Jennifer Tan.JPGThere are over 2,500 restaurants in Seattle, and, from her office on the 57th floor of the Municipal Tower, Jennifer Tam has her pulse--or at least the official perspective of Seattle's Office of Economic Development--on all of them.

How many restaurants in Seattle proper? Some 2,696 ithis year, according to the Washington Hospitality Association. Half of them "full serve." Average gross: about $1 million. Average staff, about a dozen.

Tam, whose official title is "Restaurant Advocate," grew up on the Oregon coast in a restaurant family who had immigrated from China. "We would close the restaurant, clean everything, and turn out the lights. Then we would eat." In the dark.

Her job for the past couple of years has been helping turn the lights back on, so that aspiring restaurant owners (as well as existing operators hoping to move or expand) don't get lost in the dark corridors of the urban bureaucracy. Tam is both interpreter and facilitator for the ambitious and the brave who want to throw themselves into the restaurant business, letting them know about leasing contracts, permitting (health, construction, remodeling), human resources requirements, and so on. A daunting task, all those permits.

Let's say you want to join the 600 existing food truck vendors in King County. For starters, you'll need:

  • A mobile food health permit, issued by King County
  • A street use permit to park in the public right-of-way'; they're issued by the Seattle Department of Transportation
  • A businesses license, right? That's issued by Seattle Finance & Administrative Services, Washington State Department of Revenue and other local jurisdictions depending on where mobile food vendors are operating
  • The approval of any trucks or trailers are issued by Washington State Labor and Industries (any food trucks or trailers need to be approved by L&I before they can apply for their health permit)
  • If a food truck is using propane or an open flame for food vending a permit from the Seattle Fire Marshall is also required

Restaurant success s a real mission for the City, with its own web page on the
OED site. And though there's a desk and phone for Tam at OED, she's usually found walking Seattle neighborhoods with clients. In the three years she's been on the job, Tam has worked on projects all over town.

The "Only in Seattle" initiative isn't hers, but restaurants are an integral part of Seattle neighborhood vitality, so she's part of the team that's helping restaurants in the International District, to name just one. Opening, closing, moving, relocating, expanding from mobile to brick & mortar, each situation (Super Six in Columbia City, Hurry Curry in South Lake Union) is different and requires different doors to open.

Before she moved to 700 Fifth Avenue she worked in the Rainier Valley as a business case manager, and before that, she spent time in India with village-level "micro-entrepreneurs."

Is she a bureaucrat herself? Yes, and no, she admits. Bureaucracy is all about process rather than innovation, but, she claims, "Process is nuanced in each city, or even in different municipal departments." From developing a business plan to scouting locations, from getting permits (a nightmare) to stocking the larder, Tam is a sort of midwife, or as she puts it, "the navigator."

"I enjoy bringing everyone to the table," she says. "Everybody loves food."

Haute Cuisine in Madison Valley

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Thierry Rautureau, Robert Sevcik.JPGRob Sevcik's new Madison Valley restaurant, Petite Galerie, at 3131 E. Madison, is (at heart) an updated version of Rover's, where he was the chef years ago. When Thierry Rautureau (aka The Chef in the Hat) closed Rover's and opened Loulay, in the Sheraton Hotel downtown, Sevcik was again installed as the chef; he left to pursue plans for a restaurant of his own. After an overly ambitious kickstarter campaign for a spot on Capitol Hill fizzled, Sevcik scaled back his plans (hence the "Petite" modifier), which have now come to fruition in the Arboretum Court space formerly occupied by the Oh Chocolates shop. Plenty of windows, lots of light, soft pastel linens, and a dining experience that's focused on haute cuisine.

The menu, based on local ingredients, is nonetheless very French in its spirit: small plates, exquisitely prepared, elegantly presented, and (ahem) on the high end of high-priced; you may want to check your credit card balance at the door. The antithesis of short-order bar food, its spiritual siblings in Seattle would be Altura, Copine, and Eden Hill. The neighborhood has another white-tablecloth restaurant at the end of Madison, Park Place, which took over from Beach House late last year, but it's a more traditional dinner spot, not a temple of gastronomy like Petite Galerie.

The kitchen sends out a glass of pink bubbles and a little nibble of salmon to start, very comforting. Bread (Grand Central bakery) and whipped (unsalted) butter arrive in due course on a plate festooned with half a dozen radishes drizzled with olive oil. Great! It's a typical French appetizer nosh, but it does need salt. You dip the radishes in the salt, add butter, and chomp down. Without salt, you kinda miss the point. I can't recall ever having been served this in a gastronomic restaurant, though.

Petite Galerie.jpgOnce the festivities get underway (and they will, just be patient), your actual meal might start with a pan-seared sea scallop (just one), which arrives awash in herb-flecked butter flanked by a scoop of sweet pea mousse and a pair of yawning Manila clams. The scallop, $24, is one of four "Sea" items on the Petite Galerie dinner menu; there are three more categories "Land," "Earth," and "Heaven." Three of the "Heaven" items are desserts (a pineapple panna cotta, a chocolate mousse, and a baked apple), but the fourth and final entry is the link to the old Rover's: foie gras. At Petite Galerie, the kitchen stacks the pan-seared foie gras slices atop an Asian plum and cinnamon bread drizzled with spiced honey, $25. (At Loulay, the foie gras is served with a huckleberry pancake, two bucks less.) The almost mandatory accompaniment was a glass of Sauternes, so the total cost of this one dish was just over $40.

Two of us opted to share four items. Following the scallop came a trio of puff pastries filled with wild mushrooms in a reduced madeira sauce accompanied by a poached egg. The egg yolk enriches the dish, though it doesn't really need it. While we waited for our next item, a quail stuffed with an herbed mousse, the kitchen sent out a cabbage roll filled with fresh cheese, the least interesting dish on the menu.

The wine list, selected by service director Tish Taitano, included by-the-glass whites from Spain, northern Italy, Burgundy and that lovely Sauternes; on the red side, fine examples from Beaujolais and Piedmont. The cocktail list emphasizes smokey liqueurs like Mezcal and Amargo de Chile.

I should know by now that it's nonsensical to complain about prices, so I won't, except to acknowledge that there are, in fact, a few more expensive places in town. Canlis, The Herbfarm, the Space Needle; steakhouses like El Gaucho, sushi parlors like Kashiba, But Petite Galerie claims its pricing is "approachable," so what about lunch? Lunch should be more reasonable, right? Indeed so. Raclette is $12; a charcuterie plate is $14, a bowl of soup (cauliflower or lentil) is $9, a bottle of ale is $6.

The point, though, is that Petite Galerie aspires to something more. Higher. Transcendent, even. Think back, if you can, to William Belickis at Mistral when it was still in Belltown. To Thierry Rautureau when he first took over Rover's. To Scott Carsberg at Lampreia. The intensity of a single chef's vision. That's the goal Sevcik seems to have set for himself, and we can be thankful that he's going for it in our neighborhood.

Andrea Illy.JPG

This gent, Andrea Illy, youngest of four siblings, runs Illy, his family's coffee empire from its headquarters in Trieste. Agricultural products grown in Africa, like coffee beans, destined for markets in northern and eastern Europe have long passed through the port of Trieste, at the northern tip of the Adriadic.

Suave, cultivated, impeccably turned out, Illy is in Seattle this week for a trade show, seminars & meetings, during which he extols coffe as "the beverage of happiness." As it happens, the highest per capita consumption of coffee is in Scandinavia, which also happens to be home to the world's most contented people. Coffee stimulates and inspires, Illy points out, simultaneously creating optimism and a caring social structure.

Coffee is by nature bitter, and humans have evolved to seek foods (like fruit) that are sweet. So why is coffee so popular? It's a combination, says Illy, of culture and aroma.

In his book, "A Coffee Dream," Illy writes, "Coffee must not be neither a luxury or a status symbol, nor must it underscore differences." The ancient Greeks used the word Eudaiemonia to signify the coming together of virtues, of which hedonism--a love of pleasure, such as a perfect cup of espresso--is but one. (He calls it a "virtuous circle." More on his blog.)

Parenthetically, Illy rejects the California judge's recent argument that coffee is carcinogenic, a decision totally unjustified by science, he says. On the other hand, the real threat to coffee, he continues, is climate change, and he joins his industry colleagues in tripling the investment in efforts to mitigate its effects on coffee farms around the world.

And in the meantime? "Live hapilly," he says. (Get it? Two "l"s.) Good advice.

Mermaid.jpg

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, showed itself to be a cauldron of intolerance last week. And not just the barista or the store manager who called the cops because a couple of visitors had the audacity of hoping they could use the bathroom before they ordered anything to drink. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that the "optics" of the situation were tenuous and tenebrous at best.

But because Philadelphia's Finest, once they did show up (in bicycle helmets, no less) refused to take "never mind" for an answer. Someone heard the word "trespass," and we know what that means: "You, out!"

In a better world, the senior police officer at the scene would have had a quiet sit-down with the senior Mermaid at the scene, along the lines of "Ma'am, it's your candy store, and we'll cuff 'em if that's what you want, but frankly, we've got better things to do than play Paul Blart, Mall Cop."

But that didn't happen, did it? The Philly police chief didn't help things by staying he stood by his officers. The CEO of Starbucks, who just barely survived a pummeling at the company's annual meeting by environmentalists, is now going to close every company-owned store in the US for "racial bias education day" to ensure this sort of thing never happens again. Good luck.

The real challenge comes from California, where do-gooders are again shooting themselves in the foot The latest is a so-called Prop 65 warning, which requires businesses to provide patrons with a "clear and reasonable warning" about materials or ingredients that may affect their health.

Acrylamide, identified as a cancer-causing chemical that is a byproduct of the coffee-roasting process, is one of more than 900 toxic substances that fall under proposition 65.

California's Council for Education and Research on Toxics argued in a 2010 lawsuit that coffee producers should notify consumers that the "known carcinogen" acrylamide is produced during the coffee roasting process.

Couple of weeks ago, a judge ruled ,yup, gotta do that.

Not so fast, said the Mermaid, along with industry colleagues Caribou Coffee, Folgers, Keurig Green Mountain, and Gold Peak Tea & Coffee (owned by Coca-Cola). Their attorneys argued the very contrary, that a different set of studies show "coffee consumption does not increase the risk of any chronic disease and is independently associated with a decreased risk of several major chronic diseases." [Italics mine.]

Ya mean, coffee is actually good for you?

The coffee industry's leading association of producers holds its annual conference in Seattle this week. We'll be there.

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