May 2008 Archives


Well, no wonder. Here's a huge floor display, at the Whole Foods on Westlake, devoted to Italian wines. Great idea. Terrific promotion. All for it. But what's the tie-in to Vespa all about? Is the idea that a sexy scooter promotes wine consumption? What fun! Alcoholic beverages and a motor vehicle? Gulp!

What's the next step? A Kenworth semi filled with cases of Maker's Mark? Stihl chain saws and Knob Creek? Evinrude outboards and Bacardi?

Nothing against Vespa, by the way, but next time, there's actually a scooter called Vino. Made by Yamaha, it turns out.

Battered & Fried

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Three things from the fryer at the corner of 10th and Pike: oysters, grean beans, fries. Sides of lemon aïoli and tartar sauce. And a Manny's. The oysters, lightly battered, are beautiful, accompanied by luscious, deep-fried slices of lemon. The green beans crunchy and flavorful in a tempura-like cloud. The fries as good as any in Seattle.

This is Pike Street Fish Fry, site of the former Frites, a low-ceilinged, street-level venture headed by underground chef Michael Hebberoy and coffee & pizza entrepreneur Mike McConnell. (Takeout orders go into Café Vita's paper cups.) There's seating for six at a bench, standing room for perhaps another dozen. Don't be alarmed if you see a line of people outside, or if the walls start to vibrate; that's just the show at Neumo's, next door.

The seafood, served in chunks rather than fillets, comes from Mutual Fish. As for the batter, the cook admitted to flour and cornstarch but no more. "Secret ingredients," he said. We're guessing egg-white.

Pike Street Fish Fry on Urbanspoon

Dennys%20Sasquatch.jpgForget the Denny's in Ballard, the one that started as a Manning's, with the architecture of a Southern California McDonald's. It's toast. The Denny's where it's happening is the one in SoDo, at 4th and Lander. And the one in Bellevue. And the one in Tukwila.

"Happening" and "Denny's" are not two words one expects to find in the same sentence, but these are tough times in the restaurant biz, and a girl's gotta do what she's gotta do. For Denny's, bedrock of middle America, facing a two-year downtrend in revenue, that means going after the late-night crowd. Not the high-rolling Belltown hipsters at Viceroy and Wasabi Bistro, but the hungry 20-somethings who just want to hang out after the bars close.

First things first: a new website,, complete with links to corporate-looking MySpace and Facebook pages. (Kinda cheesy, actually.) At the heart of this "New Denny's" is an "adopt-a-band" program. Touring costs for musicians are high, says the website, so the company is sponsoring selected bands to eat for free (and to host after-parties) at local Denny's while on they're on the road.

Gotta admit, it's a ballsy concept for a restaurant whose top-selling breakfasts are called Grand Slam and Moon Over My Hammy. And whose usual late-night crowd consists of factory workers coming off the swing shift. But they're putting their money where it counts: Denny's is the only restaurant among the dozen sponsors of this weekend's Sasquatch festival.

Since the first of the month, the Denny's uniform of black pants and collared shirt is being replaced (overnight) by jeans and T-shirts. The music's switched over from middle-of-the-road to alternative rock, and nacho cheese fries have been added to the overnight menu. "There's a time when Denny's was cool," says ceo Nelson Marchioli. "We can get back there."

Slip Me Some Tongue

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Scott Staples says he always wanted to be on Capitol Hill but couldn't find the right spot. That was before Quinn's, which opened late last year. In the meantime, Zoë the dinner house on Second that he opened in 2001, has become a Belltown fixture.

At the bar, the original drinks menu has evolved to more contemporary cocktails ("Spring Flowers" of Ciroc vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon sour and Moscato d'Asti, $9.75). Hold off on that homemade sour mix, though; It really doesn't belong in a Negroni!
In the kitchen, Staples and chef-de-cuisine Daniel Newell stick to elegantly presented.classics: halibut, scallops, duck breast, lamb loin, braised short ribs, pork chops. But if the devil is in the details, it's also in the small plates. Delicate white asparagus from Walla Walla, asking for nothing more than a simple steaming, is instead poached (barely! barely!) in a broth of salted white wine, and served with an egg foam (classic sabayon), lemon, and fried (why?) capers. Five stalks for $13 (twice the going price for big, fat spears of white asparagus in Europe), you wonder what they're thinking.

But then comes redemption, in the form of a $10 plate of beef tongue. The base is French green lentils, softly cooked. Next, a layer of crunchy, bitter frisée. Then a slice of tongue, an unctuous meat so tasty you wonder why it's held in such low esteem. Now comes a spread of complex marmalade: a sour cherry mustard. This is topped with another slice of tongue and capped with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt.

Pause for a moment to imagine the last time you enjoyed a hamburger. Was the ketchup on the top, on the patty, or did you dip? Was the lettuce on the bottom? Where in that construction did the kitchen place the tomato, the onion? The architecture of a burger is crucial, since it affects how it tastes when you take a bite.

Well, the tongue at Zoë is like that: the elements should be savored together, all at once, a peak experience of delight. You forgive all sorts of minor sins when you're in bliss.

Restaurant Zoë, 2137 2nd Avenue, Seattle 98121, 206-256-2060 Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Lunch%20at%20Le%20Pichet%20w%20Wells%20book.JPGSidewalk table for lunch at Le Pichet: Salade verte, the café's signature green salad with hazelnuts, goat-cheese tartine (on country bread from Tall Grass Bakery) with cornichons on the side, a glass or two of Muscadet. Feels like France, even more so because I've brought along the new memoir by Patricia and Walter Wells, We've Always Had Paris...and Provence.

Walter, former New York Times staffer, was an editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune for 25 years, helping turn it into one of the most prestigious publications in the world. He was honored with the French Légion d'Honneur last summer. Patricia had been a Times staffer in New York as well but worked freelance in Paris until she was hired as the Trib's restaurant critic. She's written almost a dozen bibles for foodies, starting with the Food Lover's Guide to Paris. Along the way, she also became the first woman to review restaurants for l'Express, where her translator ended up marrying the magazine's editor.

So, wait, isn't this latest tome just another self-serving memoir? (Hardly.) Another collection of recipes? (Nope.) Self-indulgent food porn? (Nothing to see here, literally. Nothing but black and white snapshots.) Au contraire, it's a joyful scrapbook, a shoebox full of postcards from globetrotting friends, delightful emails and late-night phone calls. Reading their book is like strolling down the boulevards or driving through the French countryside; you can open any page and be enchanted.

Here's Walter on the American character, seen by the French: "We're alarmingly incurious, blithely unaware...not the land of liberty but of puberty." And the French, seen by Americans: "Arrogant and ungrateful. Lunch lasts three hours and the rest of the time they're on vacation."

Meantime, Patricia turns out a steady stream of fully researched articles, interviews, cookbooks, travel pieces, reviews. There's a whole subplot about how to watch your weight under those circumstances. Even teddy bear Walter loses 35 lbs. Yet at one point Patricia admits that she feels like a fraud, supposedly an authority on Paris even though--like bloggers!--she seems to spend every waking moment in the same tiny room. (Except for the trips, except for the dinners.)

So they buy a studio apartment on the Left Bank to give Patricia a kitchen where she can teach cooking classes in Paris. And they buy a rundown property in Provence, Chanteduc, where Patricia enthusiastically harvests grapes from their vineyard. Walter, having picked cotton for a penny a pound in the deep south, is not so enchanted. Of course, they have the same misadventures with local tradesmen that we've come to know from Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, but without Mayle's condescension. The place becomes a mecca for foodies.

Disclosure: Back in the days before internets, Cornichon's travel company, France In Your Glass, represented Patricia's cooking classes at Chanteduc. That was then. Now you can sign up online at, and everything through 2009 is waitlisted. It's a "retirement" career beyond all expectations.

Generous of spirit, curious, thoughtful and tolerant, Walter and Patricia are still leading a fantasy life. They hate the word expat, so let's call them exports. The best of America, exported to Paris.

Duckies.JPGIt took two years, but Chicago's city council has finally come to its senses. No, they haven't endorsed Obama, they've repealed their ban on foie gras, thus ending a shameful chapter in American political history.

"But why did you vote for it in the first place, grandpa?" the Alderman's granddaughter will ask one day. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" won't cut it. Government should regulate food safety, not food content. You want to debate content, debate beef, the planet's least efficient processor and environmentally costliest source of protein.

Meantime, just stay out of my dinner plate, thank you.

Pesto Manifesto


Mortar%20%26%20Pestle%202.jpgEverybody's got a stereotype, and Italians are no different: wildly passionate one moment, indifferent the next. Political corruption? cynical indifference. Matters of the heart? Passionate but fickle. Matters of the table? Ah, passionate to the core.

My Italian restaurant friends get particularly incensed when American chefs misappropriate Italian culinary language and apply a name like "carpaccio" to a plate of sliced raw meat, or "pesto" to any old green sauce.

So let's be clear: the word "pesto" comes from the Latin and means "crushed." Not chopped to smithereens by a whirling blade. We're not trying to stand in the way of progress here, but running parsley through the Cuisinart produces an industrial sludge that you might as well call Milk of Magnesia or Castor Oil; pesto genovese it ain't.

The distinction may seem trivial or irrelevant, but not for a few True Believers, purists, conservators, Keepers of the Flame. In this particular case, Italian cooks from Italy. With theological intensity, they argue that if you call something pesto, it has to be pesto. Not some metaphorical version of pesto, but the real thing, what Italians of all regions understand to be the genuine, traditional Ligurian recipe for pesto: the small leaves of Genovese basil, crushed by hand in a pestle, with garlic and olive oil, just before serving. Pine nuts optional.

Unfortunately, there's no legal protection for pesto or carpaccio or amatriciana, the way there is, say, for Chianti Classico--made from San Giovese grapes grown in a specific zone between Florence and Siena. (Notwithstanding that California's Gallo winery actually won a trademark infringement action against a Chianti Classico consortium for using the traditional logo of a black rooster, the emblamatic gallo nero.) The Italians' point is, don't call a parsley-walnut sauce made in a blender "pesto."

All too often, Seattle dumbs it down. We compromise, we fudge, we dilute. In the end, we pretend it doesn't matter, we're left with a shiny surface. Looks like chicken, tastes like dogfood. Beware.

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Fortunate we are, in Seattle, to have lounges for serious drinkers of cocktails, connoisseurs of the art (as opposed to cocktail lounges for "serious drinkers," another category entirely). The best cocktail bars, the ones that care, cluster downtown, in or close to hotels. ZigZag, for one (a cocktail called the Toronto), Suite 410 (that's their Pisco Sour), Oliver's, Vessel. They're not flashy (Milk & Honey in New York is almost anonymous.) They hire experts to run the bar; they quickly develop a devoted following.

So when Vessel parted ways with Jamie Boudreau last month, it was a scandal. Bethany Jean Clement wrote about it on Slog, Nancy Leson on All You Can Eat. Seattle's leading cocktail gurus are incensed. This from Robert Hess of Drinkboy:

Jamie is one of the most dedicated and talented bartenders I know, and was the sole reason that Vessel got on the map. To look for a silver lining in his recent departure I can only hope that he is soon able to open his own joint, AND that Vessel is able to hang on and maintain the quality standards he set. Seattle deserves more great bars.
And this from Paul Clarke, author of CocktailChronicles:
When Jamie Boudreau came to Seattle to help start up Vessel, it was a huge step forward for the city's cocktail community. While we were already very fortunate to have bartenders like Zig Zag's Murray Stenson working here, Jamie's arrival was really a breath of fresh air. Jamie's an immensely talented bartender, and he was a significant addition to Seattle's overall culinary scene--he really raised the bar for everyone. I think it's tragic in a way that he's leaving Vessel, but with any luck he'll stay in Seattle, hopefully in a capacity that will give him the room and the freedom he needs to flex his considerable mixological muscles.

Not unexpectedly, Clark Niemeyer, Vessel's owner, has his own take on the situation.

Vessel was conceived and developed prior to hiring Jamie. He was hired to develop the cocktail program, train our staff, and develop the recipes. We have a huge library of them. He did a marvelous job, and we wish him well. It was a mutual agreement for him to move on.

Complicating matters is the disappearance of Vessel's onetime finance guy, none of which makes like for Boudreau any easier. On his erudite blog, SpiritsAndCocktails he writes that he finally got a catering gig. An earlier entry was titled "Will Muddle for Food."

John%20Hinterberger.jpgNancy Leson's blog, All You Can Eat, pays tribute today to this guy, John Hinterberger. No, he hasn't gone to that great Buss Tub in the Sky, he's still very much with us, some 17 years after "retiring" as a regular columnist, restaurant critic and talk show host. Proof that there's life aplenty after the fromage is eaten and the tiramisù is cleared. (His recipe for clam spaghetti, by the way, is a classic.)

Without Hinterberger's clear-eyed, take-no-crap critiques, Seattle would still be a culinary wasteland, without baguettes or panini to feed us, without San Pellegrino or Ste. Michelle to slake our thirst. Without food blogs (kindled by his spirit) to guide, us we would have wandered another 40 years in the desert. Hint is truly our Moses; it's heartwarming that he made it through. Again.

A New Downtown Supermarket

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Two blocks from Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market, in the basement of the historic Kress Building, Tyler Myers is trying to make history by building a 17,000-square-foot urban supermarket. He's a grocery guy from a grocery family on Whidbey Island, and he thinks he knows what his customers want: a full-service store (not just shelves of ramen and canned tuna), with fresh produce, meat, takeout.

Escalators will glide customers from the 3rd Avenue sidewalk to the terrazzo-tile lower level, where flowers, fruit and vegetables await, along with wines, desserts, artisan breads, gourmet cheeses, sushi, fresh sandwiches, a deli, a salad bar, a full-service butcher. Not much baby food, nor giant packages of toilet paper, however. An everyday place with supermarket prices, not mini-mart rip-offs.

If the Pike Place Market is first and foremost a tourist attraction, the new Kress IGA is a neighborhood grocery. "They'd recognize it in New York," Myers says. He expects to open in June.

Chef%20Belickis%20adds%20finishing%20touch.jpg Chef%20Scott%20Carsberg.JPG Kerry%20Sear%20with%20mousserons.JPG

Chefs William Belickis of Mistral, Scott Carsberg of Lampreia, Kerry Sear of Cascadia

First Mistral, temple of gastronomy, hushed inner sanctum of the molecular, closed six weeks ago. Then Lampreia, sacred (and almost secret) destination for Seattle devotees of haute-cuisine, put itself up for sale. Now Cascadia, that hardy and trendy hybrid, is out as well.

All three owner-chefs have their reasons, and they're not even the same reasons. Mistral's William Belickis is on to a more ambitious project, a suite of restaurants that needs more space (and more investment) than his 32-seat chapel. Scott Carsberg of Lampreia has long wanted a space he can actually own, and is moving to the Gallery building, under construction at the corner of 2nd and Broad. And Kerry Sear, having hit his stride by combining popular mini-burgers with high standards of Northwest cuisine, is leaving Cascadia's grand, high-ceilinged space after ten years and returning to the fold of the new Four Seasons at First & Union.

So, by the end of summer, Belltown's top three dinner houses will be g-gone. What will come in their place? The rent's too high for mid-range chains like Red Lobsters or Applebees...though not for dance clubs and lounges. With food costs skyrocketing and labor shortages climbing, it makes less sense than ever to fill the menu with $20 tuna tartare and $30 salmon en papillotte. But a super-premium cosmo for $15, shaken by a $10/hour bar dude with a dollar's worth of booze, that's a no-brainer.

Between Lampreia and Cascadia stands Del Rey, a Capitol-Hill-style lounge (dark inside, live music, tequila) with a line out the door. Could this be the future of Belltown? Or indeed of fine dining everywhere?

Puritani%20set.jpg Amsellem%20%26%20Brownlee.jpg
God damn Bellini for writing an opera that requires four incredibly brilliant bel canto singers. And damn him again for a piece that runs well over 3 hours without a skerrick of a plot. God damn Seattle Opera for waiting until now to stage this rough beast.

Damn those effing Puritans for populating the set with lavish costumes that have about as much historical relevance to early 17th century as a turnip green. Damn the set, while we're at it, which looks like a tenement fire escape designed by Piranesi. Damn the international cast (French soprano, American tenor, Polish baritone, Canadian basso, Italian conductor), which stumbles unevenly through the first two acts until a rousing.duet (baritone, basso), Suoni la tromba, that sets up the transcendent third act.

At last, the soprano, Norah Amsellem, no longer trills and swoons like a lovesick madwoman. At last, the tenor, Seattle's own Lawrence Brownlee, gets to hit those amazing Bellini high notes. At last, the ensemble comes together, and even that damned torture-chamber of a set, draped with 50 banner-waving, axe-wielding, sword-brandishing singers and extras, looks stunning.

Did I say damn Bellini and damn Seattle Opera? No, God bless Bellini for his genius, God bless Seattle Opera for waiting, God bless Amsellem and Browlee for their talents! And in that same spirit of reconciliation, God bless CNN, MSMBC and Fox News as well.

Seattle Opera photos, above, by Rosarii Lynch and Bill Mohn. Alas, the video preview, produced by Seattle Opera, stops short of reuniting the lovers.

Seattle Opera presents I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini, McCaw Hall, through May 17th. Tickets by phone (206-389-7676) or online

Don't Google the Google Chef

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Food%202point0.jpgEmployee number 53, Charlie Ayers was hired in 1999 to run the lunchroom at Google. Before that, he'd been catering for musicians (including the Grateful Dead) around San Francisco. By the time he left six years later, still a hippie at heart, his staff of 150 was feeding 4,000 googlers a day at 10 locations. ("Well, wouldn't you know it,some people got fat.")

In a new cookbook, Food 2.0, Ayers wraps his "earth-friendly" culinary philosophy in elegant packaging from the folks at Dorling Kindersely. Divided into sections titled Smart Choices, the Smart Pantry and Smart Recipes, interspersed with "smart" words of wisdom like this: "Each meal is an opportunity to make a difference--in your body and your world."

The basic philosophy is expressed early-on: "Fast, raw, and organic: that's what I'm thinking when I cook." The emphasis, all too often, is on fast, though Ayers also confesses to liking beer ("a happiness item") and chocolate ("a non-geotiable part of my life"). Lots of granola, lots of smoothies, as one might expect. He freezes things with abandon: meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and disdains the microwave in favor of the crockpot. I was confounded, however, by a recipe for something called Glace de Vien, a reduction of bourbon, port, beef stock and herbs. What's that, pray tell? Googled it, I did. "No results found." A non-traditional, cutting-edge meat glace de viande, ya think? Or was the copy editor just out to lunch?

Decide for yourselves! The publishers will send free books to the first three Cornichon readers who ask. Click here to request a copy. Don't forget to include an address where the escargot can find you.

UPDATE: No more books, but...If you want to ask him in person, you can check out his
Seattle-area book signing:

Thursday, May 8
7:00 PM to 8:30 PM - Talk & book signing

Third Place Books
17171 Bothel Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA 98155

Vasco%20and%20Castillo.JPGTwo local techies, Chris Castillo and Joe Valvo, owners of the new Laughing Buddha brewery, follow the market price of hops with rapt attention. Five bucks a pound six months ago, a spike at $50, now settling down at a relatively affordable $20. Galena and Northern Brewer they buy for the bitterness in the brown ale, a Czech variety for the lager. So far, they've been getting what they need from other breweries. The grain comes from Larry's Brew Supply in Kent. The pandan? From Viet Wah, the Asian supermarket group.

Pandan, you ask? It's also known as screwpine, a plant native to Indonesia whose leaves give up a fragrant extract that's typically used to flavor rice and an assortment of baked and frozen desserts. Laughing Buddha uses it in their brown ale, which has a delightfully nutty taste and makes a terrific accompaniment to Asian food (from the subtlest sushi to fiercest phad thai).

Other flavors, too: ginger, mango, lychee, all designed to complement Asian food. Laughing Buddha is in an industrial building in South Park around the corner from Baron Brewing, a five-year-old outfit that rolls its eyes at such doings. They follow the Rheinheitsgebot, a Bavarian edict in 1516 that limited ingredients in beer to water, barley and hops. Germany actually repealed the regulation in 1987, but many brewers continue to maintain its standards. (American industrial brewers like Budweiser at one point switched from costly grain to cheaper rice, only to watch as rice became more expensive; the saving grace is that spent brewer's rice can be sold as dog food.)

Back to the Laughing guys: they got picked up by a serious distributor, Click Wholesale, and are brewing as fast as they can. Big ambitions: Castillo's hero is Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery, the godfather of the new wave of American craft brewers. Pandan in all 50 states? Why not?

Breathable%20Glass%20comparison.JPGWe humans are delusional; we think we have free will and immaculate perception. We don't rob Peter to pay Paul, we borrow from our friends so we can buy oil from our enemies. We turn our food supplies into even more fuel, and we'd grow yet more if only we could afford to import still more fertilizer from our neighbor to the north, even as we build a fence to keep out our neighbors from the south.

In this climate of public mistrust, we are encouraged to rely instead on the personal and private: our own sense of taste. Especially when it comes to wine, that most variable of beverages, we're told to "drink what you like." In this bottle, in that glass, we seek salvation.

Salvation from bad wine? No, improvement of good wine, but subito, vite, schnell, quickly! Can't wait for the subtle ravages of time to smooth tannins and ameliorate acids, gotta getta gimmick and, presto! The wine doesn't breathe, the glass breathes. So say wine gurus Robert Parker and Ronn Wiegand. Sez Cornichon, not so much.

We tried this new Breathable Crystal stemware with a second-tier Bordeaux, a Beaujolais and a Chinon, all decent wines that showed promise of improvement with time. Yes, tannins were tamed, but the wines seemed to lose their balance. In growing up so fast (two or three years in two or three minutes), they lost their youthful intensity.

We see the future with no more clarity than any mortal; but through this glass, our conclusion is "don't grow up too fast." Live within your means, live within your time.

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