Don’t Go There

Santo cocktail at The SaintThe Saint Social Club, in a lurid, turquoise blue building on Capitol Hill, claims to offer “Tequila Salvation.” The menu talks a good game, promising handmade tortillas, salsas and soups; fresh juices, syrups and infusions, and a cocktail list of “timeless classics and original creations.” The drink we ordered, an $11 El Santo, was composed of Sauza Hornitos Reposado, Cointreau and sour-mix-from-scratch. A saintly cocktail (although surely one of the minor saints), prepared by a barkeep named Gloria, who didn’t know whether or when The Saint offered a happy hour. They do, until 6, but not on the drinks.

Buffalo Deli, a storefront on First Avenue in Belltown, offers an array of lunchtime, takeout sandwiches for $7.50, including a BLT with thick-cut peppered bacon and Bibb lettuce. What’s with this sudden mania for peppered bacon in Seattle? Deli sandwiches are supposed to have thin-sliced meat, no? So you don’t have to chomp through the whole mess at once and dribble mayonnaise down your shirt. Regular bacon, crispy-crisp, please! And if you’re going to put your website address, BuffaloDeli.com, in neon on the front window, folks, you should seriously consider actually having a website with that address.

Wann Izakaya, also in Belltown, has a whole Happy Hour menu, too many to try all at once. So had a plain sake, perfectly okay, and a couple of snacks. The kurabota pork sausages (Japanese black hog) just tasted like old breakfast links; the “fried angel hair” was worse: deep-fried cappellini, sprinkled with kosher salt. Imagine eating an old broom, and eat those crispy stalks you probably will, but you’ll hate yourself for every bite.

Underground Restaurants Get Little Sympathy Here

Couple of weeks ago, we got an email that sounded pretty grim: someone had tipped off the Liquor Board, and now Western Civilization was going to collapse. Around town, bloggers cried foul, falling right into the outlaws’ trap. No and no, wrong and wrong. These guys aren’t romantic Zorros, they’re behaving like petulant teenagers.

Might as well piss off our good friends at Gypsy, Vagabond, Caché, OnePot, KillTheRestaurant and Culinary Communion. You got busted. Somebody called the Liquor Board to complain that a cooking class used—oh my God—wine to deglaze a dish. Argues the state: if you use a controlled substance (like wine), you’ve gotta get a license. And not just some one-off, ten-buck Class J permit, either.

Well, you’d think the sky had fallen. “Betrayal!” said the email announcement by Culinary Communion’s chef Gabriel Claycamp (in photo at right, before auditioning for the Food Network).

Well, now, look, fellas. Every restaurant in the state (except, maybe, Minnie’s) plays by the rules. They pay rent while you use private premises, they pay utilities and insurance, they pay B&O on their gross receipts, they pay accountants and lawyers, and, above all, they pay their effing taxes. 13.7 percent on liquor sales, my friends, in addition to sales taxes and all the rest.

You want to be like Costco, complain that you’re so big you deserve “special treatment?” Think again. Costco lost its suit against the Liquor Board last month. You want “special treatment” because you’re edgy and underground? Hey, every legitimate, taxpaying restaurant in the state will fight you, tooth and nail. What makes you think you’re so goddamn special that you can thumb your nose at the world?

You’ve been on national TV, for heaven’s sake, with Anthony Bourdain! How can you complain about being betrayed?? Ya gotta decide: are you having a private dinner party or running a restaurant.

Uncle Howard Wakes Up, Smells Coffee

Schultz is back! In the year since Uncle Howard stepped aside from his day job (running Starbucks) to spend time on sexy stuff like movies and music and yogurt, the company’s stock price dropped by half. Not good for an outfit that claims to be the world’s most popular retailer. Worse, customers started complaining.

Okay, with tens of thousands of employees, most of them part-timers, responsible for customer satisfaction, you can’t get it right every time. But the premium coffee biz that Starbucks created has become competitive as hell, and those customers have plenty of choices. Schultzie decided that his hand-picked successor as company prez, Jim Donald, wasn’t paying enough attention.

(Not that Schultzie’s been all that responsive himself, selling off the Sonics to a bunch of right-wing investors from Oklahoma. What kind of hometown loyalty does that show your Seattle customers?)

Now, there are plenty of heart-warming Starbucks stories, none more uplifting than Michael Gates Gill’s How Starbucks Saved My Life. But that’s beside the point. The 800-pound gorilla of fast-food retailing, McDonald’s, is about to get serious about the coffee game, hiring and training hundreds of baristas to staff new espresso bars.

Gulp! One thing’s for sure: Schultzie ain’t lovin it.

Local Treasures

SaveurMcDermott & Rowley

There they were last night, perched at the counter at Steelhead Diner, enjoying a glass of bubbly and gossiping with the chef: Jon Rowley and his wife, Kate McDermott, quietly celebrating their appearance in the new issue of Saveur. The least ostentatious of Seattle’s food stars, Rowley is probably the most influential. He’s the oyster guru, the peach guru, and above all the salmon guru. No one in town has done more to change the way we eat, or the way our farmers and fishers think about the food they grow or catch.

Saveur names Rowley to its Top 100 list for 2008. (Most of the entries aren’t people but food trends and restaurants.) His 500-word biographical sketch is titled Disciple of Flavor. “We admire the passion that’s sustained him in his pursuits, which, in hindsight, more closely resemble a quest than a career.”

The quest is never-ending. “Rowley is acutely curious about what makes a particular food taste good. Environmental factors are crucial, he’s discovered, whether it’s the unique blend of local algae and minerals that allows the Virginica oysters of Totten Inlet, in Washington’s Puget Sound, to grow incomparably plump and sweet, or the precise proportions of water and compost that beget the perfect blackberry.” Rowley carries a refractometer to measure sugar content and tell him everything he needs to know about the plant, whether it’s a blackberry or a peach.

And speaking of blackberries, that’s Kate’s blackberry pie in the upper right-hand corner of the magazine cover. Recipe here.

Belltown Bravos

Eat, eat, eat! If that’s all you do, that’s all you deserve: one mouthful after another. But if you pay attention, you start to taste shadings of difference: good, better, best. Herewith, my personal roster of the tastiest Belltown served up in 2007.

Lamb at Black Bottle Marjorie Chicken Tikka Kevin Davis at Steelhead Diner

Belltown Restaurant of the Year: Steelhead Diner, not even a year old and clearly atop the dining scene. Hands down the best oysters of the season, “caviar pie” that’s already a legend, jumbo crabcakes that taste like the ocean, a commitment to local and organic ingredients, a serious wine list that sticks to approachable Pacific Northwest bottles. From his post in the corner of the kitchen, Kevin Davis oversees a dining room that’s half local, half tourist, all happy. Bravo!

Belltown Newcomer of the Year: A big welcome to Txori, the tiny Basque pintxos bar which gets me in, gives me a drink and a bite, and sends me on my way for under ten bucks and under half an hour. You can get a short glass of Stella for two bucks! It’s called a zurito. And a gilda–anchovy, olive and peppers on a crunchy slice of Le Panier bread–for $3.50. Haven’t had this much fun standing at a counter since, well, tapas-hopping in Spain. Runners-up: Tavolata, Entre Nous and Local Vine.

Most imaginative Belltown promotion: Campagne’s ratatouille cooking classes for kids.

Best Belltown Bar: the charming, cozy alcove at the entrance to Marjorie, where owner Donna Moodie often holds court while barman Ben Sherwood mixes exceptionally generous drinks and the kitchen turns out delectable plates like chicken tikka. At happy hour, try the pulled pork sandwiches with a Red Stripe.

Best Belltown Bites: Black Bottle’s lamb with hummus, Tavolata’s gnocchi with a ragu beef tongue, 94 Stewart’s braised lamb shank, Local Vine’s wagyu beef, Txori’s Gulas Pil-Pil, Le Pichet’s beet salad with sweetbreads.

So long, 2007! Here’s to many happy meals in 2008!

Manifesto

Everybody’s a critic, we know, and that’s the problem. From AOL to CitySearch, from Yelp to Zagat, from reader reviews in theStranger and forums in the Pee-Eye, we’re overrun with underinformed typists. Seattle has maybe two dozen people qualified to speak knowledgeably about restaurants, but where do you find them? Not on Chowhound, where the loudest noise is the grinding of axes. TripAdvisor? Read between the lines for self-promoting comments.

So here’s The Short List. We’re gonna do categories: best steak, best happy hour, best Italian, best late-night, best wine list, and so on. Where to go when it’s not your own money. Where to go in the nabe when it’s raining. Two, three, four places, tops. Subject to change, but not to popular vote. “We,” in case you’re wondering, is the royal we. Le blog, c’est moi.

Send in your ideas and comments. If you don’t agree, send your complaints.

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