July 2008 Archives

Red%20wine%20glasses.jpgYou can love hamburgers, go out of your way to eat them, even buy books about them, but nobody "collects" hamburgers or pretends you need an advanced degree in culinary science to "appreciate" them. Restaurants don't need a "burger master" with a fancy apron to expound on the subtleties of smoked bacon and cheddar. Nobody makes much of a fuss about the soil where the cows were raised.

So why is wine different? Except for the most rarified palates, except for the most exceptional bottles, wine is nothing more than fermented grape juice that's served with food. Basta!

However, as one whose living depends, at least in part, on teaching people something useful about wine, Cornichon hereby welcomes the prestigious Wine & Spirits Education Trust program to Seattle. One of Canada's top wine educators, Vancouver-based James Cluer, MW, is coming to Kirkland's Yarrow Bay Grill next month for two series of public classes: a four-session "Foundation" program followed by a nine-session "Intermediate" program. Not cheap ($444 and $850, respectively; register online), but there's plenty of superb wine plus excellent food from YBG chef Vicky McCaffree.

How'd this come about? Turns out that Cluer, one of just 26 Masters of Wine in North America, is pals with Allan Aquila, Yarrow Bay's general manager. Aquila's a wine enthusiast whose 5,000-bottle list at YBG has earned an Award of Excellent from Wine Spectator.

Nor is this the only wine destination at Carillon Point. bin vivant (that's the name, so help me) has just opened virtually next door, in the Woodmark Hotel. Sommelier Dawn Smith, late of Canlis, has a list of 80 wines by the glass (and many, many more by the bottle) to pair with food from Lisa Nakamura's kitchen; it's a wine-first dining experience unique to the region.

So, from one whose lunch today consisted of a bacon-cheese burger and a Pandan brown ale (at the Deluxe, on Broadway), this injunction: go ye forth and drink wine. It need not be complicated, expensive or snobby. If you insist on predictability, order a Coke. If you're looking for something slightly unpredictable, ask for the wine list. And if the guy or gal who brings it is wearing one of those fancy aprons, listen up. You might learn something useful.

Yarrow Bay Grill, 1270 Carillon Point, Kirkland 425-889-9052 Yarrow Bay Grill on Urbanspoon
bin vivant, Woodmark Hotel, 1200 Carillon Point, Kirkland 425-803-5595 Bin Vivant on Urbanspoon

starbucks.bmpJULY 31ST: Updated on my blog at Examiner.com: Live by the Latte, Die by the Latte"

It looks more and more like the Starbucks we grew up with has irretrievably lost its way. Every day brings news of layoffs and losses, maps of store closures, tanking stock price, deckchair shuffling in the executive suite, and the frantic introduction of new products (banana smoothies, indeed).

In the beginning, down at Pike Place, a regular customer would know every company employee by name. Now there are over 150,000 people on the Starbucks payroll, even after the layoffs. And what a bunch of gossips they are!

CEO Howard Schultz makes a big point of citing Starbucks as the world's most trusted brand, with over 40 millions of customers a week. Loyal they are, too, mounting (apparently spontaneous) protests to keep their forlorn neighborhood store open. But everyone's missing the point.

Starbucks was never about coffee; it was a cup to be seen with. To hold the Green Mermaid meant you'd navigated the shoals of barista-speak ("Fritalian"), and that you had the ready cash to spend on high-end snacks. Those days are over, and fiddling with the product mix ("leveraging new platforms") is pointless. Blame Howard's hubris, blame the economy, blame gas prices, blame stupid real estate choices if you will, but today's Starbucks is just another candy store.

Carl%20Lowenstein%20%26%20Pierre%20Trimbach%20pour.JPGWoodinville is the world capital of riesling this week as 75 winemakers from seven countries and six U.S. states gather for a three-day professional conference. A public tasting on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle kicked off the event, which highlighted the range of riesling styles (from elegant to powerful, from bone dry to decadently sweet) as well as their compatability with food. It's the second year for Riesling Rendezvous, another indication that Ste. Michelle is serious about its pre-eminent position in the wine industry and isn't waiting around for hamstrung, politically-correct trade associations to take action.

"Riesling is the fastest-growing white wine category for the last three years," says Ste. Michelle's president Ted Baseler, and more of it is produced in Washington's Columbia Valley than anywhere else in the country. Ste. Michelle itself owns 3,500 acres of riesling vineyards, and is in a partnership with German winemaker Dr. Ernst Loosen to produce a line of high-end domestic rieslings.

Among the attendees, Rheingau viticulturist Carl Prinz zu Löwenstein (foreground, wine all herbs and flintstone) and Alsatian Pierre Trimbach (dry, ideal for shellfish). Other producers came from Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Michigan, even (gulp!) New Jersey. What, ya got sumpthin gainst Joisey?

Watch Us Leapfrog Philly

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Seattle is now Number 18! The Emerald City, for all its faults, has overtaken the City of Brotherly Love and moved up a notch on the list of American tourist destinations. That's the word from Global Insight, a Massachusetts outfit that counts visitors. The weak dollar and more convenient international flights (Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, etc.) combined to make Seattle an attractive destination for European travelers, not to mention all that good press we've been getting (you know, green mayor, bicycle-friendly town, etc.).

The top three cities, predictably: Noo Yawk, Dizneywhirl, Vegas. We've got a ways to go if we're gonna catch up.

Chef%20Philippe.JPGThe chef, Philippe Thomelin, was born in France and found his culinary home in Andalusia. Now that he lives in Seattle (his wife grew up here), he's found the perfect spot for his new restaurant, Olivar, in the historic Loveless Building on Capitol Hill.

The original space was occupied by an utterly charming café called the Russian Samovar, that was decorated in 1931, by Vladimir Shkurkin, a classically-trained Russian artist who created murals based on a fairy tale--about a swan that turns into a princess--by Alexander Pushkin. (Shkurkin's work in Seattle also graced the old Civic Auditorium, the Eagles Auditorium and the Egyptian Building.)

A great location, opposite the Harvard Exit, just down from the Deluxe Bar & Grill (another Capitol Hill institution), next to Joe Bar, but unlucky: after the Samovar came Byzantium, then Bacchus, then Fork, then CoCo-La-Tida, then darkness.

Now the bright Mediterranean light of an olive grove, Olivar. Small plates (vegetable terrine, gazpacho, potato omelet) that you'd find at a bar like Txori. Larger plates (stuffed provençal peppers, rabbit with garlic sauce). Inexpensive wines.

Thomelin has worked in top local kitchens (Il Terrazzo, Cascadia, Voilà Harvest Vine), taught cooking classes and run his own catering company, Olive Tree. Opening his own place is a big leap of faith, but he's surrounded by evidence of a fairy tale with a happy ending.

Olivar, 805 E. Roy, Seattle, 206-322-0409 Olivar on Urbanspoon

Recession? Not in Belltown


Qube%2C%20now%20for%20sale.JPG Branzino%20at%20Branzino.JPG Pork%20Belly%20Sliders%20at%20Spur.JPG Mid-town, mid-summer might not strike you as the best time to launch a restaurant. You'd be wrong. That doesn't mean, however, that the food lives up to the concepts.

Spur has opened where the Mistral once wafted. Billed as a gastropub, the opening menu is one item short of a baker's dozen. Terrific cocktails from the hand of bar manager David Nelson (late of Marjorie), but weird plate of pork belly sliders, overly salty and pretentious with treacly, smoked orange mustard on the inside, redundant ribbon of sherry reduction on the plate, topped with bitter greens. And it's expensive--$13 for two sliders. Co-chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough have sound credentials, so one would hope to see better things here.

Branzino (the fish) has finally made it to Branzino. (the restaurant). Sorry to say, it wasn't worth the wait. Had an order late one night, chef Ashley Merriman nowhere in sight, must have gone home. Fish was way underdone, but it's doubtful that even a proper cooking would have saved it from a misconceived presentation: something called “green gazpacho,” with almonds and champagne grapes. Simultaneously too bitter and unnecessarily sweet. Not surprisingly, the Pee Eye's tongue-tied, taste-deaf resto critic, Leslie Kelly, loves it.

Look for Kushibar to open in a couple of weeks with 40 feet of newly-built sidewalk patio along Second Avenue. Billy Beach of Umi Sake House will be exec chef, menu to feature Japanese-style skewers of grilled meat. Also ramen, a challenge to Noodle Ranch (described earlier as the "Dan Quayle of noodle parlors") just across the street.

Two-year-old gastropub Black Bottle (which sells very tasty pork belly with kim chi for just $9, by the way) is about to turn the adjacent storefront (mothballed since the place opened) into a 32-seat private dining room. Customer demand, says co-owner Chris Linker.

Buckley's is moving into the space occupied by Marjorie at Second and Battery. sometime in November. It's not a “move,” per se; the original Buckley' will remain on Lower Queen Anne, rather, it's a homecoming of sorts for owner Tim Buckley: he was one of the last managers at the old Belltown Pub.

But it's not all summer sunshine. Qube, the well-meaning but quirky French-Asian restaurant at Second & Stewart, has served its last exotic cocktail. No surprise that owner Fu-Shen Chang blames the economic downturn.

Branzino on Urbanspoon Spur Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Divine Guidance

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Divine%20Spanokopita.JPG Divine%20ribbons.JPG Winner of “Best Entrée” at this weekend's Bite of Seattle was Divine, a “modern Greek” restaurant out on Roosevelt Way with a delicious, bite-sized Spanakopita: phyllo puff pastry filled with spinach and feta, served on a base of fondue made from kasseri and ouzo, the whole thing drizzled with balsamic reduction.

At $3.75, it was also one of the tastiest morsels at this year's Bite. Didn't care as much for their baklava (too sweet for my taste, but named "Best Dessert" nonetheless).

Bite benefited from decent weather, compared to last year's rain. Generally good-natured and patient crowds put up with overstuffed dogs, strollers, Jesus-freaks, conspiracy theorists, sidewalk vendors, health-food pamphleteers, the aromas of outdoor cooking facilities for dozens of restaurants (not a single one from Belltown!) and the cacophony of half a dozen music stages.

Divine, 7918 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, 206-526-7919
Divine on Urbanspoon

DAIRY-QUEEN-TRIPLE-CHOCOLAT.jpgYour Highness, may we present Mr. Schultz from Starbucks?

The world we thought we knew is upside down and backwards, wouldn't you agree? Food is more expensive because we're turning corn into fuel, but gas is still $4 a gallon. A study published today by Research and Markets reports, breathlessly, that 71 percent of Americans are now cooking more at home. (And cooking "gourmet" food at that.)

Meanwhile Starbucks has identified the 600 stores it intends to close. Many of them, it turns out, are in minority neighborhoods. The enthusiastic welcome given Starbucks in these communities--a sort of "we've arrived!"--is turning bitter.

In Chicago, the closings include stores in largely minority areas in the south suburbs as well as neighborhoods on Chicago's South and West Sides. "Starbucks became symbolic of a community that was changing and in transition," says the director of the Near West Side Community Development Corp. "To take that away, it's a blow to a community."

Meantime, Dairy Queen is testing new stores in urban markets, opening six stores in (of all places), Chicago. Yes, Dairy Queen and her ever-present Sancho Panza, Orange Julius. (Make that "Julius, Prince of Orange.")

The DQ brand has long been a brand associated with small towns and suburbs, while Orange Julius joints have rarely ventured outside shopping malls. What's their product strategy? Why, smoothies, of course. DQ wants to become known as a "treat center."

Vivanno and Frappuccino, you're in the treat business, right? Meet Blizzard and Triple Chocolate Utopia. You should have a lot in common.

Then again, "plays well with others" probably isn't going to be the deciding factor.

Moon Over Magnolia

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Caprese%20salad%20at%20Palisade.JPG Moonrise%20from%20Palisade.JPG

Tis the season: fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, full flavors, full moon. If it gets any better, we'll explode.

Is it gilding the lilly when the cooks at Palisade put a chopped cherry-tomato dressing atop a slice of heirloom tomato? Not the classic Caprese, but why quibble. Are we turning the kitchen into a science lab when chef de cuisine Robin Uyeda uses liquid nitrogen to freeze basil oil and balsamic vinegar into pea-sized pellets? Nah, it actually works.

Even better, the moon rises on cue. Don't know what parent company RUI pays for this prime Magnolia real estate, but it's worth every penny.

Palisade on Urbanspoon

Post%20Alley%20festival.JPGA moonlit evening of liberté, égalité and, I guess, fraternité at Seattle's Pike Place Market. Campagne continues its traditional bi-level celebration of Bastille Day with high-priced dinner upstairs for Royalists, street fare in Post Alley for Revolutionaries.

Time warp since last post three years ago (gulp!): Nikki Schiebel still cooking like a demon, Daisely Gordon still watching like a hawk. Scallops with risotto and duck breast with cherries anchor a five-course, $80 menu. In the dining room, wine director Cyril Fréchier offers two flights of five wines ($40 and $75).

The alley, for its part, is jammed, Le Pichet is jammed. Maximilien is jammed. Place Pigalle is jammed. Down by the Dumpsters on Pike Place, a couple of plump, tatooed gals on a smoke break wonder what's going on. "Bastyr Day, I think," one says to the other. "The French Revolution."

"Oh, yeah? So tell me, what'd the French Revolution ever do for lesbians?"

Nicki%20Scheibel.JPG Duck%20breast%20at%20Campagne.JPG

Schultz%20at%20Pike%20Place-1.JPGCast a pitying glance at Howard Schultz, if you must. The oft-admired, much-maligned head of Starbucks faces ever-greater challenges, now that the Sonics are out of his hair for good.

He's closing hundreds of stores, but the trade press is still complaining that there are too many Starbucks (except, of course, for the one on your block). The new blend, Pike Place Roast, that Schultz introduced to shush folks who complained that Starbucks was "over-roasted," is getting poor reviews from diehard coffee fans. Duncan Donuts is selling coffee drinks you can order "in English, not Fritalian." (Tell me again, what language is "latte"?) Even Mickey D is selling espresso.

So what's next for Howard? Two things. First, a new dessert concoction, described in breathless prose by Condé Naste Portfolio: it's affogato. Idiots, I can hear millions of Italians muttering..Affogato ("drowned," in Italian) is no more than a shot of espresso poured over gelato. Local coffee outfit called Torrefazione used to serve it, until they were bought out and shut down by...um, Starbucks.

Which brings us to the present day. The latest step down the garden path is to be called Vivanno, a fruit smoothie. (Sounds Fritalian to me.) Not just any fruit but...banana! And not just banana, but banana with added protein powder for the health-counscious and added fiber for the geriatric set. Says Rob Grady, Starbucks' beverage vice president. "It's a new platform for us."

It's a slippery slope, no? Let's hope the banana platform is more stable than the banana hammock. And that the forgotten fog of affogato past doesn't spoil our sunny summer.

Screen%20shot%201.jpg Screen%20shot%202.jpg Ethan%20and%20Adam%20of%20Urban%20Spoon-5.JPG

Confluence of Apple and local tech talent: Seattle startup UrbanSpoon (a nifty restaurant review site with Yelp-like feedback features, but for serious and knowledgeable foodies) has written a free app for the new iPhone.

Says co-founder Ethan Lowry: "When Apple announced that they were going to allow thirrd parties to write apps for the iPhone, we applied, and they accepted." How does it work? Part magic eight ball, part slot machine: you shake the phone, and it randomly displays the name of a nearby restaurant, using the iPhone's motion sensor and GPS.

Hundreds of downloads already this morning, and the new phone doesn't even go on sale until tomorrow. Since the app is free, Lowry and business partner Adam Doppelt won't earn royalties as such, but it's safe to say that their ad-supported website, with restaurant listings in over 50 cities, will benefit handsomely from the additional traffic. Update!

Cornichon's not a completely disinterested observer, we should point out, since we're in the top ten of UrbanSpoon's blogging contributors.

About this Archive

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

June 2008 is the previous archive.

August 2008 is the next archive.

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