June 23, 2004

Nabe fave ...

Was thinking ... even if I lived in Venice or Paris, I might have to visit Seattle from time to time just for Happy Hour at Cascadia.

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Belltown's not known for its wine bars, so this is a great alternative. From 5 to 7 every evening, chef Kerry Sear's signature drink is reduced from $8 to $3.50. It's the Alpine Martini, and you haven't lived until you've sipped a couple. Absolut Citron, shaken with ice, served "up" with an iconoclastic scoop of creamy "Douglas Fir" sorbet and garnished with a sprig of pine. Surprisingly refreshing.

Accompany this with a couple of $1 mini-burgers: they're so tasty you'll gobble them down in two bites, but I promise you'll never eat anything as satisfying from the 99-cent menu at McD's, DQ, BK or Wendy's. And should you feel an urgent need for deep-fried seafood, Cascadia's attitude adjustment hour also offers a $2 cone of calamari with a zesty aioli.

Here's the best part: as long as the viaduct remains standing and feeds into the Battery Street tunnel, nothing will obstruct the view of sunset over Elliott Bay from Cascadia's sidewalk tables.

An occasional series highlighting neighborhood favorites.

UPDATE: Sunday, June 27th, a celebratory article appears in The Seattle Times. And FYI, the guy who ate 16 miniburgers, 'twasn't me.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 2:23 PM

June 22, 2004

Food, Wine & Bling at Aspen

Faithful correspondent David Morgenstern reports from Colorado:
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She looked to be all off 23 years old and maybe on the high side of 5'2". Thrilled to slide under the protection of our 15-minute old umbrella while in queue for The Grand Tasting at the 2004 Food & Wine Aspen Classic, she was quick to tell us she was a personal chef in Aspen. The raindrops bouncing off the red & black nylon overhead wouldn't deter her excitement to quaff as many wines as possible in the next 90 minutes. Diana and I quickly noticed the six carat pear-shaped diamond ring on her left hand balanced by a rock of equal size on her right hand not to mention the 2 carat diamond earrings and multiple tennis bracelets. Personal chefs must make some good dough! In the course of four days of chef seminars, winery panel discussions and reserve wine tastings, we estimate we laid eyes on the sparkle of at least 1,000 total carats of colored diamonds. What a way to be so casual yet so chic.

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Being our first Food & Wine Experience, we were educated and entertained by the best TV Chefs in the business; Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Jacques & Colleen Pépin, Alton Brown, Wolfgang Puck and Tyler Florence.

Mario was intense with his craft and was truly an educator. Bobby Flay was at ease with his session and encouraged any and all questions. Jacques was a true gentleman with a warm wit while teaching the class and his daughter Claudine, how her grand-mother used a simple fork to mince garlic. Claudine never got the hang of it.

The highlight of the weekend was the closing seminar aptly named the Grand Cook-off. Two chefs were presented with identical bags of groceries and given 20 minutes to conceive, cook and plate a three to four course meal using every item in the bag.

The first duo of chefs was Jacques Pépin versus his long time friend (and pastry chef while the two worked the kitchen of General Charles de Gaulle), Jean-Paul Naquin. Sissy Biggers, the MC, presented each chef with a bag containing identical ingredients: six eggs, clams, spinach, bread, purple potatoes, apricots and miso. Their French kitchenese and good natured ribbing was a hoot. Their 50 years of friendship was evident. The end product was a great presentation, but something I've not seen in any cookbook. Clams are clams, but Jean-Paul's presentation of sautéed apricots artfully placed on toasted baguettes interlaced with mint garnish was the audience favorite and he was rewarded with the majority of the votes as the best chef.

Round 2 pitted Tyler Florence versus a former Food & Wine New Chef of the Year whose name escapes me. This time the grocery bag was filled with fresh cherries, pasta, brussel sprouts, ground lamb, sea urchin, phyllo, lemons, tomatoes and fennel. Tyler quickly slipped into his smooth television persona and confidently detailed his prep, cook & plate while his counterpart slugged back Bloody Marys to ward off the previous evening?s party spirits - too bad he was too hung-over to even plate his finished product; raw sea urchin and boiled brussel sprouts over a bed of half-cooked pasta. Yuck. Tyler?s sea urchin cerviche, seared lamb patties with pasta, sautéed cherries on baked phyllo, and a simple bowl of boiled sprouts easily garnered a unanimous decision.

Andrea Immer and Steve Jenkins presented a great wine & cheese seminar while Bartholomew Broadbent, the soft-spoken gentlemen shadow of his father, did a wonderful job leading several reserve wine tastings aided by two verbose wine-merchants.

All in all a great weekend with only two draw-backs; the first being the Disney-like 45 minute queue for each seminar. The second? We don't have a "rich uncle" that can score Diana some bling for next year's Classic!

Posted by Ronald Holden at 8:12 AM | Comments (38)

June 17, 2004

Deaf in Venice

Deaf & dumb, actually. Mute. Not just sotto voce but completely voiceless. And yet, I came so close ...
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The scene: a hotel lobby in Venice. The hotel offers wireless access from an outfit called Megabeam. I crank up the laptop, fill in the required credit card information and hit "send." Long pause. Very long pause. Finally, a screen that says my username and password will be sent to me by email.

Of course, to get my email, I have to go online. And to go online, I have to log on. And to log on, I have to type in my username and password.

The absurdity of the situation hasn't penetrated Megabeam's psyche.

Eventually I was able to read my email on a public computer and I did, in fact, find the promised email. Megabeam thanked me for my patronage and provided, no, not the actual username and password ... but a link to a web page where, it said, I would be able to retrieve them. But the link, it warned, would only remain active for a limited time ... and by the time I got there, it had expired a full day earlier.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 9:04 AM | Comments (1)

June 14, 2004

Serenissima Now!

July 25, 2004 update: Today's New York Times travel section has an essay by reporter Allen Feuer titled "Blissfully Adrift In Venice." Nice article. Just remember, you read it here first ...

In the distant past, travel writers would send their dispatches by telegram, and the words would appear on a ribbon of paper. For instance, "ARRIVED VENICE. STREETS UNDER WATER. ADVISE." Now, I home in on a Wi-Fi hotspot near the Rialto bridge to send my tasting notes from lunch in The Most Serene Republic of Venice.
Since I can only stay for a couple of days, I'm determined not to get stuck with my nose in a guidebook when it could be in a wine glass instead. One of those itty-bitty wine glasses called ombre, literally shade, because the real wine bars are found in cool arcades and dusky corners just around the corner from the tourist traps.
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At Florian, on the Piazza San Marco, it's $20 for a Bellini, with a $6 entertainment surcharge for the tuxedo-clad orchestra playing Viennese waltzes to an audience of Japanese school girls sipping Cokes and indigenous pigeons pecking at kernels of corn. Onward.

I get myself "lost" on purpose and find myself at a tiny bacaro, or wine bar, somewhere in the Cannaregio neighborhood. First off, a new drink, Prosecco Bitter! It starts with two or three ounces of a lightly sparkling wine made from the local prosecco grape. Add an slug of Campari, that viscous bitter aperitif beloved by Italians. (I'm not Italian but I love it, too.) Result: something akin to the ubiquitous kir royal, only less cloying. And cheaper, too, about 2 euros, under $2.50.

are Venice's contribution to the Mediterranean tradition of small plates. Choices at this bacaro include two sorts of lasagna, gnocchi, risotto, potatoes, polenta, chicken breast, chicken thighs, tomato salad, melon, calamari salad, shrimp salad, and a Venetian specialty, seppie in tecia. Strips of cuttlefish in a black sauce of anchovies, capers and garlic. An enormous portion, zapped for a couple of minutes in the convection oven and served with a side of creamy polenta, it's the most expensive item I could have picked, but $10 was ne'er so well spent. A glass of bright red refosco, another local variety, goes very nicely.

To wrap things up, a beverage I've heard about but never actually ordered: caffè coretto. "Corrected" coffee. A single shot of espresso enlivened with a shot of grappa, making a more concentrated and bitter version of Irish coffee. The volatility of the grappa enhances the rich coffee aroma, which I savor for a few seconds before draining the cup in one gulp. Now it's the coffee's turn to tame the fiery brandy, turning its flame into a gentle glow.
I pay the tab (less than $15 altogether) and head out into the warm Venetian afternoon, bouncing without a map and without a care along calle and fondamento, gliding across campo and ponte, watching the passage of a traghetto, listening to the cries of seagulls and calls of gondoliers, feeling as serene as La Serenissima herself.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 7:11 AM

June 13, 2004

At last!

No thanks to non-functioning wireless technology, finally made it to an internet café in Venice. Will tell you shortly about travels to date, and about some exciting culinary discoveries. Ciao for now, though. Ronaldo

Posted by Ronald Holden at 6:11 AM