May 2009 Archives

Roast%20lamb%20at%20Serafina.JPGLate on a warm Seattle night, nothing's as welcome as sitting in a flowered garden, discreet lighting in the shrubbery, the sounds of live music coming from within, the buzz of lively conversations rising around you. Waitresses in black tops and floorlength beige aprons glide by, effortlessly picking up and dropping off plates to contented diners. It's as pretty a scene as you could find in Italy, and it's in Eastlake, at Serafina.

It's been a couple of years since we visited (delicious roast lamb in the photo), and the previous chef, John Neumark, has become an independent wine consultant. Neumark's replacement, Dylan Giordan, is no less ambitious. Serafina puts out a seasonal menu of a dozen appetizers and salads, half a dozen "pasta rustica" and another half-dozen "Specialita della casa," along with a daily fresh sheet: cocktail, soups, cicchetti (Venetian-style snacks), pasta, fish, meat and desserts. There's a separate menu for late-night nibbles (fritters, panino, sausages) in the bar. The wine list goes on forever, with special attention to famous (and pricey) names from Piedmont. And there's a hint of the frantic about Serafina's roster of special events: cocktail tastings, wine tastings, jazz music.

Serafina's owner, Brooklyn-born Susan Kaufman, may admire the charm of the Italian countryside, but you can't learn authentic Italian cuisine from a cookbook. Or teach your staff to reproduce "rustic" flavors, for that matter. In fact, the kitchen seems to suffer from a severe case of "flavor removal." An order of roasted olives was simply microwaved (hot pits!). A dry plate of linguini with prawns and tuna bore no trace of "Sicilian caper sauce." An order of plin (hand-pinched pasta) filled with pork and cabbage arrived in tasteless cream. Oh, a question for Serafina's bartender: how did you remove the taste of Campari from our Negroni?

And yet, Serafina has prospered for a decade, thanks to an ambience that suggests Italian romance. Atmosphere trumps cooking, it would seem, and that's a bitter truth for true believers.

Serafina, 2043 Eastlake Ave. E., 206-323-0807 Serafina on Urbanspoon

Pierre%20Vilmont%20at%20FACC.JPGA Frenchman runs Amazon's worldwide operations; a French-made engine powers Boeing's 737s. In all, some 600,000 Americans owe their jobs to French investment in the US, while American investment in France employs 600,000 Frenchies. Despite the economic crunch felt by both countries, there's still a billion dollars of bilateral trade between the US and France every day, says Pierre Vimont, the French ambassador to the US. Speaking in mellifluous English to a breakfast meeting of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Seattle (tepid coffee, cold Danish), the Ambassador predicted that the US will rebound more quickly (unemployment in France is heading to double digits) even as both countries face similar challenges: bailouts for banks and automakers, uproar over outsize bonuses and stock options.

What's important, he said, is to look beyond the current crisis to the next one (China's explosive growth) and to seek new opportunities for cooperation (the next generation of space exploration, for example). France comes to the table with three decades of experience in nuclear technology and high-speed transportation, along with generations of experience in joie de vivre.

On the political front, Ambassador Vimont hinted that the Sarkozy government expects the new position of President of the European Union, to be created if and when the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified, would go to a Frenchman. Could do a lot worse.

sbx_PerfectCoffee_lg_364_2401.jpgIn the beginning, the word was carved on tablets. Eventually, gospels were inscribed on parchment, then newsprint, then pixellated onto the screens of iPhones. Now the medium is the gunney sack and Starbucks is firing back.

Under withering attack from the likes of McDonald's new Mickey-Come-Lately McCafe, Uncle Howard has launched a print-and-internet counteroffensive. On a background of burlap, the print ads proclaim “Starbucks or Nothing. Because compromise leaves a really bad aftertaste.” (Take that, Mickey!) Says another, “If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, make sure you're in a Starbucks.” (Take that, Dunkin!)

With sales down 8 percent, we're not sure that appeals to fanatic idealism are going to be effective; this is the realpolitik world of Obama's artful compromises, after all. Will feel-good ads showcasing Starbucks's “coffee ethic” (shade-grown coffee purchased at premium prices from Third World growers; health-care and benefits for part-time baristas) be enough to convince 30-somethings to buy more lattes? Hard to predict. Meantime, Starbucks is recruiting fans on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fans to spread the word. Registration required.

This high-minded, with-it campaign seems divorced from what's happening in the stores themselves, where it's all about value deals, iced coffee for two bucks, latte & lunch. All those global vice presidents seem to be spinning of into worlds of their own, proof that a roomfull of monkeys with typewriters will not, by themselves, compose Hamlet.

Avocado%20farmers.jpegSeriously, we like avocados. They're smooth and delicious, not nearly as hard to enjoy as, say, artichoke hearts. Without avocados, there'd be no guacamole. But what, pray tell, is that thing advertised on KING FM, the "hand-grown" California avocado? Does a farmer really stand under the tree all day, holding the fruit? Do Americans really need to feel that coddled?

Look at this handsome website, which must have cost gazillions. Listen to these stories, especially the guy who climbed a mountain thanks to a lifetime of healthy avocado farming. But who, pray tell, held his hand-me-down avocados while he was out on the trail? Some hired handyman? Sure, we like to buy handmade stuff at street fairs and such, maybe a handwoven handkerchief. We like to think our foie gras comes from handfed geese. But fruit and vegetables?

California's avocado growers aren't living hand-to-mouth; they're in the agribiz biz. Unlike bankers, though, they're not asking for a hand-out.

Figaro Getting Married

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Figaro.jpgOpposite marriage be praised, Miss California! Seattle Opera's current production of The Marriage of FIgaro celebrates matrimony both madcap and sentimental, and, along the way, introduces Seattle audiences to a stellar performer, a German mezzo soprano named Daniela Sidram in the "pants" role of Cherubino. Ms. Danzig's tall, gangly frame bring to mind the physical stature of Dame Joan Sutherland; her characterization recalls a bubbly Beverly Sills. That said, Miss California, it gets a bit tricky: Cherubino is a love-struck adolescent boy sung by an adult woman, who disguises himself as a girl in order to, well, as we said, it gets confusing.

An ensemble opera, this Figaro benefits from a strong performance by Marius Kwiecien, Seattle Opera's Artist of the Year in 2007, who sings the role of Count Almaviva with sympathetic authority ("Vengeance is the thinking man's pleasure"). Oren Gradus plays the title role as a bit of a Dan Aykroyd doofus, while Twyla Robinson and Christine Brandes share the magnificent "Letter Duet" that dazzled the prisoners of Shawshank Redemption.

The production is seamlessly directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Dean Williamson, longtime Young Artist Series collaborators and consummate professionals. (We're still unsure why lighting designer Connie Yun opted for the bizarre mood-shift at the end of the second act; it's the leaky drop of ketchup from this lovely evening of theater.)

Yet, if this be the course of heterosexual love, Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, got the recipe right. Opposites: a choice you're free to lap up! And an alternate cast (in the five principal roles) if you've been raised to think differently.

Photo: As a teenager with raging hormones, Cherubino (center, sung by Daniela Sindram) finds himself (herself?) at the center of attention. Seattle Opera photo by Rosarii Lynch.

Seattle Opera presents Marriage of Figaro at McCaw Hall through May 16. Tickets online or by calling 206-389-7676

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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