December 2008 Archives

New Year's Resolution

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Pizza%20w%20artichokes%20at%20Sorrentino.JPGHere's a resolution I hope we can all get behind: let's go out more in 2009. More dinners at family-run restaurants, more happy hour cocktails at locally owned bars, more weekend getaways to nearby B&Bs.

It makes sense to spend money closer to home, and what's closer than your neighborhood diner, your local café? If you want to see them survive the downturn, if you appreciate their contribution to the city where you live, your patronage is vital to keeping them alive.

Remember Michael Pollan's injunction: if you enjoy your view, if you want to keep your view (of farms and fields), then eat your view. If you don't want to see that farmland turned into housing tracts, you have to buy and eat the food produced by local farmers. Same thing with local businesses.

Whether you live in Belltown, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, Greenwood, West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Georgetown or South Park, you've got favorite places to shop and eat. Now more than ever, those local merchants and restaurateurs are depending on your patronage.

Thomas Friedman had a simple-minded column in the New York Times the other day suggesting people stay home and save money. Especially younger folks, who tend to live in densely populated neighborhoods. But eating out is part of the social fabric of city living. It simply isn't reasonable to expect younger singles to stay home.

The supermarkets? Well, they're doing great. Record quarter (up 11 percent) for locally owned Metropolitan Markets, I'm told. Those are food dollars people spent at the store instead of going out to eat. Hospitality at home is great (if you've got a home), but putting on a party with grocery-store takeout isn't going to save all that much money, if you look at all the costs.

Back to the restaurants, then. Every place I've visited over the past few weeks has a new menu with lower prices, so a night out won't cost as much as it used to, even if it's pizza or lasagna. And at a restaurant, you're getting a meal or a drink prepared by people whose interest is served by serving you; they even clean up afterwards.

It's worth remembering that the restaurant industry in this country is rougly the same size as the automobile industry. On the other hand, with tens of thousands of individual business owners, it doesn't have nearly the political clout as Detroit's Big Three. Except for McDonald's and Starbucks, there are few national players. But millions of people work in restaurants as waiters, cooks and dishwashers. Millions more depend on restaurants to buy their products and services. You may not see ads for an all-new, 500-horsepower Pasta Perfecta or its rivals, the sleek and stylish Sirloin Supra or the powerful Porkbelly Primo. Restaurants aren't asking for a multi-billion-dollar bailout; they just want you to come in for a test-drive.

Belltown Bravo Aw@rds

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Skewered%20peppers%20%26%20anchovies.JPGEnd of year, thus time for annual Belltown Bravo Aw@rds. Don't get too excited; I'm not. Hasn't been a particularly good year for restaurants in this nabe, in my view. We lost some good ones (Cascadia, Qube, Marjorie), got some interesting new ones (Branzino, Kushibar, Tilikum Place, Spur) and the very promising Taberna del Alabardero, but overall, it hasn't been mouthwatering. Best promotions are still coming from the shoebox-sized Txori (the Tamborada, the San Firmin festival, the monthly Txoco dinners). For consistency and value, previous winners Steelhead Diner and Black Bottle contiue to lead the pack. The real restaurant action these days is in Ballard, Capitol Hill, and (gulp) Bellevue.

That said, Tavolata has a new happy hour, 5-7 weeknights. For $2, you get a bowl of that wonderful beet salad, or garbanzo bean salad, or roasted chestnuts, or a plate of prosciutto. Txori, for its part, starts happy hour in January, 4-6 every night. A buck off wine or Basque drinks like Kalimotxo (red wine & coke), $4 wells. Food specials not set at press time. And at Taberna. an early-ending happy hour (3-6 at press time, though that barely brings a smile to Belltown these days) with half-price wines, $4 glasses of delicious red or white sangria, and half-price appetizers. Some great values here, especially the skewered prawns and octopus, the peppers and anchovies, and the jamon iberico, all under $2.

And value we're looking for, folks. That $65, 2-lb T-bone at Tavolata? Don't count on selling too many. Nor the $45 (up from “only” $42 two weeks ago) veal shank at Branzino. For two, you say? Funny, the menu doesn't.

And In Other News: Just Us Girls

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Lions%20at%20Buckley%27s.JPGCornichon doesn't watch much TV anymore, now that we're not getting paid to produce shows or critique them. Just The Daily Show at 11, then lights out. But TDS is on hiatus for the holidays, and there's all this freakish weather to worry about in Seattle these days, so we flipped on Channel Five's newscast last night.

There was Lori Matsukawa, we remember her. And Mimi Jung, that's right. Saw her once next to Allen Schauffler on a weekend newscast. How cool is that? Two Asian females co-anchoring. And no big deal, either. (Not even a press release. Maybe it's an almost-everyday thing by now.)

Now the big story: tomorrow's weather. We're just catching the audio now, a voice like Sarah Palin! What, the meteorologist's a woman, too? Shannon O'Donnell, haven't seen her before.

By the time Lisa Gangel comes on with sports, we've figured it out: except for Jim Foreman's live feed from somewhere (count on Jim to be out in the storm), all the KING's men are either on Mastodon Duty or home baking cookies.


Open for a couple of weeks now on Capitol Hill's new Dining Row (12th Avenue between Pike and Pine), Barrio is on the ground floor of the recently completed Trace Lofts. Its niche is upscale Latin, part Mexican, part Spanish, part Inquisition. It's a venture by Larry and Tabitha Kurnofsky, the folks who operate the three Purple Wine Bar & Café (locations in Kirkland, Woodinville and downtown Seattle), and more concepts coming (see below), all under a new management company they call Heavy Restaurant Group.

The atmosphere at Barrio owes a lot to the heavy (even over-wrought) wrought-iron decor that Kurofsky pioneered at Purple's original eastside locations. From the moment you swing open Barrio's massive oak doors, you know you're not at Ikea anymore; it feels like you're in a medieval dungeon. The term barrio has come to have a meaning akin to ghetto; it really connotes a neighborhood. (Not, as in southern California, an underprivileged Hispanic enclave. And the word ghetto, for that matter, comes from the slag-heap in Venice where Jews were exiled.) You won't find tar-paper shacks in this nabe, no, señor,. Every element of the decor bespeaks substance and seriousness.

At the Purple Cafe in downtown Seattle, the imposing wine list begins with 14 flights of four wines, dozens of wines by the glass, and continues for 82 pages around the world. But the shortest of shrift is given to Spain. This is remedied at Barrio, where the beverage list features Mexican tequilas and Spanish wines.

Lead barman is Casey Robison, who's in the Murray Stenson-Jamie Boudreau mold of serious cocktail professionals. He uses only blue agave in his cocktails; makes his own sangria, makes his own sangrita (the citrus-based sippers that typically accompany shots of tequila); hand-cracks the ice cubes. You might think he even hand-cracked the ceramic tiles that top the bar.

As at the several Purples, the kitchen at Barrio has been assigned an ambitious menu. Much is justly said in favor of the duck confit tacos, served with a cherry-ancho salsa; no less tasty are the fresh seafood dishes (steamed mussels, crab cakes) and Spanish-style lamb chops and grilled rib-eye steak. Appetizers priced under $10, main courses in the mid-teens, and a separate tapas menu for happy hour.

Now, moving beyond the Capitol Hill Castillo, what's next for Heavy Restaurants? Another Barrio, another Purple and a dessert café, all to open next year in the 43-story Bellevue Towers. The third spot? Ah, if you read the headline, you already know: Bliss.

Barrio, 1420 12th Avenue, 206-588-8105   Barrio Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Red (tomato-based) and green (lime-based) sangritas; wall of 200 candles at Barrio.

Two Smart Women Update Oddfellows

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Nightlife maven Linda Derschang (left) partners with Ericka Burke for a new, all-day venture.

First, the location, an empty dance studio with 18-foot ceilings in the Oddfellows building at 10th and Pine, at the edge of the Pike-Pine Triangle. Next, lounge developer Linda Derschang, with a 15-year string of successful ventures under her belt: Linda's and Smith on Capitol Hill, King's Hardware in Ballard, Rob Roy (originally Viceroy) in Belltown. Then a celebrated neighborhood chef, Ericka Burke of Volunteer Park Café.

Derschang's signature is spot-on decor. At Oddfellows, everything looks original and some of it really is (wainscoting, portraits), but the benches along the walls are former pews from St. Joseph's on 19th, the classroom chairs were found in Massachusetts, and the tables were custom-built with locally salvaged lumber.

Burke's food isn't as complicated as her classic menus for the denizens of North Capitol Hill's elegant mansions; after all, Oddfellows is a neighborhood café. Starting at 7 AM with coffee (from Stumptown), baked eggs, homemade oatmeal and pastries baked on the premises, moving through lunchtime BLTs to comfort-food dinners like shepherds pie, braised pork shank and rotisserie chicken. "The food will be be great value, delicious and comforting," Burke promises. Simple, rustic, locally sourced.

IOOF, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows originated in early 19th century England, a charitable organization whose members shunned recognition for their good works. Active in the United States, it became the first fraternity to welcome women as members, and in fact named its highest honor the Rebekah Degree. The Seattle chapter built its grand lodge at the turn of the 20th century, leasing space to--among other tenants--the Faurot Academy of Dancing. When developer Ted Schroth finished renovating building this year, he kept the academy's well-used hardwood dance floor and expansive windows overlooking 10th Avenue, the space Derschang and Burke will now infuse with savory new life, starting with dinner service tonight at 5. Full bar, of course.

Oddfellows Cafe, 10th Avenue, 206-325-0807 Oddfellows Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Creminelli.JPGPity the pig, reviled as a filthy glutton in our language and our literature. Fortunately, cooks, farmers and sausage-makers know better; they praise the pig, revere it as the embodiment of everything delicious.

Sadly, fresh pork spoils fast. It needs to be cooked and eaten before it decomposes, breaks down under the assualt of micro-enzymes...or else preserved somehow. Refrigeration slows decay, freezing kills unwanted bacteria. But man has long preserved his food in other ways as well: smoking, sweetening, salting, air drying.

Simply put, the harmful bacteria cannot live in a dry, salty environment. But the process of salting has many variables and success takes both a scientist and an artisan.

Cristiano Creminelli's family has been in the salami business for literally hundreds of years, for the last century with a thriving little company in Piedmont, 50 miles northeast of Turin in the foothills of the Italian Alps. But exports (to the USA, at least) proved impossible. When the 2006 winter Olympics were held in Turin, Cristiano crossed paths with Seattle marketing exec Jared Lynch, and the stage was set for an international expansion: a manufacturing facility, a website, distributors nationwide and a retail outlet at the Pike Place Market. It's a story Cristiano (with snapshots) tells on the Creminelli blog.

The product line is limited to "artisan meats." Six kinds of sausage you have to cook, seven or eight that have been air-dried. Number 8 is a salami made with white Alba truffles that's only available for a short time every winter.

And although you can purchase these delicacies at the Pike Place Market, you might wonder where this actually comes from. No, not from Italy but from a town called Springville, Utah, an artsy community of 20,000 on the shores of Lake Utah, some 50 miles south of Salt Lake City. Why Utah? Pleasant scenery aside, its location provides easy access to a consortium of sustainable farms of in northern Utah, eastern Oregon and southern Idaho. No less important is its exceptionally dry climate, because Creminelli's sausages aren't cooked; they're conditioned for at least three weeks, a time when the parameters of humidity and temperature determine your salami's future. Get it wrong and it's unfit. Get it right and it's heaven.

Creminelli, 93 Pike Place Market #2, 206-626-6328,

Foodistas%20Barnaby%20%26%20Sheri.JPGYou want to tinker with that recipe you found online? Go right ahead. Anyone can edit, it's a wiki. It's also a comprehensive directory that links ingredients, techniques, tools and pictures. Designed and built by three local entrepreneurs, the Seattle-based site launched today.

Foodista is the brainchild of three veterans of, Barnaby Dorfman (ceo), Sheri Wetherell (vp editorial) and Colin Saunders (cto). Dorfman, who'd also worked at Internet Movie Database, realized that people looking for information about movies, say, tend to use the web, but that people are still inclined to use cookbooks when it comes to recipes. Sure there are a couple of big sites for cooking: (based in Seattle, recently purchased by Readers Digest) and being the two biggest. But those sites aren't particularly user-friendly, and anything but "interactive."

So the trio came up with a different model. Their physical space is a collaborative loft in lower Queen Anne. There's no giant server platform; they use Amazon Web Services. Privately owned with no outside funding. And if the Wikipedia model of collaboration is any guide, they've got a million foodies ready to turn the wonders of cloud computing into the Next Big Thing.

By the way, if you're a blogger linking to Foodista, there's an "embed" tab on every content page that creates a link back to that page (recipe, tool, photo). For instance, this links to my Foodista profile:

Bookshelf: The Christmas Table

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Xmas%20Table.jpgSo you thought it was going to be a lot of work, all this holiday cooking? We know, just thinking about it can be exhausting. The spirit of fussy Martha Stewart dueling with the ghost of drop-the-turkey-on-the-floor Julia Child? Top Chef duking it out with Iron Chef? Paula Dean versus Rachael Ray? It's enough to make you send for Chinese takeout.

And yet there's a way to get through the season without feeling totally guilty. Make a list or two, buy some decorations, set a pretty table, cook one big thing. "Constantly remind yourself that holiday entertainment is fun!" writes Diane Morgan, a Portland author of cookbooks. "Be playful in the kitchen."

Morgan, who's also written books about Thanksgiving and everyday grilling, is bringing her latest tome, The Christmas Table, to Seattle this weekend for book-signings and demos (schedule below). Like all good writers, she makes it look easy, and warns you when it's not.

Take the centerpiece of Christmas dinner, the turkey. Morgan wants you to soak it for a day or so in a brine flavored with juniper, which most folks won't do because they don't have a 20-gallon stockpot and a spare refrigerator. But Morgan has a work-around: you put your bird into a turkey-roasting bag (double-bagged for safety), add the brine, seal it up tightly, and set it into a roasting pan that slides into your fridge. Nothing could be simpler!

As for the bûche de Noël, she admits that's a bit more complicated, with five full pages of text, including detailed instructions for concocting meringue mushrooms. (Two egg whites and 2/3 cup of sugar make 30 mushrooms, in case you were wondering.) For side dishes, it's all downhill: shred the Brussels sprouts, puree the celery root, whip the yams!

And when you're standing around waiting for something to come out of the oven, you can spray-paint your own decorations with Rust-Oleum leather brown and gold metallic for the fruits and nuts. When you finally sit down (to the astonishment of your family and the awe of your friends), you'll realize it was worth all the effort: your very own holiday tradition!

Want a complimentary copy for yourself? Chronicle Books will send one to the first Cornichon reader who sends a request to inyourglass (at); please include your mailing address.

Metropolitan Market Sandpoint, 5250 40th Ave NE, Saturday noon-2
Metropolitan Market Admiral, 2320 42nd Ave SW, Saturday 4-6

The View from Montana

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Yakima%20Vineyards.jpgThere's a publication in Missoula, Mont., of all places, that seems to get it right: New West, "it" being a bigger and gloomier picture than the rosy one painted by our shriveling dailies. There's a print version they practically give away; the real journalism is happening online. Good example today by New West's founder Jonathan Weber, who excoriates Credit Suisse for financing three luxury resort projects (in Montana, Idaho and Utah). "Irresponsible and incompetent," writes Weber. The three resorts alone are in the hole for close to three quarters of a billion dollars. You're not going to hear any right-wing talk-show hosts whining that these were loans to underqualified buyers, but they're just as toxic as the defaults on predatory home loans.

And Weber doesn't even include Washington's most spectacular flop in his survey, the bankrupt Vineyards Resort golf club outside of Yakima. When Cornichon wrote about this in late September, the $500 million project was on shaky ground; now it's in complete collapse. And Suncadia in Cle Elum isn't much healthier.

Chop Suey: at SAM and at Hotel 1000

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Hotel1000%20images.jpgThe painting in the middle of the light table is titled Chop Suey, from 1929, and it's the centerpiece of a small, brilliant exhibition of works by Edward Hopper at the Seattle Art Museum. The show is "Edward Hopper's Women," but it could also be called "Restaurants" because that's where half the images are set: women meeting a lover, a friend, or eating alone. This glimpse into American cultural history is described in great detail on SAM's website.

And just down the street, at the Hotel 1000's Studio Bar, you can do something SAM would never let you try: get your hands on the art. They've installed one of Seattle's first tabletop computers that lets you shuffle and enlarge the images to your heart's content. "Urban bites" and flights of wine, too, Thursday-Saturday afternoons.

Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Avenue, 206-654-3100
Hotel 1000, BOKA Restaurant & Studio Bar, 1000 First Avenue, 206-957-1000

Jones Soda: The Fizz is Gone

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Jones%20Soda%20Christmas%20Pack.jpgYou may have thought a turkey-and-gravy-flavored soda would be disgusting. No, it gets worse. A Christmas-season four-pack of Seattle-based Jones Soda features bottles labeled Sugar Plum, Eggnog, Christmas Tree and Christmas Ham. (There's a Chanukah pack, too, complete with dreidel: latke, applesauce, chocolate coins and jelly donut.) But we're not here to be disgusting, we're here to be informative.

Jones Soda, you may recall, made a big splash with its quirky flavors and off-beat promotions a few years back. While assiduously courting taste-making skateboarders, they also managed to be named "official soda" for assorted big league sports teams, including the New Jersey Nets. Then their stock started to tank, the board threw out the founder (with a $20K a month severance), installed a new ceo (who even happened to be named Jones) and started cutting costs. Nothing helped. The stock price is three-for-a-buck, down from $20+ just 18 months ago. And now Jones wants out of the NBA deal.

The whole sad story is on this morning, where publisher Alex Mayer admits his posts are opinionated, to say the least. He claims to be inventing a new style of journalism that combines investigative reporting, infotainment and hatred for big business. "Unchecked corporate greed has helped destroy our country," he says. "I feel we should start becoming aware of the useless products and insulting marketing being spoon-fed to us." Spoon-fed like turkey and gravy.

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Almost forgot: it's the final day of the annual Saint Nicholas Day Weekend in Woodinville, half an hour or so north of Seattle. A great time to buy tough-to-find bottles that make terrific gifts for the holidays.

Hard to believe there are now close to 40 wineries in this suburb, many of them not regularly open to the public. The gorilla, of course, is Chateau Ste. Michelle, which moved into the former Stimson estate a quarter century ago; it was the vanguard of the of the now-familiar transformation of farmland into housing. But look what came after! DeHaviland built a Victorian castle across the street (now Columbia), and then the rest. Silver Lake, Andrea Nichole, Di Stefano, Woodhouse, Matthews, Bookwalter, Facelli.

Brian Carter, perhaps the most technically accomplished of the state's wine makers, has his own place here, called Brian Carter Cellars, open this weekend. We named Carter Winemaker of the Year twice, in the days that Washington Magazine was around to confer that honor. The Seattle Wine Society has given him its grand prize three times, more than any other winner.

Carter's blends were poured last night at a wine dinner prepared by students from the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Seattle and served at the school's waterfront Portfolio Restaurant.  Best dish was a braised lamb shoulder, best wine Carter's "magical blend" called Abracadabra (syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, sangiovese, petit verdot, grenache and malbec). More tasting notes in this PDF. The lamb, for its part, was beautifully tender, topped with a generous dollop of gremolata, served on a bed of spinach and butter beans sweetened with a bit of sherry reduction.

Need help finding your way? Here's a map.

When Affluence Alone is Not Enough

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No, just having $3 million in the bank, doesn't cut it. Ya gotta have friends with $3 million, lots-n-lotsa friends. Like Friendster friends, like Facebook friends. Even with this horrendous misspelling:

Make Life Better The exclusive oragnaization of the world's wealthiest people.


Ever hear about Clear Blue Interactive, one of those shadowy, we-control-the-world telecoms? In late September, it morphed into, a social networking site for the wealthy. There's a world of expensive fun out there: a concierge to set up your parties at exclusive restaurants, "other millionaires, billionaires, and socially elite people to network with," and did we mention the exclusive parties? How do we know this? Our down-the-hall neighbor emailed us an invite. Dude, you've seen where we live; we wouldn't hang out here if we had $3 million. (We've seen where you live, and it doesn't look like you do, either.) Still, what a brilliant way to harvest information for and about rich people.

We ran this post yesterday on; they've since fixed the typo.

Oysters for the Holidays

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Sidewalk%20oyster%20stand%20in%20Paris.JPGIn France, oysters are served throughout the year in restaurants, but come December they're especially popular at sidewalk stalls (like the one at the left, in Montparnasse) for take-home consumption; with champagne, they're a festive holiday highlight.

Puget Sound is home to some of the best oysters in North America, and local grower Taylor Shellfish is making it easy to serve oysters at home. They're selling a couple of holiday packages: an assortment of two dozen oysters for $35, four dozen for $64. The gift packs come with an oyster knife, shucking instructions, an oyster guide and a copy of Jon Rowley’s Art of Eating an Oyster.

What to drink with oysters? Aha! Find out at the official site of the Oyster Wine Competition.

Taylor is is a fourth generation, family-owned company; if you've had Manila clams or Mediterranean mussels in a Seattle restaurants, chances are pretty good they were delivered by Taylor. Tried their geoduck yet? (Rowley says it's the next big thing.) Meantime, Taylor is supplying Olympia, Kumamoto, Pacific, European Flat and Virginica oysters for the local "half shell" trade, as well as shucked and frozen oysters to more distant markets. More about the specific oyster varieties below.

Lighting%20the%20orange%20essence.JPGSeventy-five years ago Friday, the nationwide ban on alcohol production and consumption, a not-so-Noble Experiment imposed by constitutional amendment in 1920, came to an inglorious end. No more gangsters, speakeasies, moonshine, bootleggers or bathtub gin! Instead, we have all manner of beverages, fermented or distilled, based on the mood-enhancing properties of organic hydroxyl compounds. Says Robert Hess, founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the anniversary of Repeal is a "chance to celebrate, and hopefully remind people what cocktails were once like."

Which is where Jamie Boudreau comes in. Canadian-born, a Seattle resident and world traveler, blogger (SpiritsandCocktails), and barman at Tini Bigs. His signature creation here is La Bicyclette, a seamless blend of Plymouth gin, sweet vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower, and a dash of peach bitters. Though his creativity doesn't stop there. For his popular Chocolat Cochon, inspired by a bar called PDT in New York, Jamie infuses Woodford Reserve bourbon with bacon (a technique known as "fat-washing"), then blends in cherry, chocolate, amaro and bitters. Mexican Cloud and Chamomile Sour are both topped with eggwhite foam. Breakfast Collins includes boysenberry preserves. Drinks are assembled, not thrown together; there's no heavy hand with the cheap gin. Cocktailing is a craft, with graduated beakers, measuring cups, eyedroppers; you might even set fire to the volatile oil from the orange peel garnish.

NY Times published a nationwide survey yesterday of top two dozen bars and bartenders; Seattle's Murray Stenson of ZigZag Café is on the list, so is Jamie. Reason to celebrate! Cheers!

And here's another reason to celebrate: a five-course, $75 wine dinner tomorrow night with winemaker Brian Carter and sommelier Dieter Shafer. It's at the Portfolio Room of the Art Institute of Seattle, 2600 Alaskan Way. Special price for Cornichon readers, $65 (tax and gratuity included). Call 206-239-2363 or write to Dieter, Knock twice and tell 'em Cornichon sent you!

Tini Bigs, 106 1st Ave. N., 206-284-0931
ZigZag Cafe, 1501 Western Ave., 206-625-1146

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Serge Gainsbourg serigraph and jukebox at Gainsbourg in Greenwood

How to describe Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) to an American public? Where to pigeon-hole him? Part world-weary lounge-lizard, part genius musician, he was the archetype of the French artist as intellectual and sexual predator. On television: heavy-lidded, cigarette, old in his youth yet youthful when his face became lined with years. On records: a voice that percolated through a haze of smoke. In person: consort of Brigitte Bardot, France Gall, Jane Birkin. A composer and arranger of talent, though mainstream in his melodies. Daring, to be sure: his signature was "Je t' non plus" (I Love You ... Me neither.), a recording that culminated in an orgasm ("You come and go between my loins," exceedingly modest by today's porno standards) yet shocking in 1975. (Bardot's version was never released.) Gainsbourg the enfant terrible had no Rat Pack entourage; he created scandals on his own. Introduced to Whitney Houston on live TV, he said, smoothly, "I would like to fuck you," which the TV host quickly translated as, "He says you are very beautiful."

Gainsbourg's appeal ranges far, reaching even into Greenwood, where JJ Wandler and Hannah Levin have just opened a neighborhood bar in his honor. We know better than to review a spot in its first week, when there's much uncertainty on the part of managers and staff (and much to be nervous about), but the elements are all in place, especially the classic videos projected on the rear wall, the jukebox with its "well-curated" mix of Edith Piaf, French chansons populaires, Velvet Underground and Willie Nelson.

Levin is a respected music writer ("Rocket Queen") for Seattle Weekly and host of a local music show, Audioasis, on KEXP; she's always had a thing for Gainsbourg, she says, and had been thinking about creating a nexus for music fans for some time. Levin's partner, JJ, comes from a restaurant family and was a manager at Tiger Tail. When this space became available (it had been a Morrocan spot called Northside Grill), they jumped in.

The kitchen offers small plates of oysters, escargots, roasted brussel sprouts, or croque-monsieur at prices that begin at $6 and end at $8 (for the steak frites), with a brief selection of country wines. Full bar to come. (Expect absinthe.) Meanwhile, the place feels right, with a wide bar, candelabras, and patches of brick showing through the wallboard. Should Serge himself wander in off the street, he might find it a bit too bright inside and not nearly smoky enough, but he'd recognize the adulation and feel right at home.

Gainsbourg, 8550 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-781-2224 Gainsbourg on Urbanspoon

Comings & Goings In Belltown

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Sommelier%20Jaime%20Anasagasti.JPGThe Spanish are coming!

Cascadia's high-ceilinged space has been painted a golden shade of yellow in anticipation of the opening, this Saturday, of Taberna del Alabardero. (That's sommelier Jaime Anasagasti from Madrid, ready to welcome you.) There's been an Alabardero in "the other Washington" since 1989, a fancy spot that caters to diplomats and nearby K-Street lobbyists. But the history goes back even further: to the Palace Honor Guard in Madrid, who wielded ceremonial “halberds”--those fearsome pole-axe blades on pikes.

The story behind the name: some 35 years ago, a priest by the name of Luis de Lazama started a restaurant in a townhouse near the Palace, named it for the guards, and—though he had no experience in the restaurant business—used the place to teach troubled youth how to cook. He went on to open other Tabernas across Spain, and then, 20 years ago, he flew to Washington DC and launched an American version. No delinquent kids this time; this was to plant the flag of Spanish gastronomy.

Now that flag is set to fly in Belltown as well. Tapas and pintxos in the $5-$8 range at the bar (they're on the same page as Txori) plus traditional Spanish food in the dining room. The menus for the Washington DC location are online at if you want to check it out. They'll be open for lunch, too.

Taberna del Alabardero, 2328 First Avenue, 206-448-8884 La Taberna del Alabardero on Urbanspoon

* * *
Other changes in the works: Tamara Murphy of Brasa is opening a Pioneer Square outpost, taking over the café below the Elliott Bay Bookstore.

The Varchetta family, meantime, is moving into the Apartment's vacant space on First Avenue. They're going to name it List. The family—known for years as Mamma Melina's kids—now owns Barolo. Which reminds me: how long will it be until there's a bar (next to List, for all I know) called Who's On First?

Also new in Belltown: a pasta takeout place, tentatively called La Vita è Bella Express, or maybe just LVB Express, is coming to the space on Second where Bellino went stale. VitaBella's Giuseppe Forte wants to be open in plenty of time for the holidays.

At Boulangerie Nantaise, French-born manager Mireille Nelson is hosting an informal weekly French conversation group, lunchtime on Tuesdays.

Flying Fish continues its series of cooking classes, this time with a non-pescatory pastry lesson. Dec. 6, 10:30 in the morn. Call 206-728-8595 to reserve.

Sad to report, on the other hand, that Black Bottle's excellent lunches are being cut back. No more pho, no more pastrami bombers, just the perfectly fine flatbreads.

Sad to report, also, that Elbasha, the middle-eastern coffee shop on Western, has a sign on its door: Closed due to economic conditions. Sigh.

Clara%20with%20Nutcracker.jpg Nutcracker%20comes%20to%20life.jpg Prince%20with%20Clara.jpg
PNB photos © Angela Sterling

The moon always seems to be full in Maurice Sendak's illustrations. He's done some 90 children's books, two of them cherished icons (Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen), along with one ballet. As it happens, Seattle is the beneficiary of this unique venture into set-&-costume design: the wildly popular Nutcracker, which celebrates its 25th season this year.

It was the early 1980s. Kent Stowell and Francia Russell were running their still-young Pacific Northwest Ballet and dance academy out of the Good Shepherd school in Wallingford. Around the country, in those pre-soccer days, upper-middle class parents were enrolling their daughters (mostly daughters) in dance classes, which were typically run by émigrés. The great democratization of the arts that accompanied the rise of middle class prosperity, that would propel local talents like Mark Morris and Bill Evans to the national stage, proved ideal for Stowell and Russell. Ballet lessons were sophisticated and high-culture; what parent wouldn't want to see their Kimberley master pliés and pirouettes? (French was still considered a mark of sophistication back then.) Russell's school was turning out waves of technically accomplished ballerinas, and though few of them would become professional dancers, their families did want to see them in action.

This is where the oldest chestnut gets dusted off and polished up. A story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," had been set to music by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1892; it had "ballet school graduation" written all over it. International stars like Balanchine, Baryshnikov and Morris added their own versions. Relatively isolated in the Pacific Northwest, Stowell was anxious to do something more original, and in the early 1980s he wrote a note to Sendak, asking if he'd be interested in collaborating on a new Nutcracker.

The premiere in 1983 was a stunning success, with sets full of Sendak's two-dimensional chicanery. A Christmas tree grows, a giant mouse creeps across the set, the proscenium is regularly redefined and reframed. His costumes (mice, moors, soldiers, snowflakes) are whimsical and non-threatening. Stowell's choreography has also held up remarkably well; one marvels at how gracefully the youngsters execute their arabesques. By now, this production has been seen by over two million people.

You can read all sorts of dark morality into Hoffmann's story: a teenage girl dreams about a getting a nutcracker for Christmas; it comes to life, turns into a handsome prince and they run away. But it's a fairy tale, for heaven's sake; everything is embellishment. Music that twinkles, an audience of little girls in holiday finery, with twinkles in their eyes and velvet headbands in their hair. Even if we've seen it 25 times, it's still a story about innocence, so it's like a full moon every time.

Pacific Northwest Ballet presents Nutracker at McCaw Hall through Dec. 30. Tickets online or by calling 206-441-2424.

Kent Stowell takes a bow at the 25th Anniversary premiere of Nutcracker.

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