July 29, 2005

On the Waterfront

Glorious evening. Rainier melting in the southern sky like a gorgonzola ice-cream cone. Across the water, the jagged outline of Olympic teeth. Sails luff, ferries glide.

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We're on the patio at the foot of Pier 70, celebrating Cornichon's birthday with a feast at Waterfront Seafood Grill: mussels, calamari, crab salad, swordfish, crab-filled vol-au-vent, gumbo, lobster mashed potatoes. A couple of terrific French wines (Sancerre and Chambolle-Musigny). Couldn't be better.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 6:52 AM | Comments (2)

July 27, 2005

Build it. They will come.

Black Bottle, at First & Vine in Belltown, opened at 4 PM yesterday without so much as the click of a press-agent's keyboard. Loveliest afternoon of the year, plenty of folks out strolling in shorts and sandals, leashed to dainty doggies. By 7 PM the place was packed.

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Black Bottle replaces the unlamented and unfortunately named Two Dagos, Belltown's skankiest and most reviled watering hole. Its reincarnation was shepherded by well-traveled Denver native Chris Linker, who envisioned a convivial, neighborhood place based on Britain's gastro-pubs and Japan's izakayas: informal, full-flavored food to accompany great drinks.

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The mandarin cosmopolitan ($7) is served with its own shaker, a welcome touch. The wine list offers two dozen selections under $25, six or seven of them by-the-glass.

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In the kitchen, chef Brian Durbin, a veteran of Carribean resort kitchens and Denver's Carmine's on Penn, was training an international crew (Morocco, Sicily, Seattle). His menu is deceptively simple: a dozen or so dishes at $8 a pop, from cumin pork tenderloin on a bed of frisee to a braised artichoke with beet chips to seven-spice shrimp. At first, he was going to serve the shrimp with the heads attached; in the end, they're piled in the center of the plate, take-em-or-leave-em. (I took em; talk about full-flavored!)

Best for last: a chocolate cake filled with vanilla gelato ($7). Yummy beyond words.

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Despite first-night jitters, Black Bottle managed to serve some 200 guests. "We were taken by surprise," says the restaurant's designer, Judy Boardman. Not to worry, not to worry. You've got a winner.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 11:45 AM | Comments (4)

July 25, 2005

A decade of Flying Fish

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When Chris Keff was ready to launch Flying Fish, ten years ago, Belltown was still a culinary wasteland. To be sure, Marco’s Supper Club and Macrina Bakery had just opened to keep her company, but her concept of a seafood restaurant with Asian overtones was considered, well, perhaps a bit too “San Francisco.”

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Chris had paid her dues: the Four Seasons in New York, McCormick & Schmick and the Hunt Club in Seattle. The flavors were new and honest, with unusual fish (bronzini, opah) and exotic preparations (curries, stir-fries, lemongrass).

Within a couple of years, the Fish was ranked one of Seattle’s top restaurants and Chris herself was named Best Chef in the Northwest/Hawaii by the James Beard Foundation.

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From the start, it’s been a hip spot, and as the line snaked out the door and her management responsibilities grew, Chris recruited a talented and unassuming chef Steve Smrstik to watch the stoves, and an experienced, New Zealand-born wine guy, Brian Huse, to build an award-winning wine list and run front-of-the-house.

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Then a new building across First Avenue had room for a restaurant, so Chris launched Fandango, but the space was awkward and expensive. She closed it after four years and moved most of the staff back to Flying Fish so she’d have enough people on hand to open for lunch.

And she turned her interests to sustainable agriculture and organic farming. On the restaurant’s 10th anniversary, at the end of July, the Flying Fish menu for the first time carried these words: “All of our raw ingredients are organic or harvested from the wild.”

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To celebrate, a gala picnic yesterday down in Kent, at Whistling Train Farm, with family-style platters of king salmon and plump local mussels.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 4:18 PM

July 21, 2005

Purple Wine Book

No more stuffy “The wine list, sir.” At Purple Wine Bar & Cafe, it's now “Hey, folks, here’s our new wine BOOK!”

Informal, chatty, cleverly organized, 30-page, lucite-covered volume is much more than a wine list. A separate sheet lists dozens of wines-by-the-glass plus 14 wine “flights.”

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Diners at Purple--restaurants in Woodinville and in Kirkland--are accustomed to finding remarkable wines on their own or willing to follow the spot-on suggestions of the café’s knowledgeable staff: little-known grape varieties, obscure regions, unbelievable values, unexpectedly delicious pairings with food.

What they haven’t had, until now, is a book that explains how the staff thinks about wine ....

Purple’s new Wine Book is presented to diners in an industrial-chic, lucite-covered, 8-by-8-inch binder.

“We kind of wanted to debunk the concept of ‘The Wine List’ as an oversize leather binder,” said Purple’s wine director, Christene Larsen. “So we thought, why not design a wine book totally unexpected?”

The restaurant’s philosophy is expressed in a one-page introduction that reminds readers “be sure to enjoy, experiment, appreciate & relax!” Annotated listings follow, concluding with a 6-page glossary of wine terms. In between are descriptions of over 300 bottles, each described with a snappy, perceptive phrase.

Informal and cleverly organized, the book begins with an overview of what wine is all about: “Mysterious, complex, sexy…”

Red and white wines are then grouped by variety and growing region, with a descriptor for each bottle. Individual pages are also devoted to “amusing & interesting” bottles, bargain wines, oversize and hard-to-find bottles.

Three or four lines at the top of each page talk about the wines in each category. For the dozen or so reds from the southern hemisphere, “Ah, New Zealand, so expressive & elegant you can drink them all day long.”

Tucked inside the binder is the by-the-glass list, which features more than 75 reds and whites available for tasting, along with over a dozen of Purple’s signature “flights” of four tastes of related wines.

“The response has been fantastic,” Larsen said. “Instead of putting it aside, guests are reading it throughout their dinners.”

Posted by Ronald Holden at 1:20 AM

July 19, 2005

Return of the Liquid Lunch

Gorgeous weather in Seattle, hot sun, deep shadows. Along Fifth Avenue, a sign outside Spice: "The Martini Lunch is Back!" Can it be?

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Indeed, indeed, martinis for three bucks until 3 PM. (Regular happy hour starts at 4, drinks are $4.) And here I thought the liquid lunch had gone the way of 78 rpm vinyl.

Are there lots of takers? Not yet, but when the word gets out ...

Posted by Ronald Holden at 1:32 AM

July 16, 2005

The Real Bastille Deal

Allons, mes enfants! On va faire la fête!

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Let's start the party with a glass of Veuve Clicquot poured at Seattle Cellars by Cindy Sido of Alaska Distributors. Then we head to Le Pichet, where chef and co-owner Jim Drohman has drawn door duty. Inside, the menu is pared down to sandwiches, frites and crèpes, with gypsy-jazz guitar music to enhance the mood.

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At Campagne, a distinct upstairs-downstairs flavor. Chef Daisley Gordon presides over a $65 prix fixe dinner that starts with quenelle de poisson, a halibut dumpling topped with whitefish caviar. Sous chef Nikki Schiebel did the actual cooking; Gordon inspects, wipes and dispatches.

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In the alley behind Café Campagne, there's a crowd scarfing up $5 merguez sausages, downing goblets of wine and listening to French music.

And at Maximilien, another accordionist, bleu-blanc-rouge balloons and a $34 prix fixe menu.

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Fireworks? Not in Seattle. Need to be content with memories of the Eiffel Tower and feu d'artifice from a couple of summers back.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 2:54 AM

July 13, 2005

Remembrance of California Barbecues

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Was reading David Rosengarten's award-winning newsletter, this month's issue about Kobe beef, including mention of a much-prized cut of meat known as tri-tip. It's what Californians call bottom sirloin butt, especially around Santa Barbara, where they guard their recipes for tri-tip marinade as closely as their neighbors, the Santa Ynez Valley vintners, protect their techniques for making perfect pinot noir.

My brother David, as it happens, is a tri-tip master of Proustean talents. No sooner had I sent him Rosengarten's comments than he replied with this dispatch from his ranch overlooking the vineyards along Alisos Canyon Road:

À la recherche du Tri-Tip perdu...

Marc was just here, and we bbqed some, not according to the SMaria recipe, but with a Bifstek alla Fiorentina type marinade. Marc added some chipotle sauce (to the usual olive oil, italian seasoning, Pappy's sesoning, cracked pepper, garlic) as well as two "secret" ingredients we'd used earlier in the week on oven-roasted leg of goat: Hediard's (yes, Parisian) Raz El Hanout and Mélange Alexandrie.

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These two Arabian inspired spice mixtures are what I like to call "dark" in flavor. The Raz has a slight curriness (clove, turmeric, ginger, carvil spice, coriander, cumin, pepper, anise, black pepper), the Alexandrie (black pepper,, cayenne, ginger, clove, coriander, Jamaican pepper, cardomom, fennel, cinnamon and "paradise seeds") a smell that reminds me of a tin of old Balkan Sobranie white label -- remember that stuff?

All goes to show that no recipe is immutable, and that one should follow one's nose (and empty out the refrigerator shelves of obscurities) when cooking.

Explanatory notes to Cornichon readers: Marc is my nephew. Balkan Sobranie is a [discontinued] pipe tobacco favored by a friend of the family.

By the by [David's dispatch continues], the two spices from Hediard were purchased at Dean and DeLuca in NYC but are not available on their website.

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There are versions of raz el hanout available from purespice.com ($5 a bottle), described as:

"Raz el Hanout is an interesting blend of sweet spices essential to Moroccan cooking. I find that this blend brings together fruit and meat wonderfully.
Besides couscous and other Moroccan dishes, there are classic European recipes for fruit and meat. A recipe, Pork and Prunes, appears often in old cookbooks. I had tried it once and found it only fairly interesting. When I developed Raz el Hanout, I made it again and it was absolutely terrific. It took what I considered to be a mundane dish and lifted it to new heights."

Chefshop.com [based here in Seattle, as it happens] has a version for $5.75, described as:

"Ras El Hanout is a truly dazzling combination of spices and herbs that is traditionally improvised by Moroccan merchants in their souks. Depending on the needs of the customer and the complexity of the dish, Ras El Hanout can be comprised of over twenty ingredients. ""Ras el hanout"" means head of the shop, or the ""best of the best"", and only the finest, and often the most esoteric, ingredients are used. India Tree's Ras El Hanout mixture contains allspice, black pepper, mace, nutmeg, cumin, clove, cardamom, turmeric and gingerroot, and dried rosebuds. Ras el Hanout is distinctively Moroccan in character, and is commonly used during the winter months in foods intended to warm the body. Use it to season game, to blend with rice, couscous, tagines. Use with discretion: not only is it a rich and deeply warming spice, it is a purported aphrodisiac!

Finally there's a version from zamouispices.com:

"In Moroccan language, Ras el Hanout literally means head of the store.
(also known as ras al hanout or ras el hanouth) Ras el Hanout is a spice blend that Zamouri Spices is proud to present as its best and most unique mix that any adventurous palates may love to experience. The secret of this mix and its recipe is past down through generations. Native to Morocco, every spice vendor in that region has its own unique recipe. Zamouri too has its unique blend used only in the remote region of Zamour (North Africa Atlas Mountains) for a thousand year.

"Ingredients could range from 20 to 50 different spices including: Ingredients: Lavender, allspice, paprika, turmeric, ajawan seeds, anise seeds, chili pepper, kalajeera, cloves, galangal, rose buds, black pepper, white pepper, monk's pepper, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, coriander, cumin, mace, fenugreek, cayenne pepper, yellow curry, cilantro, fennel, sage, orrisroot. (Sorry, no spanish fly. It is illegal in the USA) This blend is claimed to have aphrodisiac properties. Used mostly during cold seasons by locals. You can add a pinch or tsp to your favorite soup, stew."

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 6:20 AM | Comments (2)

July 11, 2005

Bastille Day comes early

They ran out of crepes. Brasserie Margaux ran out of coleslaw for the salmon baguettes and came this close to running out of salmon, too. Dude, that's like 800 crepes and 600 portions of fish. The organic French bakery Biofournil had to put in two calls for more bread. Muscadet grower Pierre-Yves Lusseaud, on his first trip to Seattle, ran out of wine. Mon dieu!

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Okay, so wasn't the 14th. But if Seattle Center says it's Bastille Day, and French Consul Jack Cowan says it's Bastille Day, well, chers amis, we can pretend it's Bastille Day.

Grand merci to chefs Jacques Boiroux and Thierry Rautureau and master baker Michel Robert, among the many who donated time, talent and "product" to the festivities.

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The crowd loved it. And fans of the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and "gypsy jazz" in general were particularly delighted by the last group of the day, Pearl Django, four local musicians with an international reputation.

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And if you missed the Pearl Django set, don't despair; they're playing regularly this summer in venues across Puget Sound.

Meantime, you can download a clip of their music here: haut_parleur.gif

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 7:13 AM

July 9, 2005

Cuvee Juveniles

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The Torbreck 2003 Cuvee Juveniles is a luscious blend of grenache, mataro and shiraz from Australia's Barossa Valley made specifically for Tim Johnston, proprietor of a popular bar and wine shop in Paris called, you guessed it, Juveniles.

Winemaker David Powell asked Tim's 19-year-old daughter Caroline to design the label. (She'd done her first one at the age of 12.) Torbreck is named for a forest in Scotland, hence Caroline's stylized purple trees.

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"It makes you understand that eventually, all this will be taken over by our children," Tim told me by phone just now. I could visualize him, standing behind the bar at Juve in the midst of his Saturday night crunch, uncorking bottles, pouring wine, wiping glassware, tasting bits from the kitchen. In the tiny room, adorned with Caroline's precocious drawings, a merry, effervescent crowd: anglophone tourists, international wine makers, journalists, sophisticated Parisians, good wine, tasty tapas.

It just could be the most perfect wine bar in the universe.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 8:47 PM

July 8, 2005

Out of the Cellar

Worth noting that Seattle Cellars "graduates" continue to make news, making owner Dave Woods justly proud.

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Most recently: Jared Heber, who left the store after five years to become the number two sommelier at Canlis (behind Shayn Bjornholm, who aced the Master Sommelier competition in San Francisco earlier this year; you read about it here on Cornichon) ... Jared's moving on again, this time to the French Laundry in Yountville, where he'll work with superstar chef Thomas Keller while preparing for the Master Sommelier competition himself.

Meanwhile, back at Canlis, another Seattle Cellars grad, Nelson Daquip, was singled out by Food & Wine for an article on the nation's best sommeliers under 30. Here's the link to Lettie Teague's article in the June 2005 issue, The Young and the Restless.

Still think the dude at your neighborhood wine shop is just an ignorant clerk? You could be making a big mistake!

Posted by Ronald Holden at 3:11 AM

July 7, 2005

Crazy thinking about wine

They call themselves "ThinkWine" and maintain a wacky website that pokes fun at wine snobbery. In full regalia, they took their irreverence to the Thursday tasting at Seattle Cellars last week.

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Sporting a giant afro, "Alfanso" (actually Travis Scarborough, sales rep for Acme Wine Company) poured wines from Joel Gott and Torbreck, while his buddies, dressed as "The Gorilla," "Manny Shevitz," "Mister" and "Lord Claret Pennyworth IX" sipped, posed and mingled. Sideways in Belltown!

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Good business, this casual attitude. Sales were way up, reports store owner Dave Woods.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 8:48 PM

July 6, 2005

Independence Days

Fourth of July: great weather, warm clear night, fantastic fireworks over Lake Union.

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Coming up next, the French national holiday, Bastille Day. True, it's technically on the 14th, but the ceremonies this year--part of the Festal series of international cultural events--will be at Seattle Center on Sunday, July 10th. Lots of free stuff plus nominally priced French food. Online details about the official celebration.

And if you're still hungry for something traditionally French, all three French restaurants in the Pike Place Market, Campagne, Le Pichet and Maximilien, are doing special Bastille Day dinners on the 14th.

Posted by Ronald Holden at 8:33 PM | Comments (1)

July 4, 2005

Snip, snip

It's Seattle's most recognizable haircut, sported by the young Argentinian tango dancer Eva Lucero. You may have caught sight of her in a recent Taco Bell TV spot, dancing with partner Patricio Touceda. As Cornichon readers know, they perform regularly at Buenos Aires Grill and maintain a full teaching schedule as well.

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Eva's distinctive hair is the creation of multi-talented stylist Ludmilla, who just returned to Seattle from advanced training at the TiGi Academy in LA. Her fresh new techniques, trendy cuts, edgy styles and polished classic looks, available by appointment at the Lewis Fox Salon in the downtown Macy's.

To book a haircut by Ludmilla, call 206-332-0755. Then listen to her play jazz piano like nobody's business, Thursday evenings at District Lounge in Seattle's University Tower Hotel.

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Posted by Ronald Holden at 6:27 PM | Comments (3)