December 2009 Archives

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Let's get something out of the way up front. Bloggers don't get paid to write reviews. Sometimes we get free food, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we tell you if we get something free, sometimes we don't bother. This notion that an unpaid blogger is morally obliged to "disclose" a freebie, that's pure poppycock. Now, the New York Times has a code of ethics (and a staff ombudsman, and a staff ethicist), but then, so does West Point. That didn't stop Eric Asimov from writing nice things about a Portland restaurateur whose mother had once given his kids piano lessons, now did it? But it shouldn't matter.

The sanctimonious Federal Trade Commission recently proposed that bloggers be required to tell their readers if they were being paid for product endorsements. Come on, I'll endorse a Lexus if you give me free samples. But a bottle of wine I get in the mail? Why should reporters on salary complain about bloggers who get free fries with their burger? Dude, your publisher supplies you with free office space, a free desk and a free laptop, not to mention phones, power and light. Bloggers, on the other hand, pay their own overhead; we'll "disclose" our freebies whenever you do. And check out the ads in your own papers for eateries and alcohol before you climb on that horse. They pay your goddamn salary, you hypocrites! </rant>

Back to some practical suggestions for people who frequent restaurants, as customers, invited guests or because they work in the biz. Cornichon often attends events as the guest of an establishment, but there ought to be a rule for anyone who's invited to an event: never order anything you're not prepared to pay for. Goes for journalists on expense accounts, too. Don't be greedy just because it's "free." If your meal is comped, should you be so fortunate, tip the server based on what it would have cost. If the owner or barman sends over a dish or a drink, your tip should be based on the value of the free stuff (and then some).

DM%20w%20waitresses%20Lyon.JPGNow, some advice to people who eat in restaurants. Folks, when you're dining out, tip 20 percent. It's not higher math; it's double the tax. Then round it up. Special note to international visitors: don't weasel out of the 20 percent rule because you're a foreigner and "don't understand" that American checks don't include a service charge. That "percentage" is tax, not the tip. Every server has horror stories about getting stiffed by obnoxious, demanding Russians, Spaniards, Brits, Aussies, Asians or South Americans; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the rest of you: don't nickle & dime your servers. If you're at a bar and you order a couple of drinks, five bucks. If you get a free glass of wine, leave five bucks on the table.

Cornichon (believe it or not) has been a server, too. It's a pretty easy way to make a hundred bucks or so in an evening, but you can't let it get to you. The golden rule: When your friends come in, treat them like good customers. When your regular customers come in, treat them like good friends. Treat all your customers with respect. You're supposed to be professional at work, remember. Don't give your friends better service than your regulars, don't treat your regulars with more obequious favors than you would bestow on a first-time visitor or casual tourist.

And if you're friends with someone who works at a restaurant, don't go there expecting special treatment, free food or free drinks. Be appreciative, but don't assume anything.

Now, if you're a customer and you're getting crappy service, don't automatically blame the server. The kitchen could be backed up, the dishwasher could be backed up, the toilet could be backed up, payroll could be backed up. Servers don't create unhappy customers on purpose. Unless they're ignoring the foreign visitors because they know they're going to get stiffed, right?

If you're a customer who's also "in the industry," don't use that fact to leverage upgrades. On the contrary, you of all people should know how hard it is for a restaurant to run smoothly, let alone deal with picky, self-absorbed guests.

Finallyk, a suggestion in the generous spirit of the season. If you had a lousy time, don't run to Yelp (or CitySearch or UrbanSppon) and tell the world. By all means, write your critique, but send it to the restaurant instead. Ask them if they'd be wiling to have you come back and give them another chance.

More than anything, restaurants want "ambassadors;" I promise, you'll be welcomed with open arms. That restaurant were you slighted? Turn the other (pork) cheek! Adopt that restaurant!

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The Bartender and his Publicist

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Healthy%20cocktail.jpg Orson Salicetti is a Venezuela-born mixologist in New York who won a Rising Star award this year from; the online bio and interview are (unintentionally) hilarious. He's behind the bar at Apothéke these days, a downtown joint that takes its cocktails super-seriously ("It's a stage, it's a chemistry lab") and has a publicist to send out breathless press releases whenever Salicetti shakes up a new one. His latest concoction, called Signature 2010 Cocktail, is "infused" with Champagne, elderflower jelly, agave and "healthy hibiscus."

Reads the press release: "Salicetti pushes the boundaries when crafting new cocktails by incorporating food into cocktails, infusing drinks with octopus, caviar, oysters and shrimp. Currently his favorite drink to serve is the tomato basil martini which is a combination of cherry tomato water, basil, gin, Himalayan salt rum, hibiscus bitters, Lillet Blank, agave lime syrup, and peppercorns."

This didn't sound particularly healthy (or even appetizing) to Cornichon, so we checked in with Robert Hess, our local cocktail guru, who points out that it's a Himalayan salt rim, not rum...and Lillet Blanc, not Blank.

Thumbnail image for Pegu Club cocktail.JPGOn the other hand, oyster shooters have been around for a long time, and Hess admits that he himself has used lox as a garnish on more than one occasion. So maybe it's not too weird after all?

"For Salicetti," the press release concludes, "his concepts are authentic, real and original, he believes his drinks are similar to the holidays, they should stimulate the senses, create an emotion and leave an impression, and a drink should be something you do not forget."

Then again, there's Pegu Club, where the doyenne of cocktailing, Audrey Sanders practices her craft. We stopped in a couple of months ago when were were in the Big Appletini; lots of comfortable, low seating (like Seattle's Local Vine), and a fine bar where we sipped a series of carefully made beverages, starting with (of course) the icononic Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, lime juice, orange curaçao, bitters), named for the original Pegu Club in Rangoon. Pegu Club was named Best American Bar this summer by Tales of the Cocktail; one expects that Ms. Saunders would be moritified by her Soho neighbor's blasphemy.

Apothèke, 9 Doyers St., New York City   Apothéke on Urbanspoon
Pegu Club, 77 W Houston, New York City, 212-473-7378  Pegu Club on Urbanspoon

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From time to time, Cornichon gets sidetracked by entertainment other than culinary, but how'd we miss this? When Circus Contraption, which we'd much admired, folded its tent this summer, the gnashing of teeth could be heard all the way to Enumclaw. (But the circus doesn't die a quiet death; many of Contraption's players stuck around for the satirical dinner-party show called Cafe Nordo.) Meantime, at least three circus-type academies are alive and well in Seattle, not to mention innumerable aerialists who perform regularly in public, starting with.Teatro Zinzanni. We must be the World Capital of Trapeze. (Unless it's Paree; come to think of it; see the tag to this post.)

Trapeze%20clipart.jpgAs we were saying, a curious phenomenon indeed. "It's never too late to start," the industry's websites say. Or too young, apparently, since there are even classes for two-year-olds. We weren't quite as sure. "Who'd even want to start?" we thought. Turns out we were wrong. Flying is good for kids, teaches confidence, builds muscles, etc. The most visible training, with bus ads all over town, is SANCA, School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, whose exec director Jo Montgomery is a pediatric nurse, with an interest in improving children's health.

For the more mature, Versatile Arts has classes in Greenwood, in a space called The Cathedral specifically built for aerialist training.

Columbia City Theater has the Trapeze Lady doing aerialist acts as well as "naughty-naughty" cabaret; she's also at Pink Door down at the Market on Sundays.

And Emerald City Trapeze not only has classes but puts on two shows most weekends, Friday and Saturday nights at 8, $15 via Brown Paper Tickets, with a cash bar open till midnight. There's even a single's night. ("Catch ya later!")

So now, having exhausted (literally) the trapeze jokes, it's time to play Trapeze Trivia! Here we go.

  • The flying trapeze was invented in the late 19th century in France by one Jules Léotard, the original Flying Young Man. Yes, that Leotard, except that he called the one-piece suit he invented for his act a maillot, a word used today to describe a bathing suit or a jersey. Dead at 30, poor fellow.
  • Trapeze Networks has nothing to do with aerialists; it's a wireless thing, for medical professionals, educational institutions and so on.
  • In case you remember the movie Trapeze, directed by Sir Carol Reed, with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lolloobrigida: yes, that really was Lancaster--a veteran circus performer--doing the triple flip. "One flies and one catches. Nobody gets in between." That's Lancaster to Curtis, Lollo being the sexpot who does them both.

Emerald City Trapeze Arts, 2702 6th Avenue S., Seattle, 206-906-9442
School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts, 674 S. Orcas Street, Seattle, 206-652-4433
Versatile Arts, 7601 Greenwood Ave N., Seattle, 206-399-7173

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Does Portland's Ping Sing? Ding!

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Time's up, pencils down, answer the question. Sort of. Cornichon really wanted to like this spot, with its funky decor, its quirky menu, its super-sakes "by the dram." Alas, it just didn't work out that way.

The menu promsed three smoked meats. The duck came a lot later because of some fowl-up (!) in the kitchen. Gee, wonder why. The smoked pork jowl tasted salty, nothing more, and was incredibly chewy. The smoked beef tongue likewise. So why's that big bowl of flavored salt crystals in the middle of the plate? Surely not for still more salt?

Cornichon knows smoked meat, adores smoked meat, has eaten smoked meat in places like Montreal, where it's practically their national food. Preserving meat with smoke is as old as cavemen, but you gotta let the smoke (or the heat) cook the damn stuff. This stuff, Ping, ain't no smoked meat; it's slices of raw flesh smoked just long enough to give it a smelly, salty flavor.

Not often that we'll simply give up on a dish, but we did with this combo; it was just plain inedible. Maybe next time we'll opt for the Spicy Mama Ramen, nothing more than store-bought noodles in pork broth. They can't screw that up, can they?

Ping, 102 NW 4th, Portland, 503-229-7464  Ping on Urbanspoon

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Downtown Portland food carts; Ziba Lyucevic of Zita's Pitas; meat-filled borek pita

You can go home again, despite what Mr. Wolfe wrote, it's just not the same place. Cornchon grew up here in Portland, would come downtown for haircuts from Mr. Littauer at the Paris Barber Shoppe on SW Washington, visit Dr. Bodner's dental suite on SW Park and furtively glances at the nudist magazines behind the counter of Rich's Cigar stand. Today, the seedy taverns and low-rent offices have been replaced by renovated office buildings, new boutiques, and scores of brightly painted trailers parked along SW Alder, firmly tethered to water mains, propane tanks and electric lines, selling a bewildering array of exotic fare: Vietnamese pho and lemongrass tofu, Polish cabbage rolls with dumplings, Thai curries, Japanese noodles, Korean barbecue, Greek humus, mezze and kabobs, along with the usual suspects, German braturst and Mexican burritos. The most popular, judging from the length of the line, is called Whole Bowl, a dish of basic hippie food (beans & rice) garnished with sour cream and avocado, doused with a lemony-garlic cream called Tali sauce. The best, based on extensive independent research, are the Bosnian "pitas" from the cart run by Ziba Lyucevic, not Greek pocket sandwiches but exceedingly light, round pies filled with meat, spinach or zucchini.

Yes, this is low-cost street food, priced around $5, and there's almost nothing by way of stools or tables, so the food carts don't cut into the sit-down lunch crowd. More than that, the carts themselves are stationery, not mobile; they're parked overnight, a year-round Bite of Seattle.

With the exception of an increasingly gentrified Chinatown, Portland doesn't have, never did have, the traditional enclaves of immigrants (Italians, Jews, Poles, Japanese, Germans, Greeks, etc.) whose cuisine and culture would define a neighborhood. Today's population is increasingly imported from elsewhere, a "creative class" without ethnicity. But there's hope for featureless newcomers and assimilated veterans alike: according to, the city has some 400 food carts scattered among half a dozen downtown and neighborhood "pods," 150 new ones this year alone, serving predominantly ethnic foods. There's even a blog, Food Carts Portland, dedicated to them. You could say the Rose City's got food-cart culture.

Certainly the fact that most of the carts stay put gives them the advantage of a regular clientele. Seattle's half-dozen mobile trucks, on the other hand, have a once-a-week following. Marination Mobile, winner of Good Morning America's nationwide food-cart challenge, communicates its location by Twitter feed. Portland's best-known cart, Garden State, isn't even in one of the three downtown pods; it's in the resurgent Sellwood neighborhood. No need for Twitter; just google "Sicilian Street Food."

Footnote: an article about food trucks in today's online edition of Restaurants & Institutions, features the owners of Marination Mobile.

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Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Amy Adams as Julie Powell; illustrations from the cookbook.

It's not news that the best reason to see Julie & Julia is Meryl Streep's flawless characterization of Julia Child. Nor will it shock anyone if Cornichon complains that Julie Powell's story (of cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the subject of a tedious, self-absorbed blog) is much less interesting. Julia, after all, has a more picturesque life (Paris v Queens) and lifestyle (Embassy Row v walkup above a pizzeria).

Nora Efron's movie shows Julia having fun in the kitchen, while Julie only frets and fusses. But the reason she struggles is rarely clear. Is she a lousy cook or just a crappy writer? Amy Adams is cute and perky and almost makes Julie a sympathetic character, but it's a losing battle. Amanda Hesser of the NYTimes comes to dinner as Julie approaches her self-imposed one-year deadline and is compelled to write not about her culinary skills but her profanity. Informed that Ms. Child felt the project showed insufficient respect, Julie wails, "Is it because I use the f-word?"

The real-life Julia Child's popular success, shown in the film from Julie's point of view, came only after Mastering was published. That was in 1961, when "The French Chef" premiered on WGBH TV; Julia would go on to publish a dozen more books, record umpteen seasons of TV shows and how-to videos. She traveled tirelessly, visiting Seattle at least twice, and took loving care of Paul after he fell ill.

It's too bad the movie doesn't show us why Mastering was such a success: it's brilliant use of how-to illustrations. This was before Food Network or YouTube; cookbooks showed plenty of pictures of finished dishes but almost never the individual steps. Paul Child took photographs of Julia in action and sent them--mailed them--to a graphic artist in New York, Sidonie Coryn, to be turned into exquisite line drawings. (Coryn, at last report, hadn't seen the movie.)

This wasn't even the first Julia Child story. Seattle's own Laura Shapiro wrote Julia, A Life, (paperback edition this past summer). Noel Riley FItch (PhD from Wazzu), chronicler of expat intellectuals, has a Julia bio as well. Sure, Julie got a book deal and a movie out of it, but the last laugh is Julia's: Mastering is atop the best seller list again. And, as Juilia herself would point out, learning how to cook is learning how to live.

One gets the distinct feeling that Julie Powell's best days are behind her. (Her latest book, Cleaving, about her apprenticeship in the meat-cutting biz, has been getting disastrous reviews.) Kathy Bates of Misery should play her life story 20 years hence; she doesn't deserve Amy Adams.

Nor do we ever get to see Julia as the Grande Dame of American cooking, simultaneously self-deprecating and ever-so-slightly imperious, who might have treated Julie's blog like a kitchen experiment gone wrong, an omelet that falls on kitchen counter, a live lobster than won't stay in the pot. Wipe it up, slather with butter, bake until tender.

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Venice Without the Gondolas

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Small plates (call them tapas, call them hors d'oeuvres, call them mezze) and cocktails: a brilliant concept when it's done right, a quagmire if you get it wrong. And so much can go wrong, so quickly. Just look at the sad-sack happy hours in all the gin joints around town; you know who they are. So what a pleasure to find a new spot that does it right, Cicchetti, which is what the Venetians call them. The menu comes with its own official pronunciation guide, "chi-KET-tee," rhymes with spaghetti. "The staff thought the name was too hard," says owner Susan Kaufman. "I overruled them."

The menu is short: 9 cold dishes, 13 hot items, 4 desserts. The wine list is similarly simple: 15 bottles altogether, all available by the glass. There's a moderately priced ombra, red and white (ombra, literally shade or shadow, being the name given to a wine you drink in the cool shade of a Venetian arcade). The reach is global: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Israel and Washington State are represented.

In the open kitchen, Serafina's exec chef Dylan Giordan and his crew chop and dice, melt cheese and bake fish on the floor of the Woodstone oven. Yes, there's a pizza; fontina & chanterelles for $13. We rather liked the octopus and chickpea salad ($7), though the peas could have been cooked a minute longer and the dish needed a bit more salt. At $14, Moroccan spiced lamb is the most expensive item on the menu. Cornichon suspects that the ricotta fritters injected with puréed huckleberries ($7) will win the Oscar for best supporting dessert. And, yes, they're Italian: haven't you ever heard of Tavolata's zeppole?

You enter Cicchetti through the charming courtyard behind Serafina. The building until recently housed an architect's office; its clean lines have been transformed into a quintessentially Seattle bar-without-folderol by interior designer Nancy Barisof. Centerpiece is an over-the-top chandelier of Murano glass, the sort of piece that inspired Dale Chihuly's exuberance. Kauffman had acquired a much smaller piece in Italy and, having found his business card, asked the artist if he'd be interested in doing something for Cicchetti. Sure, he wrote back. "My girlfriend lives in Ballard." What are the odds? Two weeks later he was on site, assembling the chandelier.

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Cicchetti, 121 E. Boston (off Eastlake, behind Serafina), Seattle, 206-323-0807  Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

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Cornichon Contest: Win a Wine Collar

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Wine%20Collar%20thumb.jpgYou see this object, known as a wine collar. Sterling silver, my friends, from Aspinal of London's selection of exquisite barware. Slide it over the neck of your Château La Nerthe or your Neckartal Riesling, your nec plus ultra flask of treasured nectar, and you'll stop worrying that a stray drop will sully your starched & ironed tablecloth. A $60 item, were you to purchase it from the source, but our friends at Aspinal have sent one to Cornichon to give away!

So here's what we're asking: send us a Wine Collar poem. Minimum 4 lines, maximum 12, that sings the praises of this functional item. Be inventive, be crazy, be formal, be casual, be bright & shiny. We'll publish the winning entry and send you this Sterling Silver Bottle Drip Collar in time for New Year's Eve.

Send your entries by email to Ronald [at], with the words "Cornichon Contest" in the subject line by December 24th. An impartial panel of judges will review all submissions. And who knows, if we get lots of entries, the good folks at Aspinal might be persuaded to repeat the give-away next year. They've got lots of classy stuff on their website, and if you spend $150 or more before the end of the year, you get 20 percent off. Just use this link and the code HOLIDAY20 when you order.

Salty Nutcrackers on Alki

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Three years ago this week, Cornichon penned a typically snarky post about the proliferation of nutcrackers on Seattle streets. Grumble, grumble, crunch, crunch. Off they went to eBay, ne'er to be seen again. Until now. Turns out, they were almost all bought by one guy, Gerry Kingen, the local hospitality entrepreneur who turned Eastlake's beer-n-burger Red Robin into a national franchise and the old Beach Broiler into Seattle's second-highest-grossing restaurant (after the Space Needle, over $11 million in 2008): Salty's on Alki Beach.

"Happy Hollandaise!" says Salty's cheerful exec chef Jeremy McLachlan, surveying the festive multi-level dining room overlooking Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline from Harbor Avenue. This time of year, the restaurant undergoes a festive transformation, with some 65 nutcrackers standing guard over the decorations.

Sure, you drop by here with out-of-town guests for a summer drink on the patio; or for the packed brunch on weekends. Still, plenty of folks come gunning for this place, convinced that the food is swill or worse, but Cornichon begs to differ. Sure, it's not Canlis, nor is it a trendy boutique. What do you expect for a 250-seat dinner house with a billion-dolar view upstairs and a suite of banquet & catering spaces at water level? What you get is good food, well-prepared; good value ($10 blue plate specials at lunch), a wine list focused on local bottlings. Never ceases to amaze us, bloggers will drop $40 for a veal chop with soubise demi-glace at a trendy new hole-in-the-wall with a fancy chef and minimalist decor and go mmmmmm, then complain that their $30 rib-eye or salmon filet at a classy "view" restaurant is overpriced. Next time you're inclined to grumble, remember that a view of anything (water, mountains, playing field) automatically accounts for the first 30 to 50 percent of the tab.

Kingen didn't have to buy any nutcrackers, let alone all of them, but he did. He saw what a "tradition" of holiday decor did for Manhattan's Tavern on the Green and found Seattle's nutcrackers displayed at the Pacific Science Center. He not only bought every last one, he bought the molds, too.

Salty's on Alki, 1936 Harbor Ave. SW, Seattle, 206-937-1600  Salty's on Alki on Urbanspoon

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Mistral Kitchen: a Warm Winter Wind

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Scallops with sunchoke cream (Mistral Kitchen, Dec., 2009); scallops with cream of peas (Mistral, May, 2004)

The great scallop schism is now healed: William Belickis has returned to the kitchen, his kitchen, midway between downtown and Lake Union, at the narrow intersection of 8th and Westlake. The architect Tom Kundig has designed an industrial-modern space (anonymous doors, black steel tunnel) which Belickis has filled with kitchens: a traditional station at the glassed-in prow, rustic ovens (tandoor, pizza), technical ovens (sous-vide, convection), a pastry station. Despite the size, some 5,000 square feet, and 40 feet of windows overlooking the sidewalk, the dining spaces are intimate: a "jewel box" that seats 24 for fine dining, spots at the counter where you can watch prep cooks, a private dining room (upstairs) with a fireplace, a six-seat chef's table, secluded nooks on the main floor, a well-stocked bar.

The original Mistral in Belltown, replaced by Spur, was a true temple of gastronomy. The new Mistral Kitchen offers options. You don't have to spend three hours and $100 for dinner (though you could); you can come for a Negroni, wave hello to the cheerful staff, and be on your way into Seattle's cold, cold night.

Mistral Kitchen, 2020 Westlake Ave., Seattle, 206-623-1922  Mistral Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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The Pork Shank Redemption

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There are now four shades of Purple (Woodinville, Kirkland, Bellevue, Seattle), all part of Larry Kurovsky's Heavy Restaurant Group. Really, really heavy. The wispy waitresses need a brawny bracero just to move a chair. The interior, at the new Bellevue store, is all shades of gunmetal gray and continues the weighty design of heavy wrought iron seen downtown. It's as if Richard Sera's "Wake" were only slightly reduced in scale and deposited at Purple's hostess station. Yet there seems to be more space, more separation between diners & drinkers in Bellevue than Belltown.

Should you arrive from the NE 4th side and enter through the unmarked double doors, you'll find yourself at the top of a staircase, confronting Barrio's wailing wall of flickering candles, where a helpful barman is all too willing to pour you a double-digit shot of brand-name tequila. Not saying Don Camilo Respoda with a taster of housemade sangrita isn't worth it, but (with tax & tip), there goes your first $20 of the night.

The Purple side of the establishment is primarily a wine bar, a café rather than formal dinner house.The wine list (loose leaf sheets enclosed in a handsome hard-cover binder designed and manufactured by Seattle's Taste Envy); it runs some 60 pages, and it's broad and inclusive. As always, the bargains come from southern Italy (Falco Nero from Salice Salentino is $38). There's also a lengthy, playful glossary of wine terms that skates from brix to brunello, from meursault to microclimate. By the glass, serious wines (Vouvray, Montepulciano) at reasonable prices ($8 or so).

Still, dinner did not begin well. A golden beet salad, its root vegetables severly undercooked, were suffocated by a shower (nay deluge) of deconstructed brusseld sprouts, a few candied pistacchios and a sprinkling of "roasted" grapes. (No, they were just grapes; don't go all fancy on us pretending they're "roasted.") The problem was a woeful lack of salt. Only in Bellevue, one feels, is a ban on salt written into the Municipal Code. Just requesting a salt shaker is akin to asking (aloud, in public) for kiddie porn.

And then, just when you think it's unsafe to continue, an entrée of braised pork shank arrives. Deliverance! No more underdone or undersalted ingredients; the saucier's apprentice has conjured up a refined, balanced dish, the heavenly meat, topped with crispy shallots, lying atop a soft blanket of rosemary-scented polenta. (Dare we say it? Dukastic!)

And let me tell you, the folks dining at the Purple wine bars on the eastside, speaking French, speaking Japanese, they should strike terror into the hearts of downtown Seattle operators. With Barrio and Purple, with Pearl and Maggiano, Blue C Sushi and Boom Noodle, those eastide yuppies are valet-parking their BMWs in downtown Bellevue, close to home. Mamma, you can kiss the bridge & tunnel crowd goodbye forever.

Purple Wine Bar, 430 106th NE, Bellevue, 425-502-6292  Purple Cafe and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
Barrio, 10650 NE 4th, Bellevue, 425-502-5021  Barrio Bellevue on Urbanspoon

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Heed this Hedonist

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Eyes%20II.JPGShe's a multi-lingual Canadian adventuress who, after graduating from the University of Victoria, spent four arctic winters in a snowbound Yukon cabin (advising First Peoples on a project to save the endangered porcupine caribou), then another year on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) working to improve the archepelago’s economic development prospects. Today she's a Washington-licensed attorney who works on international business and non-profit issues (currently helping UW's law school with international career placements), and, at the end of the day, a happy West Seattle homesteader, with her husband (also an attorney) and 14-year-old Teddie (a shaggy Newfoundland who's been at her side since those days in the Arctic).

Meet Jacqueline Pruner, whose keen mind and active spirit find focus in a new blog, Heed the Hedonist, that celebrates the pleasures of the flesh and "self-gratification." Not porn, no, no, no. But pleausres like the "ahhh" in spa, the "oooh" in food.

Jacqueline has on several occasions stood in for Cornichon and contributed to this blog (and to our recent, jointly composed "Victoria's Secrets" series); since September, she's also had her own forum. And a handsome page it is, with posts arranged both chronologically (as in most blogs) and by category (Food|Wine, Spa|Health, Romance|Sex, Travel|Culture, Style|Pacific NW Living). There's detailed information about teas and spas (two useful specialties) as well as forays into the naughty-naughty (her review of Measure for Pleasure at her neighborhood theater didn't hesitate to quote the play's use of c- and f-words). Her training as a lawyer comes in handy when it's time to delve into legal minutiae of, say, what qualifies a pizza oven for certificaton by the Neapolitans as genuine, though overall she maintains a gratifying informality and breezy tone.

"Add a little hedonism to every aspect of your life," Hedonista says, providing an RSS feed so she can add some to yours without fuss. Cornichon--crisp, crunchy and slightly sour--is incapable, technologically, of making the same offer, alas.

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Toulouse Petit owner Brian Hutmacher, Negroni cocktail, kitchen crew (chef Eric Donnelly at right)

Cornichon readers may recall a post, barely a month ago, about a grand new place on Lower Queen Anne, Toulouse Petit. At a dinner he hosted last night for media types, owner Brian Hutmacher asked me why his lengthy comment never made it onto the blog. Oops! So many comments are porn or spam that the default (on Cornichon, for the moment) is to require manual approval for publication, and I flat missed this one. Hoping to fix all that before long.

Turns out the place isn't named for Toulouse, France, at all, but for rue Toulouse in Nawlins, where a 23-year-old Brian Hutmacher got his start in the biz. (Cornichon's very first post, by the way, was composed at Maison Dupuy on rue Toulouse.) More from Brian's (unpublished) comment:

My first job as a waiter (Brian writes) was at a little place on Toulouse Street. Its small menu was centered around Creole cuisine and had a slightly crazy chef who was immensely frustrated and talented all at once, and an English maitre d’ who was enjoyed indulging his various British control issues with impressionable waiters like myself who would extend credulity to his curious inclinations.

Despite their various slightly destructive qualities (sounds so stereotypical of restaurant types, I know) the place was truly wonderful, even magical at times. It was an endeavor that those who worked there could channel what was best in them in a positive way, and that produced enjoyment for others.

I lived in an old "slaves' quarters" apartment about ten minutes walk away. Every day, when I would turn onto rue Toulouse, I knew I was going somewhere that anything might happen...I loved that feeling. And it was new and exciting to me then. And a different kind of excitement than the reasons I thought I had chosen to check out living in the Quarter for the winter.

Anyway, the name Toulouse didn’t come about for this project in a firm way until 2004, when I was having lunch with my very close friend Lisa Wallace. She’s a tarot reader at Tenzing Momo (and very much the real deal), and I was throwing names out to her, knowing that Toulouse was what I liked the most and would probably select anyway, but I wanted her sense of the options I was considering. I suppose you could call it a one person focus group of name-testing.

And why, after all that, is this Toulouse Petit? Because the original concept for Toulouse was for a different, much larger space. And this one is full of so many small pieces (those 85,000 mosaic floor tiles), and many, many small steps. One of those steps, Hutmacher and his GM, Shing Chin acknolwedge, will be to bring more wines from southwest France onto the menu. Bravo!

Capsule review of last night's dinner. The biggest hit was a meltingly tender veal rib chop; at $31, it's the second-most expensive item on the menu, which is in all respects quite reasonable. "Steakhouse-quality steaks in a welcome environment at accessible, neighborhood prices," the menu says. (Note to Eric Donnelly & crew back in the kitchen: fewer lardons in the mustard-shallot sauce, please; you shouldn't be trying to make this taste like bacon.) Loved the buttery grits and the creamy puréed potatoes, too. And did we mention the piping hot beignets ($5.50)? We should. Puffy clouds of dough and powdered sugar with a chicory-flavored crème anglaise for dipping, a heavenly finish.

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Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-423-9069   Toulouse Petit on Urbanspoon

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TK Comes to Dinner

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From time to time, our modest local temples of gastronomy are graced with a visit by one or another of the nation's culinary gods, who descend from Paris, New York or California, their latest cookbooks in hand. Most recent sighting in Seattle: no less than TK himself, Thomas Keller, the country's most celebrated chef (French Laundry, Bouchon, per se, etc.). Elegant, self-assured, gracious, clad in white shirt, blazer and designer jeans, swathed in a long red scarf, TK affixes his autograph on ad hoc at home, his latest tome, for a crowd of local chefs and foodies who've gathered at Bastille to pay proper homage to the master's six Michelin stars.

"It delights me to offer here a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home," TK writes in the introduction. The book is beautifully produced, weighs a ton, costs $50 and is sold out until February. (Plenty of free tips and how-to videos online, though.)

There's obviously a hunger for accessible (rather than fancified) food, and much is made of ad hoc's fried chicken. But get this: the "lemon brine" alone requires 8 ingredients, another dozen for the coating, dredging and frying. If you're lazy, you might appreciate Williams Sonoma's "ad hoc fried chicken kit" (a $14.95 bag of flour & spices) though you still have to do the work yourself. Cookbooks like this aren't for the lazy, or for people who don't start thinking about what to make for dinner until 3 o'clock rolls around. Sheesh, show a little respect! Just because there are no printed menus at ad hoc ("Mom didn't have a menu, either"), just because this is comfort food served family style doesn't mean you don't have to think ahead, that you shouldn't plan.

The dinner at Bastille ($190 a plate) is produced not by TK but by a disciple, Shannon Galusha, who did a three-year apprenticeship at French Laundry before setting out on his own. Galusha and crew replicate half a dozen recipes from ad hoc at home: braised oxtail tartines, crab cakes and Maine lobster rolls to start, then scallops with root vegetables, followed by a confit of pork belly and braised beef short ribs, and finally apple fritters with an ice cream sandwich.

The cookbook, it should be said, grew out of a "temporary" restaurant in Yountville, ad hoc, that served four-course, family-style dinners. It caught on, became too successful to close, and may end up being TK's most important contribution to the way we (should) eat now: not rarefied and elitist but humble and generous.

Keller signs copies for the general public at noon today (Dec. 8th), at the University Bookstore.

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Farewell My Poutine

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All week we've been impresed by the commitment of local restaurateurs to supporting local farmers and wine makers.

Gentrification has taken its toll, however, at Canoe Brewpub, where exec sous chef Chris Anderson has applied the city's culinary correctness to that staple of late-night Canadian bar food, poutine. Sure, my friend, go ahead and replace those squeaky cheese curds from Quebec with a shredded raclette from Little Qualicum because it melts better and has a deeper, nuttier flavor. Go ahead and replace canned beef gravy with a reduction of your own brewery's Beaver Brown Ale, local red wine, and house-made demi-glace so you get a richer, more complex flavor.

Good thing you're still using Kennebec spuds, chef, but you've tinkered with an icon. You want raclette, go to Switzerland. You want house-made demi, go to Brasserie l'Ecole. Poutine isn't supposed to be a gourmet dinner, sacrebleu! It's how you wind up a heavy night on the town, something to absorb all that alcohol, eh?

But nostalgia ain't what it used to be; all over Canada, poutine is going upscale. Just read Überfoodie Calvin Trillin's essay in The New Yorker (or listen to the podcast). It turns out Canoe's gourmet poutine--the kitchen's riff on the blank canvas of Canada's national dish--is the perfect conclusion to a week of fancy eating and high living after all.

Canoe Brewpub, 450 Swift St., Victoria, BC, 250-361-1940  Canoe Brewpub on Urbanspoon

PS: Thanks again to Tourism Victoria, to the hotels who put us up and put up with us (Inn at Laurel Point, Oswego, Parkside, Rialto) and to all the restaurateurs we've mentioned in these posts, for making this trip possible. Special thanks to Jacqueline Pruner, who blogs as Heed the Hedonist, for inviting Cornichon along on this trip. A votre santé!

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Bravo for Brasseries

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The first brasseries, in eastern France, were basically brewpubs, restaurants attached to breweries, and the name continues to suggest straightforward food and a convivial atmosphere. Gastropubs are their fashiopnable, social-climbing and candle-lit cousins, but most brasseries are informal, well-lighted places. Steak%20w%20gorgonzola%20butter%20at%20Brass%20l%27Ecole.JPGThe much-loved (and long-departed, pre-internet) Brasserie Pittsbourg was François Kissel's version, the first authentic French restaurant in Seattle, set in a white-tiled basement lunchroom in Pioneer Square. Ballard's new Bastille, also white-tiled, comes closer to the Paris model, however: the bustling, high-ceilinged, grandes brasseries , where you find staples like oysters, steak tartare and choucroûte garnie.

In Victoria, Brasserie l'Ecole gets it right with red walls, white tablecloths and a short, unfussy menu. Chef Sean Brennan keeps the food simple and tasty; his steak-frites is textbook perfection, enhanced by crunchy Kennebec fries. Sommelier Marc Morrison finds reasonably priced, matching bottles from international vineyards.They have a loyal following among Victoria's industry insiders, no doubt because so many newly hatched restaurateurs used to work there. L'Ecole regularly racks up "best of" awards, which aren't exactly unwarranted, but much of what we've been tasting around town over the past several days has shown greater imagination. There's great value in traditional French cuisine, however, and l'Ecole does French comfort food (onion soup, boeuf bourguignon) exceedingly well.

Brasserie l'Ecole, 1715 Government St., Victoria, BC, 250-475-6260  Bras serie

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One Lump or Two? Tea in Victoria

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First of all, ladies & gentlemen, let's get this cleared up. It's Afternoon Tea, not High Tea. High tea is an early evening meal, like supper, and usually includes a hot dish. Regardless of what you call it, though, it's part of Victoria's heritage and charm; tearooms of all styles abound.

What they serve in the century-old Tea Lobby of the grandiose Fairmont Empress is the old colonial custom of Afternoon Tea. Dainty pastries, daity sandwiches, dainty china. Hefty pricetag: $44 to $55, depending on the season. Starts at noon, seatings every hour. Very popular with day-trippers on package tours, not to mention guests staying in the hotel's 477 rooms.

There was an upgrade last year, for the hotel's centennial, a $100 "Royal" tea, with champagne; there's even an $18 tea for the kiddies (Princes & Princesses, sorry). Never too young to start learning elegance.

The china pattern by Royal Doulton is exclusive to the Empress, for sale in the gift shop. Used to be, the tea itself was a house blend as well (assam and Kenya). Now they've added another half-dozen blends and morphed Afternoon Tea into a whole ceremony, a "Tea Experience" if you will. Servers are drilled in the exotica of tea, the sorts of minutiae that my colleague and traveling companion Hedonista chronicles on her blog. Cornichon, duly impressed by everyone's teaophlia expertise, goes straight for the sandwiches: smoked salmon pinwheels, mango & curried chicken, carrot & ginger cream cheese, and that old standby, cucumber. Followed by a raisin scone with strawberry jam and Devonshire cream, just to be polite.

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A few steps away, just past the Houses of Parliament, stands the Grand Pacific, named the best hotel in Canada by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, which has also begun offering a tea experience. West Coast Afternoon Tea, they call it here, and it's rather more like lunch. Cornichon's favorite: a tomato tartlet with goat cheese from Salt Spring Island. (This being Victoria, there's a whole back-story, a virtual goat cheese odyssey.)

A dozen or so loose leaf teas are available, some quite exotic.The price is $38 (still seems like a lot), but drops to $14 if all you want is tea and scones. The exec chef is an imposing gent named Michael Minshull, dead-set serious about keeping his food sources local. He heads the local chefs collaborative, and runs a kitchen that feeds the hotel's seafood restaurant, The Pacific, and its gourmet restaurant, The Mark.

Fairmont Empress, 721 Government St., Victoria, BC, 250-384-8111  Fairmont Empress on Urbanspoon
Hotel Grand Pacific, 463 Belleville St., Victoria, BC, 250-380-4476  Hotel Grand Pacific on Urbanspoon

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The Spirit of Aura at Laurel Point

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As we continue our tour of Victoria, capital of British Columbia, a bit of history. The spit of land referred to as Cook's Landing by the founders of Victoria's Fort Vancouver, and known today as Laurel Point, was a sacred spot for the Island's Lekwungen-speaking First People: a burial ground and a gathering place for the great ceremonial potlaches that defined the culture and spirit of those indigenous tribes (Coast Salish, Songhee, Esquimault).

For the past 30 years, Laurel Point has been the site of a luxury hotel facing the Inner Harbour ("247 steps from downtown"), built as a Delta property, then taken over by the Arsens family. an elegant brick ziggurat that contrasted sharply with the formal, colonial Victorian architecture of the Houses of Parliament and the mighty Empress. Twenty years ago, the gifted architect Arthur Ericksen (Vancouver's Law Courts, Tacoma's Museum of Glass) added a silvery-blue, glass-enclosed wing that looks like an ocean liner pulling out of the harbor. The rooms and public spaces were completely renovated last year, and the newly christened Inn at Laurel Point is positioning itself as an all-inclusive resort. (And we do mean inclusive: the website has a page promoting Laurel Point as LGBT-friendly.)

As befits a four-star property, there's an upscale restaurant (with a great view and an unwieldy name), Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio. The point of "aura," of course, is to recognize the historical significance of the location. "We wanted to call it Spirit or Spirits," says the hotel's manager, Scott Hoadley, "but the liquor board said no."

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Exec Chef Brad Horen, the Canadian Culinary Federation's Chef of the Year in 2007, has a commitment to fresh-fresh-fresh, Oceanwise, organic. Before he joined Aura, he led a culinary team from Alberta to four gold medals and second-place overall at the World Culinary Olympics. Now that he's on Vancouver Island, he's got a far bigger market basket (seafood, produce, wine) to play with. A playful variation on surf-n-turf, for example: duck breast, duck consommé and a spot prawn. A risotto of wild chanterelles with a rich hazelnut brown butter. Or take that old Italian standby, pasta alle vongole, spaghetti with clams. At Aura, it turns out to be house-made gramigna (pasta curlicues, literally "weeds," nothing like factory-produced macaroni), the clams and mussels from local waters ("We know the name of the boat, they tell you"), and the tomatoes from Sun Wing Farms. It's our first exposure to Canada's newfound culinary self-awareness, of local pride in a job well done.

The wine list highlights 14 "local" wineries within a 45-minute drive and makes a "day trip" allowance for another 17. Shunted aside as Off-Island or worse are almost 100 wines from distant corners (Okanagan) of British Columbia. Not even Salt Spring Island qualifies as "local" by this Draconian standard, which might hurt the feelings of Gulf Island farmers. By every other standard, Salt Spring counts as "Up-Island."

We get to the cheese. Now, Jonathan Kaufman at Seattle Weekly complained recently that the servers didn't know squat about the fine cheeses served at Terrence Brennan's Artisanal Table in Bellevue. Too bad he didn't come along to Victoria, where the menu and staff give you a lot more information than Mr. Brennan sees fit. "White Grace," for example, a cow's milk cheese from Moonstruck Cheese on Salt Spring Island, or a chèvre from Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz, BC: (You expect the servers at Aura to say "We know the name of the goat.") Accompanied by one of BC's most luscious wines, the baroquely named Brandenburg #3, from Venturi-Schultze. More about this winery in a future post. For the moment, it's getting late.

A note for diners staying at the hotel: there's no spa onsite, but don't worry: Molton Brown amenities in the rooms, along with a unique, $49 in-room spa experience: a "bath butler" to draw your perfumed bath, a drink (sweet wine) and treats (fruit, sweets, slightly risqué reading material). Just toddle off to your room and get soaked.

Aura, 680 Montreal St. (Inn at Laurel Point), Victoria, BC, 250-414-6739   Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio on Urbanspoon

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Merchant of Veneto

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Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was a sketchy hostelry here in Victoria, the Douglas Hotel, at a notoriously rundown corner, the intersection of Douglas and Pandora. Known to one and all as the Dougie, it was a flophouse, really. Young women of good family gave it a wide berth; a beer (or more) at the Dougie was a rite of passage for young men. But one man's flophouse is another's treasured landmark, and so the Dougie underwent a complete, 18-month, $10 million renovation. It reopened this summer as the Hotel Rialto, with shiny marble floors, 31 upscale rooms and suites, a sleek new restaurant and lounge (Veneto ) and a bright new coffee shop (Breve). The off-license liquor store, now called Vintage Spirits, was relocated to the back of the reception area.

The Rialto, back in Shylock's day, was the Wall Street of Venice, so it makes sense to call its restaurant Veneto. But let's be clear: Veneto is an official regione in northern Italy, and "tapas" are Spanish. (They're called pintxos in the Basque country.) The equivalent small plates in Venice are called cicchetti; Cornichon "discovered" them on a trip to La Serenissima several years ago; there's now an offshoot of Serafina on Eastlake that's named Cicchetti, just-opened and well-reviewed; we'll let you know what Cornichon thinks upon our return to Seattle. (Hint: already online at, we liked it a lot.)

As for Veneto: they serve their cicchetti in flights of three, priced from $14 to $17. (Shades of the late, ill-fated Qube!) So your scallop trio, for example, includes three complex dishes; the best one begins with a base layer of butternut squash soup, topped with a perfectly roasted scallop drizzled with a sage-scented brown butter. Went down all-too-quickly. Also enjoyed a veal raviolo stuffed with portobello bits in a garlic cream. They let you choose your three desserts from a roster of six. Exec chef Tod Bosence clearly knows what he's doing. Matching wine flights, well-chosen by bar manager Wes Hunter, are $10 for three glasses.

The cocktail menu, by the way, reprints Steve Allen's wise adminition: "Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly, and they use too much vermouth."

Veneto, 1450 Douglas St. (in the Rialto Hotel), Victoria, BC, 250-383-7310  Veneto on Urbanspoon

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Cornichon and Hedonista (Seattle's Jacqueline Pruner) have reached the end of this four-part, jointly written series of "Victoria's Secrets." In many ways we've saved the best for last. (Everyone loves a happy ending, n'est-ce pas?) Sips Artisan Bistro seems a fitting conclusion to our quest for Victoria's hidden culinary delights, a veritable cornucopia of British Columbia's impressive wines, beers and spirits, matched with Island-grown-and-raised artisan meats, cheeses, poultry and seafood, all, in this unlikely location, under the baton of Brian Storen.

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CORNICHON says: Brian Storen, poet laureate of the Kingdom Bacchus, Canada's 2005 sommelier of the year, is probably the only person to use the terms "sweaty bovine," "post-coital" and "necrotic" in the same sentence to discuss a wine, and he does it effortlessly, the words rolling from his tongue like arpeggios from Mozart's fingers. This to describe a Kettle Valley Vineyards malbec grown in the Okanagan's grand cru Naramata Bench, a fine bottle but not even the standout in an amazing tasting of great wines from British Columbia. (That honor, to Cornichon's palate, probably went to a Venturi-Schultze pinot noir.) Storen would not mind. He riffs in another dimension, a whirlwind of free-association, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Blake and Jack Kerouac all at once: "earth, bramble and spice olfactory escalator’s ascendance into gossamer strands of first crushed carnations then blackberry and melted purple crayon sylphs riding bare back through a heaving pack of saddle mounted black currant." (Take that, Robert Parker!)

HEDONISTA says: I have a confession to make, dear readers. I have a crush on poet-turned-sommelier Brian Storen. Not the kind of crush I have for Linda and George Szasz, mind you - that wholesome, husband-wife-makin'-fab-food kinda crush. What I feel for this literary libations lover is far more ... seductive. An "I'd wish he'd write me a love letter" kinda crush. Think college professor crush, when you hang on every word spoken and every smile, every glint of those seemingly bottomless azure 'n' steel hued eyes. When he smiles it's as if it's is just for you; when he, oh say, pours you your yet another glass of wine (for by now you've truly lost count), it's as if some magical moment, some exceptional gift, has been revealed only to you. By this time you're drunk - not on the liquid love, mind you, but on the literary love: his words. Phrases such as "slap of the baby dragon’s tail on wet slate" (to describe the cold fermented terroire finish of Cobble Hill's Venturi Schultze 2006 Brut Naturel, made with fermented pinot auxerrois, pinot gris, and kerner grapes) and "burbling wet dream ephemera in the diligence of nectar drunk bumble bees humming frizzante dexterity while they work, not caring how they get into the flower nor whether they ever emerge" (to detail the tasting tones of B.C.'s first meadery, Tugwell Creek's Sparkling Methode Classic Wassail Mead). True food erotica - nay, food porn. All you can do is submit to a final night cap - rather aptly named "The Leg Spreader" if you can believe it (and, at this stage of the food and wine orgy, trust me when I say you can). His tasting notes for this close-to-coital cocktail concoction:

Fireweed honey esters roil up the glass, pungent with frankincense and myrrh smoked ancient stone and wood shafts funneling the languorous movement of an opulently overripe apricot shedding its skin before slipping into a gooseberry lined bed and the trembling embrace of a post pubescent fig tree, conmingling their rhapsodic liquid essence in the twice blessed womb of myth & imagina.

CORNICHON says: Sips is hardly the environment you'd choose for a seduction, let alone a tasting of benchmark wines. The room itself is spare, a shoebox illuminated by the garish fluorescent fixtures mandated by the Provincial Liquor Board to keep PLS (private liquor store) licensees from making their products too appealing. And Sips, you come to realize, shares its premises and its liquor license with Spinnakers, the pioneering craft brewery, gastropub and guest house located across the Inner Harbour in Esquimault. Beyond the glass divider, a plethora of smiley-faces indicating products not carried by government stores. "Every bottle has its story," the signs say, and it falls to the mild-mannered, long-haired, Storer to tell them. And tell the stories he does, with clarity, erudition and enthusiasm.

HEDONISTA says: A fitting grand finale; and one that you simply can't refuse. For Master Storen seduces you with each and every sip, from amuse bouche to night cap, from flirtatious beginning to post-coital culinary end. For his professorial lecture is revelation, dear hedonists. I strongly believe that his class should be entitled thus: The Advanced Enophilic Class of Foodie Philosophy - "the palate as orgasm to the soul."

CORNICHON concludes: "Hardwired to the trigeminal brain stem, the palate is portal to the soul," Storen's story begins. It would be a shame to paraphrase it, to do more than pay homage to his 13-part seduction. His 1,500-word tasting narrative, fully annotated with matching foods, is here (PDF) Can you keep a secret? It's not too many notes if you're listening, it's not too many wines if you're paying attention. The trick is let yourself be seduced (by the wine, by the music) without falling asleep.

Sips Artisan Bistro, 425 Simcoe St., Victoria, BC, 250-590-3519   Sips Artisan Bistro on Urbanspoon

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I'm Seattle's Global Gourmet for a national network of blogs, Also Director, Wine Tours, for The International Vineyard. Write to me: ronald [at]

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