100 Sips of Wine

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100 Bottles.jpgLet's not feel sorry for Oz Clarke, the prolific wine writer. He was faced with a huge challenge: to write the history of wine. But how? Hugh Johnson gave it a shot a quarter century ago; Jancis Robinson has taken up the cudgel as well. How does one organize such a wide and wild field of knowledge? In this volume, The History of Wine in 100 Bottles (published Tuesday by Sterling Epicure) Clarke bypasses not only long-winded history and geography but grape varieties as well; in their stead, he tells 100 stories, short bursts of wine-related anecdotes.

Nothing wrong with that; after all, that's what I did in my own book Home Grown Seattle. The trouble with the "100 stories" format is that some topics will inevitably seem trivial compared to others. "Wine in legend" merits a thoughtful historical essay, yet ends up with exactly the same space as mini-biographies of Robert Parker.and Michael Broadbent. Bag-in-box wines get an entry; David Lett gets an entry for Oregon pinot noir; Chateau Ste. Michelle and Washington State do, too (though Associated Vintners prof Lloyd Woodbourne is identified as Lloyd Woodhouse).

Still, it's a good, breezy read, bouncing briskly from one decade to the next, one continent to another, taking into account forgotten details (Hitler had a collection of half a million bottles, and he didn't even like wine), and embarrassing moments (Rudy Kurniawan's fraudulent bottles). If this were Clarke's first (or only) book, one might hesitate to recommend it. But for those of us whose shelves are already creaking with the classic titles, this is the sort of reference work you want to keep closer at hand.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: from Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond, by Oz Clarke. Sterling Epicure, 224 pages, $24.95

Sunday night pig

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Bell Whete pig roast1.jpg

You know the feeling: the weekend's over, your life is over. There's a whole week of work ahead, so lawn and laundry will just have to wait. But first, there's dinner. Not pizza again, though. Can we at least agree on that? Please not pizza.

All those Sunday brunches, they take a toll. After a while, they dull the spirit. The Mariners, don't even mention them. No pizza for baseball players. No pizza, period.

What you want is a Sunday supper, anything as long as it's not pizza. Let someone else do the work, pretty please, and just bring me a plate. For example, that cute roasting box on the patio at the corner of 2nd and Bell, isn't that a whole pig inside? Snout to tail, says exec chef Stew Navarre. (We've seen this gadget before, at Fresh Bistro in West Seattle.)

A plate, did I say? Even better, bring me the whole board! For $26, there's roast pork, crackling skin, a swath of sweet & spicy harissa, thick asparagus (none of those limp wisps), salty potatoes, house-made bannock to sop up the citrus-garlic drippings. And they can pick up the box and put it down wherever you want, home or office.

Just call me an urban medieval varlet. The lawn, the laundry? They can wait.

Bell + Whete, 200 Bell Street, Seattle, 206-538-0180  Bell + Whete on Urbanspoon

Give me Stout-Hearted Men

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Stout.jpg

Stout's owner, PaulReder; chile-roasted cauliflower flatbread

Stout, a 5,700-square-foot, 180-seat beer hall on Capitol Hill, is the latest venture from Paul Reder. He's an imaginative and fearless developer, whether rehabilitating old warehouse and showroom space on Capitol Hill or digging through abandoned mezzanines and forgotten passageways of downtown office buildings. .

Reder has been in the restaurant business all his life and put his signature on the two Tap House Grill spaces in downtown Seattle before setting his sights on Capitol Hill. For additional guidance, he takes his spiritual cues from Arnold Shain, a local food service guru, an eminent consigliere with an encyclopedic, top-to-bottom knowledge of the restaurant business and a stable of specialists (branding, marketing, regulatory affairs, product sourcing, menu development, staff training, accounting, and so on) to help his clients navigate the treacherous shoals between concept and profitability.

Stout w bldg above.jpgAt Stout--carved from the Sunset Electric Building at 11th and Pine--Reder himself has given direction to the beer list, but has left most of the menu planning to the much-admired Leslie Dillon, Shain's lead culinary consultant. But forgive me if I voice some skepticism.

Wasn't it Coco Chanel who said (paraphrasing a bit here) that when a woman is dressed and ready to go out, she should take off (and leave behind) one item? A scarf, a ring, a belt. I get the same feeling sometimes when I see how many extraneous extras they're piling on a pizza or a burger or a plate of fish.

Case in point, the new flatbreads at Stout. Aside from the basic question of "Why?" there's also the more practical issue of "How?" Every ingredient requires sourcing, preparation, storage (in bins, boxes, tubs) and a dozen or more specific steps to final assembly. How can a resident chef expect any kind of motivation or consistency from the kitchen staff?

Almost everything on the menu can be read as a paean to bacon, but, in a nod to Capitol Hill's minority of beer-drinking vegetarians, one flatbread is described as "PASILLA CHILE ROASTED CAULIFLOWER." Not ancho chilis, mind you, but pasilla, usually used only to make the mole negro of Oaxaca. And roasted cauliflower, dry and crunchy, not sweet, soft and braised. Okay, your call, but here are the garnishes: "chipotle cream, chimichurri, roasted corn, tear drop tomatoes, cotija, queso fresco, green onion, Mexican crème." Eight freaking garnishes on a $13 vegetarian flatbread. The straightforward salami version ($12) doesn't do that much better: "Mama Lil's peppers, red sauce, provolone, garlic marinated fresh mozzarella, fried capers, fresh lemon thyme." Woe betide the cook who fails to marinate the mozz in garlic!

And the Morning After Burger? A beef patty's not good enough; it's got to be blended onsite with fresh-ground bacon, then hand-pressed to within an inch of its life, grilled to the consistency of sawdust, slathered in more bacon, topped with a fried egg, and surrounded by peppery fries. Is it any wonder this overwrought style of food preparation went out of style in most Seattle restaurants two or three decades ago?

The point of this food clearly isn't to please your taste buds or to fill your tummy, it's to keep you thirsty. And here, no complaints. Twenty local, craft beers on tap at any given moment, some 70 bottles at the ready, house cocktails featuring local, craft distilleries like Citizen, Oola, Three Howls, Fremont Mischief, and Rain City's drip coffee liqueur.

And if the food doesn't grab you, you can always turn your attention to one of the 15 flatscreen TVs, or Tina Randolf's giant mural above the bar.

Stout, 1530 11th Avenue, 206-397-3825  Stout on Urbanspoon

Mangia, or else!

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On the table.JPG

You can't blame the trade press for doing its job, namely promoting the interests of its members and underwriters. You can blame the (general-interest) business press for not paying attention.

Case in point: a freelancer named Cecilia Rodriguez shamelessly appropriates a two-year-old study by Coldiretti, the Italian ag-promotion outfit, that issued an ominous warning about the Mafia taking over Italy's food supply. Idiotic on its face, but no matter. Rodriguez, who is based in Luxembourg and doesn't get out much, somehow convinced the editors at Forbes (no less) that this was an important issue. In under 450 words, Rodriguez wrote this up for the online version of Forbes, where it was promptly picked up by the industry aggregator Food News.

Next thing you know, the Mafia is being indicted afresh for the sins of the fathers.

The real scandal is actually in another corner of the Coldiretti website: only 2.5 million Italian households (out of 25 million) eat together daily. The comparable figure in the US is actually higher because the question is phrased differently and allows for fast-food (Mamma mia!) And the Italians: that's every meal, every day.

Kurtwood Farms.jpg

What a decade, those Sixties! Hippies and flower-power everywhere! But some of them actually got stuff done.

By the late 1960s, Denis Hayes had graduated from Stanford, served an internship at Portland's KGW TV (where I was employed at the time) and was working on environmental issues with Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson. His assignment was to launch an ambitious nationwide concept called Earth Day, which he did, 45 years ago, on April 22nd, 1970. Hayes went on to expand Earth Day to 180 countries, and was eventually hired to run the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, which he has turned into one of the country's leading environmental organizations.

His latest book, written with his wife, attorney and educator Gail Boyer Hayes, bewails the increasing reliance on bovines to provide the planet with protein. Almost 100 million cows in the US alone, one for every three humans.

Feeding all those cows (so they will eventually feed us) requires vast resources. Some 100 million acres of corn alone. Unfathomable volumes of water, vast amounts of antibiotics. Much wringing of hands, along with predictable calls to eat less beef.

But, surprise! We could break the "bovine industrial complex" by shifting away from cows to bison, for example. They range free, don't need a lot of human attention, drink less water, plow through snow on their own, don't need costly supplements, and don't trample their grazing grounds. Almost wiped out by hunters who shot them for sport and took only their pelts, bison are making a comeback; a few commercial herds are supplying meat (healthier than beef, by the way) to upscale markets. It's a tough sell, since bison runs into the established bulwark of the politically powerful cattle industry, an industry that has passed so-called "ag-gag" legislation in 13 states that prohibits criticism of feed lots or cattle pens.

You might as well criticize something as innocuous as milk, right? Hah! Milk (which comes from cows, last time I checked) isn't really all that healthy. Just as we've been told that beef is "what's for dinner," we've been led to believe that "every body needs milk." Hooey.

UPDATE: Protestors add satire to Earth Day celebration..

Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture & Environment. WW Norton, $27.95

Putting the 420 Fable to Rest

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Eisenberg w paraphernalia.JPGSix or seven years ago I wrote a snarky piece about a guy named Ian Eisenberg and a business venture called Zevia. Eisenberg was an internet entrepreneur (Blue Frog Mobile) but Zevia was a dietary supplement (or was it a soda?) that's since been sold to an outfit in Los Angeles. Meantime, the health & wellness game has proven a cushy spot for Eisenberg: he's positioned himself, at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and E. Union Street, as the Poobah of Pot and Maharajah of Marijuana.

The shop is called Uncle Ike's, an emporium of legal weed in all its forms. Cash only. Beefy security guards checking ID. A completely separate building for accessories. Skeptical neighbors. Intense scrutiny from the state liquor board.

"I'm not selling pot," Eisenberg told me, "I'm in the regulatory compliance business."

But if Uncle Ike's is the future of cannabis, some of the old myths die hard, most notably the code word under which marijuana has operated for decades: 420.

The story goes that a group of kids calling themselves the Waldos, students at San Raphael High School, would get together at 4:20 in the afternoon to smoke. Not true, says Alex Mayer, former publisher of the Belltown Messenger and self-described "pot shop writer." Mayer says that the marijuana community's unofficial house magazine, High Times, came up with the story and promoted "420" as a sort of secret symbol, like a fish for early Christians, even though there was no evidence that it was true.

Meantime, another group calling itself the Waldos came up with its own mythology. Eventually, High Times launched its own domain, www.420.com. The Waldos countered with 420Waldos.com.

Mayer's 2,500-word article (on the Uncle Ike's website) puts little credence in either claim and concludes that 420, at any rate, is outdated. "Marijuana users these days don't need code words, they just need cash" to buy legal weed.

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