Roma, Roma on the vine, who's the one who will be mine? Campari? There's actually a tomato cultivar named Campari? Yes, but it doesn't rhyme with marry-me. (You could drive yourself nuts with this stuff.) And technically, they called this an Heirloom Tomato Festival, so no cultivars at any rate. Heirlooms like Indian Moon, Hillbilly, Carbon, Ace, Russian 117, Amana Orange, Serendipity Striped, Strawberry, Bull's Heart, and Berkley Tie Dye. Got that?
So here's Holly Smith, straight out of a fairy tale, unquestioned princess of yesterday's Tomato Faire at Cedarbrook Lodge in the sheltered woods east of the SeaTac runways. A coterie of intense hobbyists, wine makers and chefs assembled on the grounds In homage to the late-summer crop of Solanum lycopersicum.
Smith's own restaurant, Café Juanita, lies 25 miles to the north, but before we take you there, a bit of an aside.
Earlier in the week, the New York Times ran one of those insufferable "trend" stories, where an editor will assign a dozen writers to turn in a quick paragraph about something that's barely worth a mention (e.g., women bartenders--really?). Among the results, this:
VEGETABLE-ADDED TAX Remember when Mom used to pair your meat with a mound of vegetables? More and more restaurants are choosing a different model, based on the Italian idea of contorni: the seasonal vegetable side dish, which you order separately -- and pay extra for. At spots like Navy, Rosette, Élan, Fung Tu, All'onda and Telepan Local, this expanding menu category may involve pea shoots, roasted avocado or heirloom tomatoes.
Smith took over the venerable spot overlooking Kirkland's Juanita Bay some 20 years ago; until then, it had belonged to Cavatappi wine maker Peter Dow. Under her stewardship, Cafe Juanita has maintained the highest standards for northern Italian cuisine. When she redid her menu a while back, she divided up the tri-fold page into neat categories. Aperitivi (Krug Grande Cuvé with bone-marrow bruschetta) and antipasti (veal sweetbreads) on the left; salads (smoked eggplant panzanella) and pastas (goat cheese gnocchi) down the middle; fish, meat, and fowl (the famous rabbit braised in white wine) on the right. And then she realized she still had room for five or six items. Bingo, contorni! Side dishes! Cauliflower with cumin, organic green beans, roasted carrots, heirloom tomatoes. Well done.