Cheese kiosk.JPG

Back in 2012, we reported in these columns that Murray's Cheese from Bleecker Street in Noo Yawk had cut a deal with Kroger to start building proprietary cheese kiosks in Seattle QFC stores. Well & good, the cheese are fairly priced and the staff behind the cheese counters seems well-informed.

Though you have to wonder (as I wrote back then) where Murray's then-VP for Cheese, a young Yale grad named Liz Thorpe, got the idea, printed in The Cheese Chronicles, that the fishmongers at the Pike Place Market are throwing around whole tuna! Tuna! If she can't tell the difference between a tuna and a salmon, you've got to wonder about every other observation in the book.

Digression: could I really have been so charitable? Unlike me. So I just went back to check, and, yes, there it is on page 109: "Seattle's Pike Place Market, where fishmongers throw around whole tuna to impress the tourists." Good grief. The closest place to buy a whole tuna is probably Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, at $100 per lb and up, average weight per fish maybe 500 lbs. Do we want to take cheese advice from someone who might get mozzarella di bufala confused with actual buffalo? Or who mistakes a Brie de Meaux for a wheel of Bleu d'Auvergne? I could go on but will, like Ms. Thorpe, retire to the sidelines.

Meantime, though, the Murray's Cheese program has expanded nationally. Fry's, a Kroger label in Phoenix, is adding cheese kiosks, and Dillon's groceries in the Midwest will follow this summer. The plan is to reach 250 kiosks, which will carry some 200 cheeses. Granted most of them are familiar, world-wide designations, but ten percent are selected locally.

Doubtful that we'll see Kurt Timmermeister's excellent Dinah's Cheese among the local offerings, but regional brands like Mount Tam and Cowgirl Creamery have pretty good production levels, and it would be nice to see some of the Skagit Valley goat cheeses when there are no farmers markets. Sure, I know, not every artisan wants to sell at QFC, fine. But folks like the Montheillet family in Dayton, Wash., could probably use a more permanent retail outlet during the long winter months, no?

Goldfinch.jpgJoe Ritchie, the genial gent behind the stoves at Mkt in Tangletown, has been unshackled and is headed to the starched and folded folds of the Four Seasons. He must be smiling like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary, I mean G-Golddfinch. G-gosh, I know it's the state bird and all that (Disclosure: I did not know), but the windswept perch at the west end of Union demands a more swooping avian name, no? But instead of an eagle, Stowell and his team have gone for something more eagle-itarian, calling it a tavern, even. (Dunno about that. Downtown taverns don't have all that great a reputation. But at least he's not calling it a sports bar.)

I'd never considered avian names at all, sticking to pescatorial (but Chinook was taken and Sablefish isn't all that local). Ostrea Lurida, the button oyster from Olympia, doesn't have much of a ring to it, and geoduck presents a variety of its own issues.

What I wonder is whether Stowell and Ritchie will also embrace the French tradition of actually EATING the little buggers. Ortolan is a longstanding gastronomic prize after all. The Brits will be horrified by the prospect of eating songbirds, but different is a roasted skewer of Ortolan than the bécasse--woodcock--we consume at happy hours across Seattle? Those are chicken wings, you say? Never mind.

Besides, now I get the joke. Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Goldfinch concerto, also by Vivaldi. Please don't tell me this was just a coincidence.

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The Canadian cities of Montreal and Toronto have an old-fashioned rivalry unlike anything we see in the US, more intense than Noo Yawk versus Beantown, more nuanced than Tinseltown v. Frisco. Stephen Brown grew up in Toronto but attended McGill in Montreal, which introduced him to Montreal's surpassing gift to North American cuisine: the bagel. Hand-rolled, dense, chewy. An entrepreneur at heart, Brown does nothing by accident. By the time he graduated, he had decided that one day, when the time was right, he would open a bagel bakery and deli.

What most startups lack, Brown posits, isn't customers but a mechanism for customer engagement. So he gave his bakery an offbeat name, Eltana. It sounds vaguely Hebrew (not a bad thing, given the product's ethnic background), but it's not a real Hebrew word. The point of the name, the only point, is that customers will ask what it means. And what the question creates is an opportunity for the staff to engage with the customers. (There's no sign pointing to the restrooms, either.) Brown and his managers hire new employees based on their candor and generosity of spirit in addition to standard abilities to deal efficiently with a diversity of job duties. Answering the same question a dozen times a day? Shouldn't be a problem. "If it were a real word, it would mean something like 'God's Bread Basket.'"

Lots of stores offer what Brown calls BSOs, bagel-shaped objects, but they're not bagels. "A hole and a soul" is Eltana's bagel. Seven varieties, from plain to salted to "everything." In Montreal, you used to buy a bagel for 50 cents; in Seattle, it'll set you back a buck and change.

Eltana opened on Capitol Hill, and is on track to build five more stores (Seattle Center and Wallingford are open; South Lake Union, West Seattle, the east side). The existing wood-fired oven at 12th & Pine cranks out 900 dozen bagels a day, with plans for a commissary near Seattle Center. There's technology in place to flash-freeze par-baked bagels with liquid nitrogen when they're 75 percent baked, then finished onsite in convection ovens, a new batch every 15 minutes.

Ironically, customers want to buy hot, fresh bagels even though they really need to cool for an hour to set the crust. Waiting! Now, that's a hard sell. But--more opportunity for engagement--you can do a crossword puzzle while you wait. A new one every week. "What many of us wish we could say we'd done more of this year"? "GOTSOMEEXERCISE."

Bagels are one of those products that seem unnecessarily complicated. First you mix the dough, which you roll into thickish ribbons. Then you pinch a length of dough, form it into a circle, and boil it in water with a bit of honey. Only then do you roll the bagels in a generous amount of "toppings" (salt, garlic, sesame seeds, etc.) and send them into the low-ceiling wood-fired oven. And they're not giant bagels, either, not truck tires. Vegetarians love the spreads: red pepper & walnut, eggplant & pomegranate, and a spicy garlic cream called za'atar. A terrific mashup of Mediterranean (Middle Eastern, really) street food and Jewish comfort fare.

1538 12th Avenue, Seattle, 206-724-0660  Eltana on Urbanspoon


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