" At Last

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Edible%20Seattle%20cover.JPGWe think we're such hot stuff here in Seattle, but Portland and Vancouver got their Edibles many harvest moons ago. So did Cape Cod, Twin Cities and the Iowa River Valley. No matter, the first issue of this new full-color quarterly is finally on the stands (at Metropolitan Markets, PCC, Whole Foods), circulation of 70,000, handsomely produced on recycled, ecologically correct, non-glossy stock. Five bucks a copy, but $28 a year for a subscription.

Publisher is Alex Corcoran, who'd previously bought an Edible franchise in Rhode Island. (The concept was launched in Ojai, Calif., six years ago and has grown to 40 local mags.) Editor for Seattle is veteran foodie (Seattle Weekly, Seattle CitySearch) Jill Lightner, and a stable of local food bloggers and photographers (Jess Thomson, Bethany Jean Clement, Jerome Richard, Lara Ferroni, Pat Tanumihardja, Heidi Broadhead).

There's also an EdibleSeattle blog, Fresh Sheet (with a link to Cornichon, yay!).

And, coincidentally, a good feature story in USA Today about agricultural tourism, visiting farms not as a grade school field trip but to learn more about the source of your food. Visitors to Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley can pet the Berkshire pigs, but readers of Edible Seattle know that the next big thing will be swallow-bellied Mangalitsas: foraging pigs from Austria being raised at Rocky Ridge Ranch west of Spokane. Check them out here.


Clinton, of course, would be a Boca-Burger.

We all know the drill: you are what you eat. But does who you are also determine your presidential candidates? Are the late-night comedians right? Is Clinton butter to Obama's olive oil?

According to a story in today's New York Times McCain's supporters shop at Safeway, Clinton's at Whole Foods, Obama's at farmers markets.

All too easy. We're more than what's in our refrigerators and on our dinner plates. Besides, this sort of political analysis--equating Obama with the bitter herbs of farmers markets--marginalizes healthy eating as a practice limited to effete progressives. Nonsense. The pollsters have it backwards, as usual, confusing cause and effect. Sometimes I shop at Safeway, sometimes at Whole Foods, but I that doesn't mean I don't healthy-heart Obama.

Venice On The Cheap

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Grand%20Canal%20from%20Accademia%20bridge.jpg Barman%20at%20Harry%27s%20Bar.jpg

So it's come to this: Harry's Bar, between the Grand Canal and the Piazza San Marco, is giving a 20 percent "poor American" discount. Just on the food, mind you; the bellinis (invented here) are still almost $25. But airfare from Seattle (via Paris) is a relative bargain at $800. Anyone want to join me?

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Shiro.JPGAnother gray, blustery Sunday; it felt like Seattle was going through a rinse cycle. Undaunted, Shiro Kashiba was out on the golf course, playing 36 holes before dark, then stopping for a bite of dinner in Belltown at (where else?) Shiro's, where he's been sushi master since he opened the place in 1994.

Shiro doesn't have to eat at Shiro's; he wants to. He loves sushi, and loves feeding people. After all, he's been doing this for 42 years now. There's a myth that sushi is "easy" because there's no cooking, just slicing. That sushi has to modernize. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The future of sushi, according to Shiro, is nothing less than traditional Edomae, nigiri (raw fish on rice) sushi.

As the dozen or so diners at his counter know, Shiro-san believes Americans use too much wasabi and soy sauce; he puts just the right amount of wasabi on each piece of nigiri before serving it. "The best way is simple," he says. And those dozen or so diners have the best meal in town.

But Shiro no longer owns Shiro's. He sold all but a minority interest last year to a Japanese investor and to Yoshi Yokoyama, of Bellevue's I Love Sushi. He's still behind the counter three nights a week, but the restaurant is now part of the I Love Sushi Group. The new investors recognize that Americans eat bigger portions and want to fill up on rolls ($20 for a roll, a bowl of miso soup, tax & tip) but they don't think fusion is the frontier. (The eclectic Mashiko, in West Seattle, with a website called SushiWhore --with a freaking sushi-bar webcam--would be like the Third Circle of Hell.) For now, the I Love Sushi people intend to keep the Shiro brand, as a beacon of orthodoxy in an increasingly sushi-fied town.

Shiro's, 2401 Second Avenue, 206-443-9844 Shiro's on Urbanspoon

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Oyster in France, oysters in Seattle

Nancy Leson has fine article in Seattle Times today about local oyster bars, with link to her blog, AllYouCanEat . Good roundup, though it doesn't mention Flying Fish (25-cent oyster happy hour nightly, 5 to 6 PM).

Well, talk about oysters! Just got back from France, oyster heaven. Have written before about the covered food market in Lyon, Les Halles de Lyon (now called Les Halles Bocuse), perhaps? Dozens of vendors (cheese, charcuterie, fruit, etc.) not to mention four or five shellfish stands.

Lunch at one of them, Merle (no website), just last week: a dozen absolutely perfect fines de claire, a "pot" of Macon blanc, half a St. Marcelin cheese from La Mère Richard: about $55. Seems kinda high for lunch, perhaps, but wait ...

Lunch at Etta's in Seattle upon return: a dozen assorted oysters (Penn Cove, Hunter Point, Emerald Cove, none quite as plump as the French oysters), $2.50 each, so $30 for oysters, $14 half of a bottle of wine (Rulo's Combine, from Walla Walla), + tax + tip = not really very different in price. So let's stop this moaning about how Old Yurp is just too expensive, shall we? And order another dozen.

Etta's Seafood, 2020 Western Ave, 206-443-6000 Etta's Seafood on Urbanspoon

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It cannot be easy, being green, shade-grown and responsible. It cannot be easy, being the butt of endless Dunkin Donuts commercials. It cannot be easy, watching McDonalds roll out espresso machines. It cannot be easy, being Starbucks.

Evangelist-in-chief Howard Schultz roundly denies that Starbucks is losing its way. "Our best days are ahead of us," he says. To prove it, an extravagant product launch of a new blend, Pike Place (named for the company's first location). "We've reinvented brewed coffee," he says, and calls it "the best we've ever done."

Oh, there's plenty to do, plenty to do. There's a new site, MyStarbucksIdea.com, designed to solicit public input, and well-meaning suggestions keep coming in. And over on StarbucksGossip.com, the buzz is about (successful) lawsuits filed by employees to prevent managers from sharing in tips.

Dunkin Donuts proclaims you can order their lattes in English, not "Fritalian" (ignoring that latte doesn't actually mean coffee at all, but milk). Mickey D calls its espresso stations "McCafe." But just as the competition turns toward espresso, Starbucks is turning its attention back to drip.

When Gordon Bowker and his roommates created Starbucks 37 years ago, it was largely a reaction to the insipid coffees of the day (canned Maxwell House and MJB). Their richly aromatic "Full City" roast was revolutionary, and to this day it is still being Swift-Boated by counter-revolutionaries as "burned."

Still, Starbucks rounded up 1,000 customers and listened to 1,500 hours of comments to provide input into "what's important to them" in a cup of coffee, says Andrew Linnemann, Starbucks master coffee blender. The result is, to be honest, quite remarkable: smooth, low-acid yet full-flavored. It's going to be a huge hit.

So if this be the face of the new Starbucks, the question is: What took you so goddamn long?

Ronald%20in%20the%20vineyards%20in%20Ardeche.jpg Map%20Rhone.jpg Raphael%20at%20ND%20de%20Cousignac.JPG
Cornichon in the Cousignac vineyards, Rhone map (Vivarais is on western bank), Raphael Pommier

Rhone wines, from the syrah-based Côte Rôtie to the grenache-based Châteauneuf-du-Pape, grow along the ancient trade routes between the Mediterranean and northern Europe. They're diverse (17 grape varieties) yet they share plenty of characteristics: they're full-flavored and robust. And for the past couple of decades, they've also shared in a remarkable promotion guided by a professional umbrella organization, Inter-Rhone.

hedgehog-rhone.gifHere in the Vivarais, in the family-owned vineyards of Notre Dame de Cousignac, Raphael Pommier and his American wife Rachel produce some terrific wines. (More about Rachel in a future post.) But they're going to lose a huge helping hand from Inter-Rhone's ten-year-old promotional campaign in the UK, which features a wine-drinking hippo and hedgehog: "Now that the mood in the UK regarding alcohol has changed so much, we were worried that we might be perceived as targeting the young," says Inter-Rhone's marketing manager. So the hippo and hedgehog will be retired.

Funny, "targeting younger drinkers" is exactly what the wine industry needs, no? Hard to believe, it was just six months ago that the Brits hashed over the same question when it came to packaging Bordeaux in a box (reported here on Cornichon), with much the same answers, too. Night-night, Nanny State.

UPDATE: Cross-posted at Seattlest.com, where Jonathan Raban himself weighs in with a long, delightfully funny comment (number 9). My own apologies follow.

What does the Noo Yawk Effing Times have against Seattle?

Frank Bruni, their restaurant critic, puts together a list of ten hot new restaurants around the country. Geographic balance, gotta find one in the Pacific Northwest, let's see: green corner of the country, organic is hot, women chefs are hot, anything fit the bill? Wow! A two-fer, right in Seattle: Tilth, all green and a woman at the stove to boot.

They send Matt Richtel to write about a winter's day in Seattle; he starts his piece thus: "Drink coffee. Put on another layer of dry clothes. Repeat." Hit snooze button. Repeat.

They send their "Frugal Traveler," Matt Gross, to Seattle for the express purpose of sampling happy hours. He goes to Cascadia, but finds their $1 miniburgers "bland and overcooked," even though the dollar miniburgers haven't been around for well over a year. (They're $2.50.) Don't they have fact-checkers at the Times? Or can't the Frugal Traveler afford to google "Cascadia Miniburgers"?

Which brings us to The Times's "local" observer of our local economy. The thought being that newsroom editors in New York are out of touch with what's happening around the country and can't be bothered actually reading online editions of papers in other towns or asking their own bureaus; they need "local" stories with a fresh perspective. And who better than a Hungarian-born British travel writer and novelist to spy on Seattle?

That would be Jonathan Raban, who moved from London to Queen Anne in 1990 and wrapped up a series of conflated Seattle vignettes in Sunday's paper.
Here we have the author of two overpraised works of fiction conveniently set in Seattle (Waxwings and Surveillance) writing now about a poetry-spouting homeless man, whose favorite poem just happens to be a rambling piece of proto-feminism reinterpreted as an attack on materialism (Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"). The observer who interpreted the dot-com bust--in fiction--as a medieval morality play would now have us believe--in non-fictional reality--that Seattle is a Gomorrah of overwrought selfishness. The Gucci counter at Nordstrom's aside, Raban and his homeless alter ego paint an unreasonably upbeat picture of Seattle, lusting after expensive new baubles while the rest of the country pawns its jewelry.

The fault doesn't lie with Raban, who has every right to his vision, but with the editors who print this nonsense. Fine when a critical essay appears in a local blog like Crosscut; not so much when it's massaged for national exposure.


It began here in France, they say, this tradition of calling the first of April "April Fool's Day." Something to do with the old Julian calendar (that started the year on April 1), perhaps, a day to play practical jokes on those a bit slow to catch on. The French call it poisson d'avril, April fish, as do the Italians, pesce d'aprile. Slap a dead fish on your buddy's back: like calling him dumb as a post.

At the fish market in Biarritz, however, it's business as usual. Don't think we'll mess with this guy.

About this Archive

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

March 2008 is the previous archive.

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I'm Seattle's Global Gourmet for a national network of blogs, Examiner.com. Also Director, Wine Tours, for The International Vineyard. Write to me: ronald [at] inyourglass.com.

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