The Nine Lives of Katz Deli

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NYC incl Katz.jpg

Good news from the Lower East Side this morning. Katz Deli, that venerable institution of sliced meat, will survive for another generation. (If you think $20 is a lot for a sandwich, you haven't had Katz's pastrami.) The story of how this was pulled off is in the NYTimes; it involves air rights and similar magic.

And if you've never heard of Katz, well, you've never seen When Harry Met Sally, and never had what she had.

The Lion of Coffee

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Kent Bakke, CEO of Marzocco USA, and the modern version of a Victoria Arduino espresso machine.

The marzocco is a heraldic lion, the medieval symbol of Florence. Not the fearsome bronze cinghiale (wild boar) that the tourists gawk at in the medieval city's central market, but a grey sandstone lion sculpted in 1420 by Donatello, no less, for the papal suite of the Medici palace. The "Marzocchesi" were the Florentines, in honor of their lion, even though there's no etymology connecting them. Mars, god of war, maybe.

Which brings us to la Marzocco, a brand of espresso machines, among Italy's finest. They're produced at a factory in the hills northeast of Florence, in a community called Scarperia that was long known for its knives. In 1927, production of espresso machines began there as well. Bear in mind: the north of Italy, with its abundant streams of running water to power mills, grinding wheels and presses, has always been a hotbed (as it were) of precision metal-working. There's also a 5-km race track, the Mugello Circuit, owned by Ferrari, on the outskirts of town; it's used as a test track and for auto and motorcycle races. Not far away are the Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati factories.

Fast-forward to the 1970s in Seattle and a sandwich shop in Pioneer Square called Hibble & Hyde. The owner was a tinker named Kent Bakke, completely captivated by the winged, copper-clad Victoria Arduino coffee-making machine in the back. Needless to say, there was no internet; there were no instruction manuals, either. Bakke was on his own, but he managed to crank it up and make it work, and on a good day he would turned out half a dozen espressos. His business partner suggested a visit to Italy, so Bakke took himself to Scarperia and returned with a contract as La Marzocco's US importer. One of the first machines he sold went to a six-store chain just starting to serve espresso by the name of Starbucks.

Before long, thanks in large measure to Starbucks' buying La Marzocco machines for all its coffee shops, Bakke's company became La Marzocco's largest distributor outside of Italy, with offices in the UK, Australia, Korea, and so on. Then, 20 years ago, Starbucks needed 150 machines a month for its new stores. La Marzocco was less than thrilled by the challenge of meeting an order of this magnitude, so Bakke and a small group of investors bought 90 percent of the parent company. They promptly opened a second factory in Ballard to meet the demand from Starbucks.

For a long time, there was at least one La Marzocco machine in every Starbucks store, but in 2004 the Mermaid switched to push-button devices that required less skill on the part of the barista. Bakke closed the factory in Ballard and sold the distribution business to a Swiss company, even though, five years ago, he bought back the distribution rights. It was almost too late: in the interim, several former Bakke employees had opened competing businesses. Machines for home use, machines that allow baristas to control water flow and temperature. Still, says Bakke, "Our biggest competition is complacency."

Bakke's not the only player. Michael Myers has a thriving company called Michaelo Espresso that also sells and services several machines, including a brand called La San Marco. No relation to La Marzocco, though they're also made in the north of Italy.
Most of the big coffee wholesalers also have their own technicians, and plenty of one-man repair companies have set up shop as well.

But the news this season is that KEXP, the experimental radio station, is getting a new home at Seattle Center, and part of that space is a La Marzocco coffee shop and showroom. Bakke himself remains CEO of the company, the one that started decades ago with that one abandoned Victoria Arduino.

The Steaks Are Higher Than Ever

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Twas in 2008 that Cornichon published a piece about the state of the American steakhouse. What has changed? Well, prices, for one thing. Wasn't that long ago, a main course might occasionally bump up against the $30 mark; now it's more like $100.

Here are some of the prices we found for steaks at top-end eateries around town:

  • Chop Shop, bone-in rib-eye, $62 (includes vegetables; most of the others on this list did not)

  • El Gaucho, NY steak, $65; bone-in rib-eye, $74

  • Jak's, Issaquah (horrific website, by the way), porterhouse, $70

  • Metropolitan Grill, 12-ounce filet, $79; longbone rib-eye, $120

  • Bateau, five-course tasting menu (including steak), $75; (on the old à la carte menu, the Côte de Boeuf for 2 was $125)

  • Seven Beef, bone-in rib-eye, $60; 48-ounce Côte de Boeuf $135

  • Daniel's Broiler, NY Delmonico, $69; bone-in rib-eye, $79

  • John Howie Steak, 40-ounce porterhouse (for 2), $112; Japanese Wagyu zabuton, $140

  • Canlis, 4-course dinner $100; add Wagyu filet, $20

  • Miller's Guild, Wagyu rib-eye, $73; daily blackboard presents prices for more substantial cuts.

Two national chains, Capital Grille and Sullivans, were more modestly priced than the local restaurants. Two other chains, Ruth's Chris and Morton's, did not post their prices at all.

A 500-mile bike path in France

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You two-wheel enthusiasts may think the Burke Gilman trail is a big deal, and it is, all 27 miles of it. From Kirkland south along Lake Washington to the UW campus, the along the Ship Canal toward Ballard (several blocks of "missing link" still to come), eventually ending at Shilshole Bay. But you'll forgive me if I point out that a new bike trail which follows the Rhone River from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean clocks in at 510 miles.

Rhone bikes.jpgThe ViaRhona, as it is known, first circumnavigates the lake (both sides: Switzerland on the north side, France on the south), then follows the river through the Alps. By the time it gets to the Med, the route crosses an even dozen administrative unites (départements), most of it on a dedicated "green" track well separated from vehicular traffic.The ViaRhona website recognizes that hardcore cyclists will want to ride the entire route (the hardest parts are at the north end) but encourages shorter trips, family outings, and picnics along the way.

Locally the classic "STP" (Seattle to Portland) ride is only 200 miles and draws thousands of participants. (In recent years, the sponsor, Cascade Bicycle Club, has limited the number to 9,000.) And no big hills. You could, I suppose, check out a Pronto bike, but I think you'd be better off on a machine designed for road trips.


Two "truculent" restaurant owners, of patrons and their waitstaff in Lyon. Left: Gilles Maysonnave at Brunet. Right: Yves Rivoiron at Café des Fédérations.

In English, calling someone truculent is sort of like a French person calling someone a cornichon. We think of truculent people as obstinate assholes, abrasive and obstructionist, not particularly nasty but (at best) still kind of a jerk. "Cornichon," in case you were wondering, is a polite way of calling someone "un con"--an asshole or worse.

Well, flip that concept, language-wise, for truculent. In French, it's a compliment; it means "colorful," "larger than life," someone with an outsize personality (game show hosts, used-car salesmen, TV evangelists, and, yes, The Donald) without the downside of insincerity. In other words, someone like the legendary Paul Bocuse, or almost any of the charismatic hosts of a bouchon. In Lyon, truculence is at the heart of hospitality.

Now, before you get the idea that the bouchons are sexist relics of a misogynist past, you should be aware that the reputation of Lyon as the epicenter of French gastronomy is based on its "mothers." La Mère Blanc (whose son, Georges, runs a Michelin three-star kitchen outside Lyon); la Mère Brazier (a first: three Michelin stars each for two separate restaurants!); la Mère Léa; whose former coaching station in the center of Lyon is operated as a bouchon by its new proprietor, the celebrity chef Christian Tetedoie; and easily a dozen more. What we think of today as "typical" Lyon cuisine (the pigs trotters, the sausages, the quenelles, the stews of tripe) originated with these mothers, who coaxed every last bit of flavor from the least expensive ingredients. And whether you ate high on the hog (loin, chop, roast) in a classy spot, or worked your way down (to belly, feet, ears, or tail) in a bouchon, you would find the best eating in France at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône.

Another reason was the large number of silk workers who operated the first world's first mechanized looms in factories built on the slopes of Lyon's Croix Rousse hill. Poorly paid and hungry, they would frequent bouchons for their morning mâchons of andouillette (tripe sausages) and cervelle de canuts (fresh cheese with garlic and chives).

Hence the popularity of the bouchons and their aromas of long-simmering gras double in an onion-scented court-bouillon. There's an association of officially sanctioned "authentic" bouchons, promulgated by the Lyon Chamber of Commerce and the Lyon Visitor Bureau, set up to recognize the most deserving of the city's 300 bouchon wannabes, including restaurants that claim to be real bouchons but just serve a couple of safe-for-tourists items (sautéed calf liver). There are 24 officially designated bouchons in Lyon plus three in Paris (one of them run by Alain Ducasse), and half again as many who deserve to be on the list but were dropped for political reasons. Brunet is in, but the Café des Fédérations is among those out in the cold.

In addition to the two dozen officially recognized restaurants, there's a separate category for officially sanctioned "partners." Now anyone who's ever been involved in an industry association knows that it's the corporate "sponsors" who pay the freight. The most famous names: the cheesemonger Renée Richard of La Mère Richard, and wine powerhouses Georges Duboeuf and Chapoutier. There are also suppliers of coffee, mineral water, ice cream, the properly handled offal that's at the base of so much of the bouchon cooking. There's even an official fruit juice. (Fruit juice is authentic? Fruit juice is a red flag, if you ask me.) I'm glad that the guy at the helm of the Chamber of Commerce tourism committee, Christophe Marguin, is taking full responsibility for this fiasco. Best of intentions, of course, best of intentions.

Note: I've been holding this back for a week, awaiting some sort of comment from the bureaucrats in Lyon. No response, so I'll run with it.


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