March 2009 Archives

In the Pink

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In%20the%20Pink.jpg Gosset%20Grand%20Rose%20at%20Rovers.jpg
Blended or straight? Can you tell which is which?

What's in a name? What's in a color? What's in a rosé?

A rose is a rose is a rose, to be sure, but in parts of France, a rosé is something quite specific: a red wine that's been aborted. That is, it starts out being red, a fully formed fetus of a red wine, but its growth is artificially stunted before it reaches red-hood. It is bled, not to death but to life.

Confusing, yes?

Traditional French rosé is produced by the saignée method. Red grapes are crushed, their skins macerating in the not-yet-fermented must for a short period (usually less than a day) until the juice takes on a pink hue. The tinted juice is then drawn off (bled); it continues its life as a rosé. What's left in the tank becomes a more intense red wine.

That's how most of the French do it. In other parts of the world, notably the southern hemisphere, rosé is produced by blending red and white wines. And the European Union, recognizing the competition, is about to authorize the sale of such mixes, much to the consternation of traditional French wine growers. Sacrilege, they say! An outrage, they say! Artificial wine, they say! A threat to the integrity of our cherished way of life, say the increasingly feisty French.

What the Rhone and Provence rosé people don't realize, perhaps, is that the most famous French wine of all, champagne, is produced by blending grapes, and the highly prized pink champagne is almost invariably made by adding red wine to bubbly white. It's how we see the world: through rose-colored glasses.


Onions%20at%20Tilth%20Harvest%20Fair.jpgHaven't you always wondered where your flour comes from? It could matter. (Remember the peanut scare?) After all, you can go to your neighborhood farmer's market and meet the folks who grew your carrots or your onions, but it's strange: the people who grow the Staff of Life are by and large anonymous.

That's about to change. Now you can go online, to Find the Farmer, and meet the people who grow the wheat and get connected with your food! The project is the brainchild of Josh Dorf, ceo of Stone-Buhr, a Spokane company that rejects the notion of wheat as a featureless commodity. Stone-Buhr's suppliers are some three dozen family farmers who practice sustainable agriculture; they have a Seattle PR firm, Good Food Strategies, and an article in today's New York Times.

Dorf credits the journalist Michael Pollan with the notion of providing greater transparency in the food chain. Says Pollan, approvingly, “The more transparent a food chain is, the more accountable it is.” We think a (slice of) toast is in order!

Lamb%20shank%20at%20Quilted%20Bear.JPG Lamb%20shank%20at%20Zinc.JPG
Lamb shanks, at Quilted Bear (r) and Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Best-tasting thing in this cool, springtime desert: the broth of butter, white wine, leeks, lemon, thyme and rosemary in which Zinc Bistro poaches its mussels. A highlight in a brief visit to see family and drop in on some well-established local eateries.

Least-interesting thing in this Spring Training, Spring Break frenzy: the filet mignon at Claim Jumper. Ah well, I hear you say, that's your own fault, going to Claim Jumper, a chain where they specialize in removing flavor from food. But that's not entirely true: the spinach salad was perfectly fne. An off-night, perhaps.

A similar divergence at Gelato Spot, a four-unit local chain that features Italian-style ice cream. Gelato is denser than most American ice cream, but the pistacchio and hazelnut samples at their Scottsdale outpost were both far too sweet and fatty to pass muster in Italy. Yet the "forest berries" flavor was more than acceptable. Cool thing, the flower-bedecked plaza where you can enjoy your gelato in the fresh air.

Breakfast was a sure bet, at least at Butterfield's Pancake House, where our party was served a reasonable facsimile of a Dutch Baby and a more-than-decent Mediterranean Scramble (eggs, ham, tomatoes, olives, mozzarella). Four of these stores, three of them in Chicago. Over 100 choices on the menu, before you even get to the beverages, and platoons of servers who hustle plates to the hungry locals. By the time 3 PM rolls around, the staff is exhausted; they turn out the lights and go home.

That's when things get rolling at Quilted Bear. The place is bustling with regulars, older local folk who know the longtime waitresses by name. The Sunset Special offers selections from the dinner menu for a couple of bucks off, including an unremarkable lamb shank served with mint jelly and truly grim peas and carrots. The fried chicken, on the other hand, was cispy-crunchy and more than delicious.

One night later, at Zinc (long one of Cornichon's favorite restaurants), lamb shank was again on the menu, this time glistening in a deeply flavored glace de viande, on a bed of creamy polenta, preceded by the aforementioned mussels and followed by a stunning apricot soufflé. As good a meal as you can get in Seattle.

When the desert sky is blue and the afternoon temperature remains temperate, when you can convince yourself that vibrant, multicultural Seattle is just too much trouble, you can become tempted. That would be the Spring Training devil talking. There's a reason they don't play baseball here in the summer, and it's not the bland filet mignon.

Zinc Bistro, 15034 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale 480-603-0922 Zinc Bistro on Urbanspoon
Claim Jumper, 7000 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-951-6111 Claim Jumper on Urbanspoon
Butterfield's, 7388 E Shea Blvd, Scottsdale, 408-951-6002 Butterfield's Pancake House on Urbanspoon
Gelato Spot, 7366 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 408-367-9900 Gelato Spot on Urbanspoon
Quilted Bear, 6316 N. Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, 480-948-7760 Quilted Bear on Urbanspoon

Calling All Chefs!

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Advancing to the final round in the competition for James Beard Awards (the Oscars of the culinary profession), we have four superb chefs from Seattle. (Last month we published the list of semi-finalists over on, complete with pictures.)

The nominees for best chef, Pacific Northwest, are: Maria Hines of Tilth Restaurant in Wallingford, Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez of Harvest Vine in Madison Park and Txori in Belltown, Ethan Stowell of Union (downtown), Tavolata (Belltown), How to Cook a Wolf (Queen Anne), and Anchovies & Olives (Capitol Hill), Cathy Whims, Jason Wilson of Crush on East Madison. Cathy Whims of Nostrano in Portland rounds out the Northwest nominees.

Seattle's own Tom Douglas, the entrepreneur behind Dahlia Lounge, Café Sport, Lola's, Palace Kitchen and Serious Pie (not to mention Culinary Summer Camp and a raft of charitable events) is in the running for the second year for the honor of America's Outstanding Restaurateur. (That's Tom on the right; he's up against some heavy hitters: New York restaurant mogul Drew Nieporent and Richard Mehlman of Lettuce Entertain You.)

In the journalism category, Rebekah Denn of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was nominated for feature writing (she won a couple of years ago as well; not that it helped her keep a job when the paper dumped the entire food section, a story for another time), and local scribe Laura Shapiro was nominated for her columns in Gourmet.

Back to the chefs! There's an opening at the Hunt Club, just off the comfortable lobby of the jewel-box Hotel Sorrento: a restaurant of understated elegance, paneled booths, dark leather banquettes. And a kitchen in search of an executive chef. So sound the bugles, it's going to be a real-life Top Chef competition! Life imitates the art of TV reality shows! "We thought it was a great opportunity to make the entire hiring process a little more interesting," says Sorrento GM Jeff Jobe. Wanna try out? Submit your resume and bio to by Friday, April 3rd. And be prepared to cook your ass off.

John%20Howie.JPG Exec%20Chef%20Brent%20Martin.JPG Gambat%20%26%20Sally%20Puntsag.JPG
Hopeful chefs: John Howie, Brent Martin, Ganbat Puntsag

Hope springs eternal, and a good thing, too. Over on Slog, Bethany Jean Clement takes attendance in the cemetery, counting off the headstones of restaurants dead or mortally wounded. Familiar names; we bow our heads and shed a tear. And then, our moment of silence over, Life Goes On. And on and on. Many projects clearly in the works before the sky fell, plans too big to fail. Tales of ambition or folly, take your pick.

So we have List, newly opened on First Avenue (no website yet), where The Apartment once welcomed us with cucumber martinis. Owners are the Varchetta brothers, who also have Barolo. Well-taught by their mother (Mamma Melina), "the boys" have created a bustling space, as befits First Avenue, with Italian dishes and tapas.

And we have Long Provincial, an upscale Vietnamese spot in the space where Qube once sliced three ways. Owners are the folks from Tamarind Tree. Noodle soups are the specialty.

Speaking of noodles, Boom Noodle is opening a branch in Bellevue, and speaking of Bellevue, John Howie, favorite chef of the Seahawks, has opened a second Seastar, this one in the misbegotten space once occupied by Marazul. (It's in the Pan Pacific Hotel and requires a GPS or a sherpa to reach the lavatories: out the side door, through the hotel's lobby bar, through an anteroom into the main lobby, left turn past the receptionists, another left turn across the balcony, then straight ahead past the elevator bank. Or just use the facilities at Tutta Bella, next door.) Howie is also opening a steakhouse in Bellevue's new Bravern complex, and his original restaurant in Bellevue is doing well. Now he's trying hard to build a loyal clientele in Seattle with sure-fire dishes like deviled eggs (topped with truffled ahi tartar) and crab bisque.

Another Hyatt hotel, Olive 8 has opened downtown, with an ambitious "cosmopolitan" restaurant, Urbane, and a double-duty exec chef. That would be Brent Martin, who also oversees the Grand Hyatt at 7th and Pine, where there's already a Ruth's Chris steakhouse.

On Capitol Hill, upstairs from Oddfellows, Century Ballroom owner Hallie Kuperman has opened The Tin Table. A chef from New Orleans! Venison, interesting cheeses, cocktails, hooray!

On Third Avenue, opposite the doggy park, Ganbat Puntsag and his wife, Sally, have opened Gambas, a fusion Japanese-French place, with a sushi bar (of course) plus lamb chops, steaks and seafood. Born in Mongolia, Gambas (as everyone calls him) cooked at Joon's Mongolian Grill in Denver before moving to Seattle. "There are still some bad people in Belltown," he acknowledges.

On Second Avenue, the Crocodile will have reopened by the time this sees print. At the back, where the dodgy bar once dispensed Red Bull, a new Via Tribunali takes wiiing. It's the fifth pizza venture by entrepreneur Mike McConnell (Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Georgetown, Fremont), who has quietly parlayed his Caffè Vita business into one of Seattle's most successful restaurant empires. (One reason: every decent restaurant wants to serve decent coffee, so McConnell is taking the pulse of every patient in town.)

Another success story: Mackay Restaurants. El Gaucho Bellevue is open, its vast and luxurious space awaits only Microsoft, which has leased the entire Bellevue Center building above it. On Pier 70, Waterfront Seafood Grill will continue "The Cult of the Crab" through the end of March. We were particularly taken with the Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad, dressed with a cumin and coriander aioli, not to mention an exquisite chardonnay from GM Chris Sparkman's own winery. And of course the unbeatable sunset view of Elliott Bay and the Olympics.

But what is one to make of the new restaurant called Lost Lady American Cantina? In the elegant, art nouveau space that we knew as Union Square Grill, a gaudy, bawdy Tex-Mex menu that's unlike anything else downtown. Swords and pistols on the wall, staff costumed in brilliant reds, crossed flags of the Stars & Stripes and Mexico? Lost Lady sounds a lot like Lusty Lady, the strip joint; American Cantina sounds like Austin Cantina, the shuttered southwestern joint in Ballard. The food's reasonably good, but the concept, alas, is tone deaf.

Good%20Tree.JPG Bad%20Tree.JPG

We're a bit surprised to find out the city's Urban Forestry people want to "spruce up" (get it?) Third Avenue, when other streets in Belltown, like parts of First, could certainly use the attention. And what makes a good urban tree, anyway? More to the point, what makes a bad one? Partly, we suppose, it's got to do with the kind of tree, but frankly, they all look kind of scraggly. ("Woodman, spare that tree!" you say? No, not this one, that one.) At any rate, "hybrid elms" are on the way, a cross between the American and the Siberian varieties, fast-growing, long-lasting and disease-resistant. If you're not a hybrid elm, you're coming down within the week.

Paella at Alabardero

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Paella.jpgPaella comes from the Latin patella, a cooking pan. (Your kneecap, also called patella, is kind of pan-shaped, isn't it?) Much as cassoulet (casserole) is now the dish itself (a succulent bean stew), rather than the pot it's cooked in, paella (related to the French poêle) now means the braised rice recipe.

Enter Taberna del Alabardero, the elegant Spanish restaurant that now occupies the former Cascadia space in Belltown, is offering a dozen paellas this week, preparred by a visiting paella chef from the Mediterranean coastal resort of Marbella.

Among the combinations that paella master David Montero (of the Barraca del Arroz) will present: pork ribs, oxtail, prawns, octopus & squid. Price is $20 per person, minimum of two.

Meantime, Alabardero has extended its Happy Hour; it now runs from 4 PM to 7 PM, half off the entire tapas menu in the bar.

And if that's not enough to entice you in, consider this: a four-wine, four-tapas tasting for $18. Maryhill is the featured winery this month.

Taberna del Alabardero, 2328 First Avenue, 206-4488884

Race%20to%20With%20Mountain.jpgThe Post-Intelligencer, in its death throes, seems to have outsourced its proofreading to a brain-dead copy editor (or to bargain software called Spelchkr, perhaps). A review by freelance movie critic Andy Speltzer gets titled "Race to With Mountain." Thanks to for the tip.

Freelance restaurant critic Leslie Kelly, meanwhile, takes advantage of the paper's last days to pan Seattle icons Canlis (last week) and Seastar (today).

On the good news side, the paper prints a report that foie gras protestors in Philadelphia are going to sit out this year's Foie Gras Week because they've come to realize that picketing at restaurants that serve the delicacy "isn't effective." And here we had no idea there even was a Foie Gras Week!. Are you listening, Northwest Animal Rights Network?

Unrelated matter: Bethany Jean Clement at The Stranger reviews the new hangout in her neighborhood, Oddfellows, and decides it has great vibe, so-so food. In the comments, owner Linda Dershang chimes in thus:

Unfortunately, I agree with Bethany's review. I have worked very hard to create a wonderful neighborhood cafe. We've hit it right with the interior, I think. We also have a great group of people working at Oddfellows. But the food is not there. My goal is to make changes and improvements on the food every day. I appreciate all the feedback. Bear with us.
Is she throwing her partner, Ericka Burke (of the excellent Volunteer Park Café), under the bus? Or will they work it out together?

Mitchelli Says "Ciao"

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Dany%20Mitchell.jpg Mitchelli%20corner.jpg Once fondly known as the Trat, now simply Mitchelli's, it's been around for more than three decades. Over the years it grew from a single, 12-seat espresso counter to a 200-seat restaurant occupying the entire ground floor of the building, then shrank again. In recent times, promotions that take on the air of desperation: $2.50 martinis, $1 pizzas, $0 kids meals. A dinner, this weekend, featuring magnificent Barolos from the 1982 vintage, "pay what you will."

Dany Mitchell, a genial bon vivant who adopted an Italian name as his restaurant persona, has made no secret of wanting to sell the place. At one point, Restaurants Unlimited (Palomino) expressed interest. Or was it FX McRory's? More recently, an all-but-done-deal with Via Tribunali. Mitchell had found a village in France where he was going to set up shop as a real estate consultant; his wife was already there, waiting for him, when the deal fell through.

Now it's all-but-over; Mitchell will simply close, leaving behind the memories of happy customers and the legion of successful industry figures who passed through the Trat's doors: Peter Lewis, Campagne; Patrice Demombymes, Virginia Inn; Rudy Viggiano, Verrazano's; Ted Furst, Restaurant Group; Greg Higgins, Higgins, Portland; Raffaele Calise, Salute; Nick Wiltz, Il Bistro; Carla Leonardi, Café Lago; Robert Bonina and Will McNamara, WAC. Countless others, not to mention family: Mitchell's ex, Jackie, Pink Door; Daniel Mitchell IV, ECC Culinary program; Seth & Tara Howard, Collins Pub; Dana Mitchell, Angelina's. Better yet, stories by Mitchelli customers of meetings, deals, trysts and breakups. After a generation, the slogan's no longer "Ciao down!" Just "Ciao." Arrivederci, Dany. It wasn't the food so much as the welcome. The Trat was Pioneer Square's living room; we'll miss you.

Starbucks%20sandwich.jpgGot sent a jar of Baconnaise from the Bacon Salt guys (after Seattlest kept complaining about their crappy products) and, in same mail, a box of madeleines from Donsuemor that are now being sold at Nordy's and Albertson's.

Went to Starbucks to get one of their new $3.95 pairings (latte & pastry or brewed coffee & sandwich). Alas. Took home half a dry, inedible Black Forest ham & egg English muffin, picked up mail (see above). Reheated Starbucks muffin in toaster oven, slathered it with baconnaise. Synergy? Must be. Now semi-delicious. Dipped madeleine into the cup of Pike Place coffee, brought back memories of better coffee, better madeleines. What? Just because the economy's in the toilet doesn't mean we have to drop our standards, does it?

Salmon%20carpaccio.jpgThe Yukon keta salmon carpaccio comes on a frosty plate, thinly sliced, with fennel and red onion salad, drizzled with lemon oil and smoked sea salt. In the glass, chilled Willamette Valley Vineyards pinot gris. Sublime.

This was at Elliott's Oyster House, part of a five-course, fund-raising feast to benefit the people of Emmonak, an impoverished Yup'ik village. As Jon Rowley shows slides of his trips to western Alaska, you slowly begin to understand the cost, not in dollars but in human effort, in human misery, that makes this dinner possible.

It's been an extremely cold winter in the Yukon River Delta. Fuel skyrocketed to $8.70 a gallon. Worse yet, the 2008 commercial fishing harvest was nothing short of devastating. The result: a humanitarian crisis for several Yup’ik Eskimo villages, which depend on the salmon for subsistence.

To help support these communities in a time of great need, Elliott’s constirubed 25 percent of every Yukon Keta entrée sold last month to a "fuel fund" to help relieve the dire conditions in the villages. The salmon came from the community-owned Kwik'pak Fisheries, a cooperative formed in 2002.

The Omega-3-rich Keta, by the way, are considered the finest fish caught at the mouth of the Yukon, a 2000-mile-long river, vibrant and full of healthy Omega 3 oils.

Where, one might ask, is Alaska's governor in this crisis? Well, other than complaining to Esquire about "bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers," Sarah Palin did make a trip to western Alaska, where she was confronted by the Emmonak villager whose letter (and subsequent blog posts) brought attention to the matter. Palin contended aid was being delivered. That was two weeks ago. The affected villagers complain that it's far too little, far too late.

A footnote: you guys from the Northwest Animal Rights Network, listen up. You want to do something useful, quit picking on one restaurant out of thousands that serve foie gras and figure out a way to help people like the Yup'ik, trapped by their culture in an impossible situation. And you guys from PETA, go pull your "sea-kitten" stunt on the dock at Emmonak and see how much sympathy that gets your batshit-crazy cause.

First%20bottle.jpgIn chronological order: Monday's "Opening Day" of sorts for Grand Rêve Vintners, a new winery with vineyards on Red Mountain and a production facility in Kirkland. Inaugural release is a single-vineyard wine from Ciel du Cheval called “Collaboration Series.” That collaboration is between entrepreneur Paul McBride and vineyard manager Ryan Johnson, the 10-year industry veteran who also manages Cadence Cara Mia, Galitzine Estate, and DeLille Grand Ciel vineyards. Ciel du Cheval, known for its complex, elegant fruit, is regarded as one of the state's most important vineyards. Tasting for the trade tomorrow; open house on Saturday, March 7th, at the winery, 12514 NE 130th Lane NE in Kirkland. Photo: Ben Smith of Cadence, Grand Reve owner Paul McBride, winemaker Ryan Johnson with first bottle of Grand Reve Collaboration Series.

Wines%20for%20AIS%20dinner.jpgOn Friday, March 6th, at 6:30, I'll be presenting the wines at an educational dinner at Portfolio. (That's the dining room attached to the International Culinary School, top floor of the Art Institute of Seattle, 2600 Alaskan Way.) Terrific view of Elliott Bay and the Olympics; five-course menu prepred by the students, five wines from Washington and France. Dieter Schafer, the restaurant's maitre d', joins me in hosting this enjoyable evening. Wines, in order: sparkling Loire (with oysters and lobster rillette), Chignin, a white from Savoie (with gnocchi), roussanne from Willis Hall winery; Bugey, a red from Savoie, to be served with a duck confit,; and Brian Carter's Byzance blend of red Rhone varieties, served with cheese and chocolate.

The published price for the dinner is $75 (including taxes and gratuities), but Cornichon readers get a 20 percent ($15) discount. Call 206-239-2363 for reservations and tell 'em Ronaldo sent you.

Then, on Monday, March 9th, at 6:30, I'm hosting a night of Sicilian wine and food at Sorrentino Trattoria, 2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Just spent a week in the markets of Sicily's capital, Palermo, and have many pictures to show; don't worry, I won't make you eat the spleen sandwich. Mamma Enza Sorrentino has planned a five-course menu of Sicilian specialties: caponata or eggplant parmesan to start; the famous pasta con le sarde—pasta with sardines, if we can find some fresh ones; a lemon chicken main course (with vegetarian option, on request); tiramisu or cassata for dessert. Wines will include a sparkler from the slopes of Mt. Etna; whites made from cattarato and ansonica; reds based on nero d'avola (including Sicily's best wine, Cerasuola di Vittoria), and a sweet marsala to round out the evening. Price is $49. For reservations, please call the restaurant at 206-694-0055.

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