January 2009 Archives

Traveler's Notebook: Apulia

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ROME--where the giant airport sign doesn't say "Welcome to Fiumicino," but "Emporio Armani," and even the dude driving the courtesy cart sports Gucci eyewear. The passengers are wrapped in silk scarves knotted casually at the throat with carefully studied elegance. Designer footwear and handbags everywhere. The flight? Well, Alitalia was shotgunned into a merger with its regional rival Air One two weeks ago, and sold 25 percent of itself to Air France last week, so it's a bit early to say much, other than no inflight magazine, no cocktails, and very few passengers. They showed a movie, though: Fred Claus (Christmas, 2007). Oh the shame, the shame, of seeing Paul Giamatti in last season's Santa suit.

forming%20the%20burrata.JPGBRINDISI--Everybody loves mozzarella, right? Thanks to its popularity as a topping for pizza, it's America's favorite cheese. But most mozzarella is nothing more than plastic; it's more like Velveeta than genuine cheese. But here in Apulia (the "heel" of the Italian "boot"), you find the real thing.

We're staying at a resort called Masseria Torre Coccaro, just inland from the beach beetween Brindisi and Bari. Last night, a buffet to introduce our international delegation (press, tour operators, wine buyers attending a conference called Puglia Wine & Land) to the foods of Apulia. Highlight of the evening: the cook making handmade burrata. A pinch of regular mozzarella (ideally, made from buffalo milk, kneaded and pulled) is filled with a dollop of fresh cream (sometimes with chives added), squeezed tight, and served at room temperature, on its own or with tangy local tomatoes. The cheese is so fresh and buttery (burrata literally means buttered), it's best when eaten within the day. Almost never found in stores outside the region.

Rustici%20leccese.JPGLECCE--More mozzarella! This time, it's mozzarella and creamy béchamel (white sauce) flavored with some chopped tomatoes and baked inside phyllo dough. These concoctions, about the size of a donut, are served at room temperature only here, in the province of Lecce, the southeastern tip of the Italian boot. We had them mid-morning at a tasting at Apollonio, a family estate specializing in red wines from local primitivo and negroamaro grapes.

Rustici normally means "rustic," but these are quick and delicious snacks, quite sophisticated. The phyllo dough comes from the proximity to Greece, just across the Adriatic Sea from this flat, fertile region. The cheese, of course, is home-grown. Recipe here.

The town of Lecce, capital of the province, isn't Greek or Turkish at all, but Baroque. Some things Italian remain mysterious.

We're here for a few more days. If camera battery holds out, more pictures soon.

Bacon%20Salt%20creators%20Justin%20and%20Dave.JPGBacon is a $2 billion industry in America. Jimmy Dean lives in half of all home refrigerators; rashers of Swift are consumed in astounding quantities, and never more than in these tough times. Bacon consumption is up, over the past ten years, by a pound per person (to 17.9 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country). And how are restaurants responding? Duh, pass the bacon! Bacon on burgers, steaks, pancakes, in sandwiches, even woven into a tapestry upon which more bacon-laden foods can be served.

This is good news for Dave Lefkow and Justin Esch, the Seattle guys behind Bacon Salt (now in nine flavors) and their newest product, Baconnaise (regular and lite). They launched their patented chemical concoction in August of 2007, quickly got national distribution and, of couse, started an official blog. Press reports have been enthusiastic, as one might expect. Megan Woo of I Heart Bacon (a Seattle blog) was an early convert. More recently, AOL Food and Restaurants & Institutions have come aboard the bandwagon. Helps, too, that the stuff is kosher.

Cornichon, alas, finds the product more medicinal than bacon-y, with a bitter, chemical aftertaste. The list of ingredients is downright frightening, including corn syrup, MSG, hydrolized vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast extract, palm oil, flour, and "smoke flavor." No doubt similar to the flavoring ingredients used in "real" bacon, but that doesn't make it any healthier or tastier. We live in a bacon nation, it seems, with only a few voices raised in protest.

Yo, Mr. Yoshitani! Move This Ship!

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That would be Tay Yoshitani, director of the Port of Seattle.

Forget tearing down the viaduct, we can't even get this effing eyesore off the supposedly recreational marina on Elliott Bay. It floats, remember? Couple of tugboats can move it, all 720 feet of the damn thing. It (or she, or whatever you call a container ship named Kauai) has been sitting there since October. A Port spokesman told a reporter in December that it didn't have space anywhere except the cruise ship terminal. But cruise ships don't linger, don't sleep on the couch and don't leave their dirty laundry lying around.

Matson, a worthy American-owned company, seems to have abandoned the vessel. No cargo's being loaded, no one's even aboard. If you're staying at the Marriott, across Alaska Way, your room overlooks the Kauai. If you're having lunch at Anthony's Bell St. Diner and expect a waterfront view of the Olympics across Elliott Bay, you're flat out of luck. You get a closeup view of a beige-brown, 28-year-old container ship instead.

It's inconceivable that Yoshitani and his staff are unaware of the blight on the public waterfront, since the Port's offices are just north of the bow. What's missing is a sense of outrage that nothing's being done. Here's an idea: the Port calls Matson with a straightforward message. "We love ya, dude, but it's time to pick up your ship and get the hell out of town."

There Will Always Be An England

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Wine%20By%20Joe.JPGJust three items. First up, an article in the NYTimes about ha-ha smutty British place names, from towns called Crapstone and Penistone and Titty Ho to streets named Butt Hole Road. The gist of the article: get over it.

Second, further proof that the Sceptered Isle's bureaucrats have never been entirely comfortable with the notion that people might, actually, drink to feel happier: a report by England's Office of National Statistics that the mild-mannered Brits are nonetheless drinking too much wine, especially at home. Middle class drinkers are more likely to indulge in what the report calls "heavy drinking," i.e., double the recommended limit of three to four glasses of wine a day for men and two to three for women. Good heavens! Nobody cares what the upper and the lower classes drink, it seems, but God forbid that a "middle class" householder should exceed what some bureaucrat thinks is proper.

Which brings us to the third story. Another British outfit, the New Economics Foundation, reports that Brits are--compared to their neighbors in Denmark, Germany and France--bored but happy. The report blames Britain's "highly individualistic" culture for the boredom. (The wine explains the happiness, says Cornichon.) Trying to explain the results, Nic Marks, founder the Centre for Well-Being at foundation, says, "Governments have lost sight of the fact that their fundamental purpose is to improve the lives of their citizens."

They could start, perhaps, by taking their noses out of their citizens' private lives, whether they live in Wetwang, Crotch Crescent or Pratts Bottom.

The Drumming of Obama in Belltown

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Obama taking the oath of office, the tamborrada in Belltown

Nationwide, high ratings for Obama's inauguration. But the shame, oh the shame (from MediaBistro.com) in Seattle:

Nielsen tells us that the combined overall household rating for the inauguration of President Barack Obama in the top 56 local television markets where Nielsen maintains TV meters was 29.2.

The Raleigh-Durham market had the largest TV audience with more than 51% of households tuned in to the day's events. Seattle-Tacoma had the lowest viewership, with only 18.8% of households watching the events.

Wait, WTF? Half of Raleigh-Durham households were watching, but only one in five here? Aside form the time lag (get out of bed, sleepy-head!), we think Seattle's Obamaniacs were more inclined to watch in public places, sharing the experience with friends. Then, while all those East Coasters were making with happy feet at the inaugural balls, we had different celebrations in Seattle.

With BHO's rousing assurance that America is "ready to lead once more" still fresh in the air, six drummers from Roosevelt High School's marching band, clad in cooks' whites, set out from Txori Bar on Second Avenue for a tour of Belltown. Not to scare off the crackheads, but because, by coincidence, January 20th is also the date of the Fiesta da Donostia. Half a world away, the town of San Sebastian, built on lowlands leading to the Bay of Biscay, celebrates its delivery from a French military siege with round-the-clock drumming, and chef Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, a San Sebastian native, feels the tug of geography.

Imagine the scene: Napoleon's armies surrounding the city in the predawn darkness heard alarming noises: the clamor of thousands of drums. A tamborrada! Unnerved, the pusillanimous French retreat. Inside the walls, the true identity of the drummers is revealed: the city's cooks. banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons.

A felicitous confluence of celebrations. "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...," the defining TV moment of our age, an event to be savored with joyful noise..

Come With Me to Cantinetta

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Brussels%20sprouts%20w%20duck%20confit.JPGIt's a little house on the corner of 37th and Wallingford, remodeled as an informal neighborhood restaurant dubbed Cantinetta. And if the space is new, the staff looks reassuringly familiar: Trevor Greenwood, the owner, has been at Via Tribunali and Queen City Grill; server Amon Mende has tended bar at Zig Zag and Barolo.

Behind the bar, another QCG alum, Burton Hill, assembles a fine negroni, and in the kitchen Brian Cartenuto and his crew turn out Italian staples like mussels putanesca, goat cheese agnolotti, tagliatelle with clams, and lamb spezzatino. Our Brussels sprouts with duck confit was a study in contrasts: on their own, the sprouts were undercooked, but with the addition of the confit they tasted like a coleslaw with duck-fat dressing. (A similar dish at Gainsbourg in Greenwood used bacon, vinaigrette and fennel, less successfully.)

And it's right about now that the sound system catches your attention. A gravelly voice, singing in Italian, with a glissando "'swonderful, 'swonderful" refrain. That's the inimitable Paolo Conte, an immensely popular performer from Piedmont whose style suggests the thick blue smoke of a crowded nightclub. His best-known number, Vieni Via Con Me (roughly: "Run Away With Me"), is full of sprung rhythms, suggesting the rocky road of an illicit romance (It's wonderful, good luck my baby, chips, chips!) Conte isn't nearly as popular in this country as he should be. Take a look at the YouTube video of his melancholy Gelato al Limon, set to images by Edward Hopper.

Back to Cantinetta. The beverage list has Italian wines on one side, Washington (Cayuse, Andrew Will and and Leonetti among them) on the other. If your taste runs to fancy Barolos and Brunellos, there's a nice selection of bottles over $100, but for everyday, the vino della casa at $5.50 a glass will do very nicely, grazie.

Cantinetta, 3650 Wallingford Ave. N., 206-632-1000    Cantinetta on Urbanspoon

Obama's Inaugural Breakfast

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"I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear..."; eggs over easy at Buckley's

Belltown's living room, Buckley's, is packed. We're facing a traditional American breakfast: eggs over easy, bacon, hash browns, toasted muffin. Pat of butter, small plastic tub of raspberry jam. We've already had our espresso, now it's time for a serious Mary, garnished with pickle, pepper, olive and lemon slice, accompanied by shot of Pete's Wicked Ale. Deceptively traditional; only today do we recognize its incredible diversity.

So here's the challenge: what to tackle first? The spicy tomato-vodka beverage? A bite of garnish? The pickle or the pepper? Perhaps the bacon, crisp and peppery? Not the hash browns; they look like they came out of a box. With humility and gratitude, we pick up our fork and break one of the yolks. The first bold stroke of action taken. The price and promise of breakfast, of hope and virtue, a meal both real and serious, the cheerful and joyous beginning of a new day.

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A Tree Grows/Dies in Belltown

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SDOT's Liz Ellis explains why this particular maple must go; cedars and plums compete for sidewalk space along 2nd Avenue

Pounding the pavement like a cop on the beat, waving at shopkeepers, petting a dog, helping an old lady, munching a donut, strolling the sidewalk, protecting the neighborhood...in some Hollywood Shangri-La, maybe, but not in 21st century urban America, where the cops rarely leave the security of their patrol cars. Kids may play hopscotch on the sidewalks of Madrona or Wedgewood, but not in Belltown, where the sidewalks, for better or worse, have become a full-scale laboratory for transportation engineers and urban planners. Art projects, sidewalk cafés, bus shelters, bike racks, newspaper vending machines, garbage cans and trees of various ages and diverse species populate the right-of-way, buckling the four-inch concrete and turning the simple business of walking down the block into a hazardous obstacle course.

First Avenue, all agree, is the worst, but First gets no respect. The current budget, the current project, is to repave Fourth northbound and Second southbound, from downtown to Denny. Now, having written the specs, SDOT's engineers are belatedly soliciting public input for sidewalk improvements, and it fell to SDOT's Liz Ellis and a couple of her colleagues to meet over the weekend with half a dozen residents who turned out to discuss, specifically, the fate of trees along Second.

Fate, as it happens, smiles on the incense cedar (source of pencils and much prized in our cool, dry climate), to the disadvantage of the oak, the plum, the tulip and the maple. Especially the maple, which grows and grows and grows until it's over three feet across and essentially stops pedestrian traffic. Were it a bicycle or a fat, somnambulant drunk, we could request it move along, please, and stop blocking the sidewalk. Liz Ellis is also no fan of maples planted on street corners (where they interfere with drivers' sight-lines); she thinks we need to suck it up and cut them down.

The curbside plums, immersed in the blue clay that underlies Belltown's concrete, create their own problems, what with leaves and trash that accumulate in the tree pits, not to mention the muddy barrier to they create for people getting in and out of parked cars. The oaks expand at the bottom and outgrow their home within a few years, roots creating havoc with walkways; the cedars, on the other hand, grow straight and tall and narrow; they play well with others, even if they are, in the eyes of some, not all that attractive.

The tree-lined boulevards of Paris do fine with plane trees, sycamores we'd call them. Or linden trees, the broad-leafed limes. Or chestnuts. All carefully monitored, carefully pruned, each one embedded with a computer chip connected to a central computer. Maintenance of the city's infrastructure (concrete, cobblestone, green) is a civic responsibility, not an afterthought. SDOT could take a lesson in public policy from the City of Light, where beautification isn't left to engineers but is considered one of the primary obligations of elected officials. Are you listening, Mr. Nickels?

As far as Belltown is concerned, SDOT "is looking at this as a maintenance project and not an urban liveablity project, including trees and landscaping," said one neighbor. Environmental watchdog and green architect Carolyn Geiss was not optimistic either about SDOT's involvement in neighborhood issues like streetscapes, urban landscaping, parking or community centers. "They experiment on Belltown, but when it comes time to actually do it," she says, referring to projects in South Lake Union, Pike-Pine, Magnolia Village, Broadway, Greenwood, "they do it right somewhere else."

Juno_Intermezzi.jpgTimes are tough, that we know. Here's another example: Juno, the gourmet restaurant in the recently reopened Arctic Club Hotel in downtown Seattle, is downshifting from "fine dining" to "urban casual." Nothing's being sold, nothing's closing, but still.

Executive chef Thomas Kolasch had the unenviable task of providing everything from hotel breakfasts to business lunches to banquets, leading to a "jeans one day, tux the next" menu. Many items were stunningly delicious like the red royal prawns and the sorbet intermezzo (photo), others not so much, but it was the pricing (high $20s, up to $35 for the rib-eye) that didn't work.

The hotel itself is also changing its focus. Stan Kott, the GM, says it will "rebrand" its amenities and services from high-end four-diamond to a less luxurious three-diamond level, and affiliate with a national franchise. (Look for one of the Marriott or Hilton brands.)

“Recent economic factors are driving the Arctic Club Hotel ownership to make [this] decision," says Kott. That ownership, which is based in Spokane and for whom the Arctic Club was the only luxury property, is probably more comfortable in the mid-range at any rate. Whether they'll keep the talented Kolasch to run the "repositioned" restaurant isn't as clear.

Adam%20at%20Thomas%20St%20Bistro.JPGHis name, Adam Freeman, doesn't sound French, but he's from Toulouse. "All I ever wanted was a little 20-seat bistro." How often have we heard this sentiment (usually from celebrity chefs with giant egos) and found it pretentious at best, unrealistic at worst? Yet the modest Adam is actually doing it.

Yes, you ask, but is he doing it well? And here we get into the realm of realism, of physical limits, of expectations. No, he's not doing it as well as a "commercial" restaurant, even a neighborhood spot with kitchen big enough for three or four cooks.

You have to take Thomas Street Bistro on its own terms, or leave it alone. It's not Palace Kitchen, it's not Canlis, it's not The Corson Building. Rather, it's the clean, modest front room of a walk-up apartment. The menu is basic: chicken, steak, fish, nothing over $15. For another couple of bucks, Adam throws in soup, salad and dessert.

At that price, you can't expect haute cuisine, or even the sort of fake ambition that comes from a soulless restaurant supply company (think of all those stuffed chicken breasts you've seen on tavern menus; you know they're delivered pre-cooked and flash-frozen). Here, if it says chicken, it's real chicken. The downside is that side dishes do double and triple duty, even if the seasoning isn't exactly right. And, truth be told, I'd have preferred a little less nutmeg in the noodles served with both the chicken and the fish. But the most remarkable thing is that he does it all by himself. No busser, dishwasher, prep cook or server, just Adam. And, for atmosphere, a roomfull of animated guests and a student from Cornish playing the piano

Listening to a classical medley while sipping a Côtes du Rhône, listening to neighborhood regulars in lively conversation with each other from their separate tables, I felt the contentment of being in a friend's living room. No mean accomplishment.

Adam has just returned from his annual vacation. My view: we should welcome him back!

Thomas Street Bistro, 421 E Thomas St., 206-323-0914  Thomas Street Bistro on Urbanspoon

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The Victorian poem Inversnaid, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, extolls the savage beauty and energy of pristine wilderness; it's become a staple of Sierra Club promotional literature:

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

It's doubtful that the residents of low-lying property around Seattle would see things as romantically. No delicate brook, that swollen Raging River, coursing wildly from Preston down to the Snoqualmie. No brook, either, in the southern part of the county, where the Corps unleashed the furious White from Mud Mountain Dam on the unsuspecting town of Pacific 25 miles downriver. Torrents and tumult everywhere, the suburban, farmland flip side to Seattle's wet and snowy Christmas.

Fortunately, incompetence stops at river's edge. In Fall City, the storied Colonial Inn (known to viewers of Twin Peaks as "The Roadhouse") has been updated by new owners and transformed by consultant Arnold Shain (whose Restaurant Group clients include Dragonfish, Pearl, 0/8 Seafood Grill, Goldbergs, Enotria, Trader Vic's and Daniel's Broiler). Cameon Orel was hired as both chef and GM of the rechristened Fall City Roadhouse; she welcomes guests and runs the kitchen with equal aplomb. Her philosophy is "farm to table," a concept that's well-received by nearby Full Circle Farm and River Valley Ranch, among many others. Orel's tasty meatloaf ($14) includes housemade pork sausage as well as beef; she could forage the beet and goat cheese salad ($8) on a short walk.

Upstairs, there's a comfy B&B with seven rooms should you decide that the river's rising too fast to make it back to town.

Fall City Roadhouse, 4200 Preston-Fall City Rd., 425-222-4800 Fall City Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

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Seattle Opera Fishes for Pearls

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Pearl%20Fishers%20Burden%20%26%20Feigum.jpgThe best music in George Bizet's early opera, The Pearl Fishers, comes barely 10 minutes after the curtain rises; it's a justly celebrated duet between childhood buddies Nadir and Zurga. Nadir is sung by William Burden, who impressed local audiences last season in Iphigenia; he's a tenor, so you know he's going to get the girl, while Christopher Feigum, a baritone, sings Zurga, and you know he's going go through some soul-searching before he Does The Right Thing, in this case burning down the village that's just elected him chief so that his BFF and the girl (a fallen priestess) can make their getaway.

Well, it's a French opera, so sophisticated (or even credible) plotting isn't as important as an exotic locale (Ceylon) and the occasional ballet (principal dancers Bobby Briscoe doing his best leaping lizard moves, Lisa Gillespie writhing like a snake charmer to superfluously frantic choreography). The real pearl fishers, you may recall from the famous photos, are women on the Japanese island of Hekura. In this production (from Philadelphia), it seems to be the bare-chested guys who do the dangerous swimming. And why Philly? Turns out this is suddenly a very popular opera, with stagings in the past couple of seasons in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal, and Washington, DC, in addition to the Philadephia set and costumes picked up by Seattle. All this fuss over a one-tune wonder by Bizet, 24 years old at the time, composed 12 years before his masterpiece, Carmen.

Back to the bare-chested guys. Gets warm in these south seas, no doubt, which accounts for the staging's languid pace. Much of the time, the principals kneel or recline on the scenery like the deity on a bottle of White Rock soda and sing themselves to sleep. On the podium, Gerard Schwartz does his best to propel the music and the action forward, but stage director Kay Walker Castaldo (a Philly holdover) doesn't do much to showcase the drama, what little there is. The theatrical highlight, a fight at the end of Act II, gives way to an almost comic, writhing group-grope in Act III. Blame the languid artists in the City of Brotherly Love.

Pearl Fishers was sung in French, and the credits included a French diction coach to help the singers navigate the shoals of pronunciation, though stumbles were inevitable. "Ton coeur n'a pas compris..." (Your heart didn't understand ...) took on a very different meaning when coeur (heart) was pronounced corps (body). Good thing we had Jonathan Dean's supratitles to help us read the depth charts.

Seattle Opera presents The Pearl Fishers at McCaw Hall through Jan. 24. Tickets $25 and up, 206-389-7676 or online.

Seattle Opera photo (Burden & Feigum) by Rosarii Lynch.

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Full moon, or almost. Belltown sidewalks are empty except for a clutch of furtive smokers and cellphones conspirators at corner of Second and Battery. Inside, as Florida battles Oklahoma on wall-to-wall flat screens, Tim Buckley is celebrating his comeback.

When last seen, he was manager of the Belltown Pub, now Belltown Bistro. Some of his crew was lured to Firefly atop Queen Anne (later Lumette, now Sorrentino), but he and his loyal cohort went no further than the former Duke's on 1st West, where they founded a sturdy neighborhood pub called, duh, Buckley's.

Now, almost five years later, Buckley is back in his old nabe, presiding over an eclectic mix of locals in search of cheer. In the 1930s, this was Seattle's Film Row, where studios screened upcoming movies for theater managers, distributed posters, collected reels of film. The poshest offices belonged to Metro Goldwyn Mayer, which eventually ceded the elegant premises to Café Septième (before its move to Broadway), then a stationery store, Blu Canary, a hair salon, and an utterly charming restaurant, Marjorie's. Now Buckley's Belltown has reassembled the disparate pieces under one roof.

Reuben%20at%20Buckley.JPGThere's room for 50 or so on the patio once the weather turns better, and another 50 in two private dining rooms, plus 150 in the bar and dining room, suddenly making the newcomer the biggest living room in Belltown. (Just noticed what it says on the menu: "Where neighbors become friends.") Two dozen beers on tap, almost all $4.25, reduced to $3 for a 3-6 PM happy hour. The kitchen (many Queen Anne staffers pulling extra shifts) executes a menu they've got down pat: meatloaf sliders, chicken salad, burgers, reubens, all topping out at $9. For those who venture into the realm of full-fledged pub-food dinners, there's chicken, ribs, meatloaf, pasta, even tiger prawn scampi on a bed of linguini for $17, and a sirloin steak with bleu cheese for $20. It's probably the only spot in Belltown where you can hear someone order a rum & coke and a PBR without being laughed at.

The problem isn't whether Buckley's will be successful; that's a given. The question is what it bodes for places as disparate as Rob Roy (formerly Viceroy) directly across the street, Del Rey around the corner, Tavolata next door or La Vita è Bella in the next block. Black Bottle, three blocks away, has all the traffic it can handle, and its prices have crept into the double digits. Dinner for ten bucks is a tough, tough business, and right now Buckley's is the only game in Belltown.

Buckley's in Belltown, 2331 2nd Avenue, 206-588-8879    Buckley's (Belltown) on Urbanspoon

Produce%20at%20Whole%20Foods.JPGAn article in this morning's Wall Street Journal purports to rank the best and worst jobs in the United States "according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress." Best job, says the WSJ: mathematician. Worst: lumberjack. Conclusion: heavy lifting, never popular, remains out of fashion. The ideal jobs expect you to dress reasonably well, let you work close to home and take regular showers.

So why isn't food critic on the list? Okay, maybe it's not in the top ten, but it should be. Benefits include decent meals (much of the time), work-from-home environment while listening to preferred genre of music (usually classical), occasional travel to popular destinations. Acknowledged drawbacks: irregular hours, irregular digestion (when meals less-than-decent), irregular paychecks.

Seriously, though: greatest job benefit is the soapbox. Not just steering people to good restaurants and away from bad ones, but highlighting issues related to food, wine, travel. Case in point: today's New York Times Op-Ed by farmer and essayist Wendell Berry, who argues that the real energy crisis won't be running out of non-renewable petroleum but non-renewable soil. Much more serious, since we don't have alternatives (solar, wind) to food-producing soil. Berry writes, "If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy." The answer, perennialization, is a mouthful, as it were, but basically "crop rotations that include hay, pasture and grazing animals."

Berry calls for a 50-year farm bill to reduce our dependency on soil-destroying industrial agriculture, arguing that money alone cannot continue to feed us. And without food, what's going to become of my great job?

(Footnote: Guy named Ronald Holden is reporting $25K in contributions to McCain campaign. Is not me.)

"Iron Chef" Steels Sabrina

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Sabrina%20cuts%20gnocchi.JPGOnly two other Seattle chefs, Tom Douglas and Tamara Murphy, have been invited to compete at Kitchen Stadium in the seven seasons that "Iron Chef America" has been on the Food Network. Tomorrow at 10, add a third name to the list: Sabrina Tinsley of Osteria La Spiga.

Douglas needs no introduction to Seattle diners; he's the owner of half a dozen successful eateries downtown (Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola's, Cafeacute; Sport, Serious Pie, etc.); he bested Masahara Morimoto with a series of salmon dishes. Murphy cooks at Brasa in Belltown and the newly revamped café at the Elliott Bay Bookstore in Pioneer Square; she lost narrowly to Mario Batali.

Tinsley's not nearly as high profile, not yet; she's known mostly for her exquisite handmade gnocchi. An Alaska native who attended Michigan State, she was studying (and cooking) in Salzburg when she met her future husband, Pietro Borghesi. For the next five years the couple lived in Italy, where Tinsley absorbed the culinary culture and the two ran a piadina shop. They eventually moved to Seattle, where Tinsley's sister had settled and, ten years ago, opened the original Osteria La Spiga in a tiny space on Capitol Hill at Broadway and Union. Eight years later, it was time to expand. The new La Spiga has drawn its share of hostile reviews, but credit is always given to Tinsley for her sure sense of Italy's cultural and culinary traditions.

Mario Batali, no slouch himself when it comes to promoting Italian food, shot a segment of his TV show at the original La Spiga. He may have passed along Tinsley's name to the producers at Food Network. At any rate, the call from Iron Chef came out of the blue, inviting Tinsley to compete. So, this past June, off she and Pietro went to New York along with two of her sous-chefs to prepare for the smackdown in Kitchen Stadium. Her adversary: Bobby Flay. The show's "secret ingredient," revealed on-air, beans ("all fresh, still in the pod"). The judges: restaurateur Joe Bastianich (Mario's business partner), TV personality Jenna Wolfe, and food critic Jeffrey Steingarten.

Was it as hectic as it seems, being on the show? Tinsley admits that he two months leading up to the taping were stressful, "Once the real-time taping began, I was in my element, but poor Pietro, sitting in the audience, was tearing his hair out!"

Tinsley's not saying how it turned out; that would spoil the fun. But the restaurant is doing all it can to promote her appearance on the show. There's an Iron Chef viewing party Sunday, for starters. Then, the next four Tuesdays in January, there will be parties in the restaurant's private loft for four-course meals ($125 per person) based on Tinsley's Iron Chef creations.

Unlike reality shows like Bravo's "Next Top Chef" elimination, Iron Chef is a one-time battle, win or lose. Publicity is the reward, plus the fact that it's a unique opportunity. Tinsley sums it up: "An awesome experience."

Iron Chef, Food Network, 10 PM Sunday and repeats
Osteria La Spiga, 1425 12th Avenue, 206-323-8881

Hot Mama's Pizza: What the Fuss?

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Pizza%20from%20Mama.JPG Dogs%20wait%20for%20pizza%20crust.JPGStart the New Year with strong dose of reality. Hot Mama's, supposedly the best pizza on Cap Hill, doesn't cut it for this eater. Crust soggy, toppings bland.

How'd this place become so popular, one wonders, when the far more authentic Via Tribunali is just up the street? Must have something to do with Seattle's pizza culture: a need for predictable and cheap to ingest when you've been drinking. Tribunali's a sit-down dinner place with wine and all; Hot Mama's a hole-in-the-wall with few pretensions. No serious website, either, just a MySpace page.

We order up four or five large-size, with assorted toppings, and head for a family reunion. (This falls into the non-believers holiday tradition of paying strangers to do the heavy lifting.) Not much aroma in the car (not a good sign) but exclamations of "Ooh, Hot Mama's!" upon arrival. The pineapple & Canadian bacon succumbs quickly to onslaughts from the teens. Pepperoni likewise. The vaunted pesto less so. Last to go under, surprisingly, is the Chef Choice (tomatoes, basil, mushroom, garlic). Remains boxed for the 13-year-old, often picky but pleased with his unexpected bounty.

On plus side, Hot Mama's isn't unduly greasy (relative lack of cheese), and family doggies appear genuinely grateful for bites of cold, dull crust.

Hot Mama's Pizza, 700 E. Pine (at Boylston), 206-322-6444   Hot Mama's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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