For some, the bell has already tolled; for others, clouds are on the way.
Many Seattle restaurants are expected to suffer in 2012 from mandated sick leave for workers, as well as the highest minimum wage in the country: $9.04 an hour.
There have more than a few closings already. Atop Queen Anne, all three restaurants in the brick building at Queen Anne and Boston (known for decades as Saladay’s Drugstore) closed when the landlord, the Rev. Sue Wanwig (whose father owned the pharmacy), refused to extend or renew their leases. Gone are Ototo Sushi, Teacup and the brand-new Polpetta (formerly Enza Cucina Siciliana).
Changes: Sexton is taking over Madame K’s in Ballard.
Pine Box is sliding into Chapel’s space on Capitol Hill. D’Ambrosio is dispensing gelato on 12th where Varro shut its doors.
Restaurant Bea now beams instead of June in Madrona.
Thai Curry Simple is now in South Lake Union where Bad Monkey used to be.
Newcomers: Publican, in Green Lake, Macleod’s in Ballard, Lucky 8 on Capitol Hill.
In other news, Wayne Johnson, longtime chef at Andaluca (Mayflower Hotel), will take over as executive chef at Ray’s Boathouse after Peter Birk leaves for a revamped Harborside.
Scott Heimindinger, aka “Seattle Food Geek,” signs on as business development manager for Modernist Cuisine.
Typhoon gets hit with $2 million discrimination complaint by its Thai workers.
Finally, a farewell to Nettletown chef Christina Choi, a victim of a brain aneurysm diagnosed only two weeks before her death, at the end of December, at age 34.
An STP dessert?
This wheel-shaped dessert? GQ magazine named it “Dessert of the Year” in 2010. It’s called a Paris-Brest, named for a bike race in France, the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). The PBP is the second-oldest cycling event in the world. It covers 1,200 km (750 miles) — a lot of riding.
The closest thing hereabouts is the STP (Seattle to Portland), organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club. The annual ride, held in the second half of July, sends 10,000 riders from Seattle to Portland. It’s about a quarter of the distance covered by the PBP and comes complete with food carts, tech support and an overnight stop for exhausted riders.
Making the Paris-Brest: choux pastry (like a cream puff), filled with a flavored cream. Jennifer Formez, pastry chef at Seattle’s Hotel 1000, made the dessert in the photo for a private, Christmas Eve dinner party for 14 guests in the hotel’s Grand Suite. It’s not on the menu.
But here’s a proposal to all the pastry chefs in Seattle: Create a dessert called the STP, send a photo of your creation to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), along with the recipe, and we promise that someone, somewhere will publish it.
Good for store, not others
Wine World Warehouse, a 23,000-square-foot facility just off Interstate 5 on Northeast 45th Street in Wallingford, is the largest wine store in the Northwest. Six months from now, when the Washington State Liquor Control Board is supposed to close its 700 or so retail outlets, Wine World will also become Washington’s largest independent liquor store. Yet, its owner, Seattle sommelier David LeClaire is not thrilled.
As owner of the only freestanding wine shop in Washington to meet the 10,000-square-foot minimum size for liquor sales, LeClaire certainly isn’t going to turn away from the opportunity to sell spirits. He intends to sell far more than the top-100 brands, especially in categories like scotch, tequila and sherry.
He’ll showcase the Northwest’s increasingly ambitious micro-distilleries. He’ll continue to have partnerships with outside event planners and hold tastings and host private events at Wine World.
But he’s deeply worried about the effects of privatization on smaller wine shops in small towns around the state. “What’s going to happen to the independent wine shops in Hoquiam or Montesano once the Wal-Mart in Aberdeen starts selling liquor?” he asked.
It’s an ethic you don’t see very often.
Before the November election, LeClaire was warning of “changes buried in this initiative [that] will crush — or at the very least severely impact — small wine wineries, small wine stores and small grocery stores.”
The voters, though, were so anxious to get government out of the liquor business that they approved Initiative 1183.
“We are going to benefit handsomely,” LeClaire admitted, “but a no vote would have been in the long-term, best interest of the entire community.”
Sunday dinner, the ritual, is what restaurants like to do. Saturday nights are from hell (at most places) and Monday’s dark (at many places), so Sunday’s when the chefs strut their stuff.
At Tavolata, for example, they do $65 “feasts” that feature suckling pig or whole goat around their communal table. Emmer & Rye does Sunday dinners in its lofty upstairs space. Le Pichet does Sunday-afternoon events; Harvest Vine does special Sunday menus.
And then there’s RN74, Michael Mina’s Downtown Seattle wine bar, with its upscale menu and down-home atmosphere. No hoity-toity wine stewards in tuxedos looking at your brand of wristwatch to decide whether you’re a $30 or $300 spender. They all wear jeans, gingham shirts, no ties.
On Sunday nights, there’s a $48 chicken dinner special that features a whole Mad Hatcher bird roasted in duck fat; it tastes almost nutty, like almond butter. Two sides: truffled mac-and-cheese and a braised kale with pork cheek.
You might want to start with exceptional lobster “corn dogs” on a stick with a crème fraîche dipping sauce ($12), but even the garlic-and-goat cheese toast ($6) makes a great starter.
You might be tempted to go for one of the “last bottle” wines on the Solari board. (If the clacking sign reminds you of running for a train at a station in Europe, that’s the idea.) But you don’t need to buy an expensive bottle. The sommeliers have the gift of describing wines so that you want to drink them, whether it’s a familiar wine like Beaujolais or something you’ve never heard of (a stunning glass of cabernet franc from Pyramid Valley in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay).
There are both sweet and savory desserts, if you’re up to them.
RONALD HOLDEN is a restaurant writer who blogs at Cornichon.org.