June 2009 Archives

Braving the Elementals

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In the overlapping sets of Seattle restaurant owners and people who are dicks there stands Phred Westfall, and it's not because he spells his name funny. Call him eccentric, call him quirky, call him sui generis if you must, but he's got a most unusual way of running his candy store, Elemental @ Gasworks.

Elemental's kitchen, by Laurie Riedmeman, does very well indeed. Last meal here was exceptional, in fact. After a refreshing aperitif, a cascade of delights: gnocchetti, beef tartar topped with a quail egg, asparagus-spinach salad with shaved parmesan, quail over green beans, a pulled pork tamale with corn, a generous cheese board. Wines to match each course (selected and poured by Phred, on his best behavior), and the tab (which includes tax & tip) was about $80.

Stories about Phred's capricious manner (alternately annoying and standoff-ish, occasionally solicitous) have been circulating for years (see UrbanSpoon, Yelp, CitySearch, etc.), but Bethany Jean Clement's review, earlier this month, of the adjacent space known as E.lemental N.ext D.oor (END) suggested things were getting better. She reported that "END's menu, on a pulled-down roll of butcher paper, bears the inked message SAME FOOD, LESS ATTITUDE."

And yet, just when we thought it might be safe to get back into the water: Not. We hear that Westfall lost his composure again this weekend after a guest took issue with the restaurant's cavalier response to a question about available seating ("I'm not psychic!"). Impolite words were spoken by both parties, whereupon Westfall physically assaulted the hapless guest. Now, we know that people get into the restaurant business for all sorts of passive-aggressive reasons ("I just want to feed people" is the most common), but sadism shouldn't be one of them. That's just dickish.

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Elemental @ Gasworks, 3900 Wallingford Avenue N., 206-547-2317 Elemental on Urbanspoon

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It's been almost a year since Kerry Sear closed Cascadia and returned to the hand-laundered and crisply-folded fold of the upscale Four Seasons hotel chain, taking along his patented miniburgers and a majority of the staff (notably chef de cuisine James Dimeling). The burgers are on the bar menu at ART, the hotel's restaurant, 3 for $5 between 5 and 7, #3 apiece from 2 to midnight, but the delightful miniburgers.com website is no more. (Four Seasons has its own problems,

No more, either, ART's fanciful, underappreciated "paintbrush" concept at dinner. Instead, it's back to basics, Seattle-style: salmon, halibut, branzino, duck confit and lamb steaks. It's at lunch that the kitchen struts its stuff, with several "TV Tray" (for très vite) options: a soup, a salad, a sandwich and a dessert served all at once, based on what's fresh at the Pike Place market, a block away. The tomato salad includes lots of sweet little tomatoes, all peeled (yes!), dressed with basil microgeens and accompanied by burrata mozzarella. The braised beef cheek (red wine, root vegetables, cooled, shredded, served with a classic beef stock reduction) is sublime. There are 22 folks in the kitchen (Cascadia had 7), doing breakfast, lunch, dinner, banquets, and an employee café for the hotel's 220-member staff.

At Cascadia, over 10 years, Sear hired 600 employees. Now there's an HR department. The Four Seasons chain--co-owned by Bill Gates, in case you'd forgotten--is not immune from economic pressures, but for Kerry Sear, the best part of not being your own boss anymore: "I don't miss pouring money into the restaurant."

The Four Seasons is across the street from the Seattle Art Museum, which has its own restaurant (called Taste, which makes all this rather confusing.) But the view from ART is westward, across Elliott Bay to the Olympics. In the foreground, on Western Avenue, is the very industrial Seattle Steam plant (so far so good, it has an intrinsic beauty, like Gasworks Park), and a very ugly Public Storage warehouse. Why not put a (tasteful) mural on that blank grey wall? Now, that would be public ART.

A PS for wine lovers: you can "sample" any bottle on the list (150-plus labels). They'll open it if you buy just two glasses and pay for half a bottle. The restaurant keeps the wine fresh with the Verre de Vin preservation system, so the next guy can enjoy some of "your" bottle, later on.

ART Restaurant, 99 Union St. (in the Four Seasons Hotel) 206-749-7070 or www.artrestaurantseattle.com

ART (Four Seasons) on Urbanspoon

BoKA Warms Up for Summer

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Best of Kitchen Artistry, BoKA for short, invited Cornichon to a "Summer Solstice Cocktail Celebration" Cornichon couldn't make it, but sent volunteer guest blogger Jacqueline Pruner instead. Her report:

BoKA%20drinks.jpgIn honor of the summer solstice (and what we can only hope is the arrival of summer), BoKA is extending its lineup of signature drinks and adding three "urban bites." Joining the tasty white peach cosmo are a coconut mojito (sparkling soda and creamy coconut), and a ginger limonata (refreshing, though not very gingery). Best is the pineapple rush, an unlikely combination of Tres Generaciones silver tequila and Red Bull; it starts off strong on the tequila, then mellows and sweetens as the pineapple sorbet liquefies...definitely grows on you.

Standout among the new apps is a yummy rhubarb bruschetta: light with a lovely layered flavor of brown butter, blue cheese, golden raisins and, of course, rhubarb.

There's also a crispy chicken drumette and a chili-garlic shrimp, complete with torn basil and spicy chili aioli (too spicy for my taste; I’d prefer a creamier, cooler aioli to balance out the uber-hot of the shrimp).

And if the sun don't shine? “When it rains, BoKA pours” is the promo. Free valet parking (very helpful on First) and a $6 Tropical Rain cocktail made with mango and pineapple rum, fresh fruit juices and (of course) an umbrella.

BoKA in the Hotel 1000, 1000 First Ave., Seattle 206 957-1000

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Over 50 Seattle restaurants, including almost every Italian joint in town, will donate a substantial portion of their proceeds Wednesday ("Big Night for Abruzzo") to a rebuilding effort in the region of central Italy devastated by a major earthquake in April. Some 300 people died, over 60,000 were left homeless; countless medieval buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.

Mike McConnell of Caffè Vita and Via Tribunali led a Seattle group to the scene a couple of weeks ago and returned to organize the fund-raising effort. Michael Hebb produced this video to illustrate what the money's going for: a children's playground. Because kids everywhere deserve a place to practice soccer, no?

Meantime, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana has sent an official delegation to Seattle to inspect and authenticate several Neapolitan-style pizza ovens installed by Italian craftsmen at local pizza parlors. The four-man team will be welcomed to town with a rare view from the Space Needle, ascending three ladders to the roof-top hatch. Back on the ground, they're expected to "certify" seven pizza ovens: four recent Via Tribunali stores plus Picolinos, Pulcinella and Tutta Bella in Issaquah. For his part, Hizzoner Nickels will proclaim this "Verace Pizza Napolitana" Week.

To Market, To Market

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A revamped, community-sponsored Queen Anne Farmers Market opened Thursday afternoon at the corner of Queen Anne and Crockett, replacing an earlier enterprise that had become mired in politics and recrimination. Julie Whitehorn, its chair, and Patty Spahr, its director, assembled a cast of local farmers and food vendors (Skillet, Sorrentino's, Secret Stash) despite hefty obstacles (street use, parking, health inspections, etc.). The grand opening included a ribbon-cutting by Mayor Nickels (who pointed out that he had reduced the fee for street use by farmers markets by executive order) and an appearance by food writer Matthew Amster-Burton (aka Mamster), author of Hungry Monkey (about the culinary education of his five-year-old daughter, Iris).

Very much the in-thing, these farmers markets. Dogs of all sizes, on leashes and mostly muzzled, competing for right of passage with baby strollers and their pushers, resulting in amiable, well-fed gridlock. Smores (from Skillet) and strawberries (from Hayton Farms) to all!

Er, except that Hayton was selling strawberries at $4, while Metropolitan Market, across the street, was selling them at $3. We mentally chalked it up to the surcharge of political correctness, of "Eating the Right Thing," until we tasted the fruit, warm from the sun; they were, in fact, the sweetest, lushest strawberries we've ever eaten.

Blethen's Blunders

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june%20cover.jpgThough we're upset at the demise of the Pee Eye and the loss of all those google hits for "pee porn," there's a deeper and more troubling story in local journalism: Frank Blethen's pissing away about $750 million worth of the Seattle Times. That's what the paper was worth a few years ago, when Blethen refused to sell his family's share to Knight Ridder, which then allowed itself to be bought out by McClatchy, which wrote down the value of its Times stock to zero. Complicated? That's only part of the sordid tale, told in detail over at Seattle Business Monthly. Can't help thinking: whadda jerk.

But this is more than an insider story about Seattle journalism. It's a story with overtones of Greek tragedy (hubris) and Nixonian self-delusion. In a page right out of The Sopranos, Blethen told the whole story to a shrink. Yes, the Blethen family volunteered to be the subject of a case study for the Harvard School of Business, and a clinical psychologist named Cathy Quinn conducted endless interviews with family members. The Harvard report was supplemented, for the Seattle Business Monthly article, with serious research by Bill Richards, the reporter who'd been covering the Times-PI joint operating agreement. The vaunted Times, once worth a billion simoleons or so, is now in a 100-million-dollar hole. You have to wonder: how could anyone entrusted with so valuable a community resource be so arrogant, so stupid? Seattle's a one-newspaper town because of this clown?

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