June 2008 Archives

No Yukons

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Just received an email from salmon guru Jon Rowley: "There won't be any Yukon kings. Somber time in the Yukon Delta villages."

Says Jack Schultheiss of the native cooperative, Kwikpak Fisheries, "Life is not good here. The fish are not running. And things are going from bad to worse." Only half as many fish as expected, not enough to replenish the run.

What happened? Blame the demand for fish sticks and "krab," both made from pollock, a billion-dollar fishery that indiscriminately traps migrating salmon as about 100 pollock trawlers troll the shallow mouth of the Yukon River. Tens of thousands of Yukons have been lost, half the run, and a run that was unusually low to begin with.

There's more on the Gourmet blog and the CBC News site.

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The French call it Le Temps des Cerises, the Time of Cherries, the brief, shining moment when all's right with the world. For some, that's April, when the cherry trees are in their pink-blossom splendor. For the rest of us, it's mid-June to mid-August, when the fruit is ripe: cherry season.

It doesn't last long, so do yourself a favor and buy this now: a cherry pitter. Then you can take advantage of the sales. Cherries were $7.99 a pound last week at Safeway, $5.99 at the new Kress IGA downtown, but only $2.99 at QFC.

Says Robb Myers of CMI, a major grower and shipper based in Wenatchee, "Cherries are one of the few remaining items that have a true seasonality, and that really helps with the consumer demand since they don’t get tired of having them all year."

The only fruit that exceeds the economic importance of cherries in Washington is apples, roughly double. (Wine grapes are worth a bit more but don't get sold directly to consumers.) Still, "The 2007 crop was worth $580 million dollars in terms of direct sales from the industry to retailers and the export market," reports Andrew Willis of the Washington State Fruit Commission.. Depending on the year, 10 to 15 million "cartons," boxes of 40 lbs, sold locally and exported to 62 countries.

Cherry orchards cover 36,000 acres, but this ain't giant agribiz. Some 2,500 families grow cherries, some orchards as small as 5 acres. And here's a botanical footnote: cherries are drupes, same as apricots, peaches and plums.

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Until today, Belltown was the last neighborhood in Seattle without a pho parlor. No longer. Black Bottle, that estimable watering hole for the the Under 30 set, is now serving an elegant pho made with beef brisket that's braised to medium-rare, then roasted to order. The lean and fatty bits--and it's a huge amount of meat--meet up in the broth, and pho, of course, is all about the broth: beef bones, star anise, rock sugar, fennel, cinnamon, simmered for five hours. (Work starts at 6 AM, which means that Brian Durbin's kitchen now runs 22-plus hours a day.) Basil, lime, jalapenos, spouts, a dish of plum sauce and sri racha, weighty china and substantial chopsticks, too.

The pho is $7, a bargain anywhere. Also on the lunch menu: tacos, pastrami sandwiches, squid salad, cioppino. In daylight, without the wall-to-wall sweet young things, peace descends and Black Bottle's like another world: heaven.

And a footnote. Yet another gastropub is on its way to these parts, name of Spur. Coming soon to Blanchard, between 1st and 2nd, where Mistral once stood. Not like "Spur-Of-The-Moment," but Spur, what a cowpoke wears on his boots. Don't see many cowpokes in Belltown; more of a Capitol Hill denizen, you'd think.

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UPDATE, July 1: Nick Castleberry is no longer in the kitchen, and Chuck Bourg is leaving this month. Zack Millican, formerly at Cascadia, is the new chef, delivering smaller portions, higher prices, and, sorry to say, less finesse.

Artemis Café, on a gentrified sidestreet at the intersection of Bellevue Avenue, Bellevue Place and Bellevue Court, perches on Capitol Hill's western slope, but it's very much the sort of place every neighborhood needs: friendly, airy, moderately priced. There's a $6 cocktail, the Bitter End, made with gin, campari and grapefruit freshly squeezed by barman Chuck Bourg. The kitchen, headed by Nick Castleberry (late of Sitka & Spruce), turns out upscale comfort food (seared scallops, pork belly, venison) for under $20.

This is the kind of place Yelpers can't stand; it's not a high-energy corporate outpost that emphasizes phony "customer service" over good food and laid-back atmosphere. Castleberry himself responded to one particularly whiney post with a rousing Cheney-ism. Way to go, Nick!

Artemis Café, 757 Bellevue Avenue E., 206-860.2752 Artemis Café & Bar on Urbanspoon

Fountain of Delight

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Do you cook at home? Do you make risotto? It's a culinary challenge, involving lots of chopping, stirring, pre-measured ingredients, pots & pans for the base, the stock, the flavorings. Guys say that making risotto with their girlfriends is the ultimate aphrodisiac: there's lots of stuff to do and taste together, with a lush, aromatic payoff.

Risotto in a restaurant, on the other hand, is all-too-often hit and miss. At best, it's sublime, but at worst, it's an excuse to dump leftovers into boiled rice. At La Fontana Siciliana, there's no question: it's an unqualified hit.

In the cozy, low-ceilinged room overlooking a courtyard fountain, under banners of the Sicilian flag, dinners are served at antique library tables set for two. Opera music plays discreetly. The owner's daughter takes your order. Start with a bruschetta, perhaps, or a caprese salad (the mozzarella served on orange slices rather than flavorless tomatoes).

The special's a risotto with chestnuts and sausage, not to be missed. In the kitchen, owner-chef Mario Fuenzalida prepares the risotto to order: arborio rice, chestnuts, sausage and truffle oil, topped with shavings of parmigiano-reggiano and garnished with an ornamental swoosh of balsamic. The flavors and textures come together effortlessly, as they should: Mario's been cooking for decades and has nurtured a whole school of Italian restaurateurs (La Vita è Bella, Mondello and Sorrentino, to name three).

No one else in town even thinks of putting pasta con le sarde on the menu. It's a traditional Sicilian dish: spaghetti with a sauce based on sardines, fennel, pine nuts and raisins, too time-consuming and complicated for most kitchens. Even Mario doesn't have it every day, so call ahead.

La Fontana Siciliana, 120 Blanchard Ave., 206-441-1045 La Fontana Siciliana on Urbanspoon

Don't Go There

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El%20Santo%20cocktail%20at%20Saint.JPGThe Saint Social Club, in a lurid, turquoise blue building on Capitol Hill, claims to offer "Tequila Salvation." The menu talks a good game, promising handmade tortillas, salsas and soups; fresh juices, syrups and infusions, and a cocktail list of "timeless classics and original creations." The drink we ordered, an $11 El Santo, was composed of Sauza Hornitos Reposado, Cointreau and sour-mix-from-scratch. A saintly cocktail (although surely one of the minor saints), prepared by a barkeep named Gloria, who didn't know whether or when The Saint offered a happy hour. They do, until 6, but not on the drinks. Saint on Urbanspoon

Buffalo Deli, a storefront on First Avenue in Belltown, offers an array of lunchtime, takeout sandwiches for $7.50, including a BLT with thick-cut peppered bacon and Bibb lettuce. What's with this sudden mania for peppered bacon in Seattle? Deli sandwiches are supposed to have thin-sliced meat, no? So you don't have to chomp through the whole mess at once and dribble mayonnaise down your shirt. Regular bacon, crispy-crisp, please! And if you're going to put your website address, BuffaloDeli.com, in neon on the front window, folks, you should seriously consider actually having a website with that address. Buffalo Deli on Urbanspoon

Wann Izakaya, also in Belltown, has a whole Happy Hour menu, too many to try all at once. So had a plain sake, perfectly okay, and a couple of snacks. The kurabota pork sausages (Japanese black hog) just tasted like old breakfast links; the "fried angel hair" was worse: deep-fried cappellini, sprinkled with kosher salt. Imagine eating an old broom, and eat those crispy stalks you probably will, but you'll hate yourself for every bite. Wann Japanese Izakaya on Urbanspoon

The Cab Not Taken


YellowCab.jpgThe weather, it just gets worse.

Hoping for summer? Keep hope alive! Remember spring? Surely, we must have had one. (Missed it last year; we were in the bathroom.) Wait, a dim memory: a vague recollection of a spring-like afternoon last week. It comes back to us now. We were on upper Queen Anne. A whole street of yellow blossoms catches our eye. Goldenchain, they call those trees, don't they? Laburnum, in the garden store.

Ah, spring, when a young man's fancy turns. Thoughts of love, thoughts of travel.

A taxi driver pulls up in front of a house to wait for his fare. We could take this cab to SeaTac and fly to Merry Olde England! Drink warm, flat, bitter beer. Hop on the Eurostar to Paree! Eat escargots and drink Beaujolais. Honk! Daydream downshifts. Honk-honk!! Realism sets in. Would get hammered by the euro and pounded by the pound. Besides, somebody else is getting into the cab.

Anyway, for a brief, shining moment it was spring in Seattle.

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"She sent the fish back!" says Peter Lamb of his new chef, Ashley Merriman (most recently at Brasa). "And, frankly, she was right."

So the "in paper" baked fish preparation on Branzino's opening night was halibut instead of Mediterranean sea bass (aka branzino). Mackerel and octopus were also on the menu, along with homemade mozzarella, lamb sausage, and asparagus in a rich, bacon-fat hollandaise.

We ordered Branzino's first Negroni from bartender Miles Thomas and look forward to tasting some of the pastas.

Branzino, 2429 Second Avenue, 206-728-5181. Website to come. Branzino on Urbanspoon

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Paul Allen's development of South Lake Union, with at least a dozen new buildings devoted to high-tech enterprises and grandiose plans to become a highrise virtual downtown, extends uphill and eastward to encompass the residential neighborhood known as Cascade. REI built its headquarters here and surrounded it with a lovely garden; the grand old St. Spiridon orthodox church stands guard over a street of new construction. One facade of Alley 24 remains untouched; the other side is a new "green" apartment building. But is the neighborhood just putting up a good front?

A German restaurant called Feierabend (literally "quitting time" or "day off"), in the Cairns apartments, is a good example of the uncertainty. Yes, there are 18 taps of German beer, each served in authentic logo glassware. But then?

Let's take a cheese appetizer called Obatzter (that's the way it's spelled on the menu, although it's also known throughout Bavaria as Obazda). It's made with a soft cheese like brie or camembert, mashed up with butter, onions and paprika. Was seduced by it at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich last spring, couldn't wait to try it at Feierabend. Alas, even with an excellent pretzel from Ravenna's Morning Star bakery, the "Obatzter" was no more than a disappointing dollop, flanked by two varieties of mustard. (The mustards would return, on a later visit, on a plate of Landjaeger sausages--Germany's version of almost inedible beef jerky.)

Plenty of gloss, not enough substance. Pity. Feierabend on Urbanspoon

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Playing Catch-Up


Gotta remember: pay the goddamn hosting bill and renew the domain name. Two steps, not just one. Did the one, not the other. As a result, the site was down & out for the weekend, sorry. (Didn't even know I was gone? Harrumph!) Anyway, let's catch up on what Cornichon has been eating and drinking over the past few days.


Top row:
* Kona-crusted dry-aged sirloin at Capital Grille downtown, topped with caramelized shallot butter. Same corporate owners as Olive Garden, much better food.
* Lone Star Chili at Austin Cantina in Ballard. No beans, no distractions, just slow-simmered, grass-fed, Walla Walla beef.
* Gin Ginjo martini at Qube in Belltown. Made with Hendricks, sake and muddled orchids. Could have used more punch, for my taste at any rate.

Middle row:
* Lovely sunset supper at Elliott's, a cobb salad with shrimp and crabmeat.
* Pretzel with Obatzler at Feierabend in the Cascade neighborhood. Tasty blend of soft-ripened cheese, butter, onions, paprika, but, gee, not more than two tablespoons! More on this Bavarian favorite shortly.
* Tuna salad at Boulangerie Nantaise in Belltown. Good selection of sandwiches and quiche, too.

Bottom row:
* At Union Square Grill downtown, burrata (a creamy mozzarella from River Valley Ranch) with spring onion at their annual cheese dinner.
* Gnochetti with asparagus at Osteria La Spiga on Capitol Hill. Remarkable lack of interesting asparagus preparations in Seattle this year. Pity.
* Shrimp tartaletta at Txori in Belltown. They're putting the finishing touches on the new deck, ready any day now.

Also in Belltown, Branzino (no website yet) opens tomorrow. It's an informal Italian seafood parlor (branzino being the Italian term for Mediterranean sea bass) at the corner of First and Wall, run by Peter Lamb, Michael Don Ricco and Wei Fu (owner of the no-sushi Japanese restaurant En, which formerly occupied the space).
Feierabend on Urbanspoon Txori Bar on Urbanspoon Capital Grille on Urbanspoon Union Square Grill on Urbanspoon Elliott's Oyster House on Urbanspoon Boulangerie Nantaise on Urbanspoon Osteria la Spiga on Urbanspoon

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

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