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Down the road a piece (but not that far, in you look at the calendar) is the annual "Walrus & Carpenter Picnic." Yes, W&C is also the name of Renée Erickson's fine oyster parlor in Ballard (4743 Ballard Ave. NW), but Taylor Shellfish runs this event, which takes please at extreme low tide under the full moon in January and February. The name is drawn from Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem in "Through the Looking Glass," in which a walrus and a carpenter stage an oyster feast on the beach. Well, that beach exists, my friends. It's at the south end of Hood Canal, at the Taylor's oyster beds on Totten Inlet in Mason County. A great opportunity to slurp Virginicas, firm and icy-cold, chased with a sip of sauvignon blanc. The oyster to end all oysters, the picnic to end all picnics.

The midnight, moonlit oyster feast used to be a secret event, organized by oyster guru Jon Rowley for a small group of media buddies. Now it's gone public, with its own page on BrownPaperTickets.com. Three dates in 2016, a $125 price tag (to benefit the Puget Sound Restoration Fund). All the oysters you can eat (Taylor staff is on hand to shuck, or you can pick them up right on the beach), all the wine you can drink, Xinh Dwelley's legendary oyster stew, and round-trip coach transportation from the Taylor Shellfish oyster bar in Lower Queen Anne (124 Republican St.). If it's already sold out, get on the list for 2017.

Kumar 2.JPGSay hello, won't you, to Jonathan Kumar, 26 years old and recently settled on the border of Capitol Hill and Madison Valley. He's originally from Michigan, where he earned a degree in Informatics and Economics; his mission in Seattle is to nibble away at two of urban America's biggest problems: feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. Not a bad set of goals for this holiday weekend.

With encouragement from investors in Ann Arbor, he developed an app, FoodCircles, that lets generous diners make charitable contributions that translate directly into meals for the hungry. Unfortunately, it hasn't been a particularly easy sell, though not for want of trying. Three restaurants so far: Sport and Branzino in Belltown, and La Bodega downtown. Better success with the non-profit beneficiaries, notably the Union Gospel Mission. Here's a link to the app's website: https://joinfoodcircles.org/

The other half of Kumar's mission is to provide services like laundry, groceries, clothing, and transportation to the homeless and forlorn folk who ask for spare change on street corners. Donors who sign up receive a "beacon" (a fob the size of a quarter) which they can activate to transfer funds (a dollar or more) to needy individuals. More online at vimeo.com

For Kumar, his charitable impulses come partly from childhood; his parents, immigrants from India, were briefly on food stamps while his father completed his college degree. Today, his objective has matured: "To help people help others."

Something Fishy

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Aquadvantage Salmon.jpg

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Except this time, the blue fish is monster frankenfish, genetically engineered to grow faster, ever faster. We wrote about this project three years ago. Nobody would say a single good word on behalf of this beast. Mind you, this was in December of 2012; the timeline for approval was said to be imminent, but nothing happened.

But, lo, now here's an update. Again, in the New York Times, the official argument in favor of the genetically engineered fish. Approved. And not required to be labeled, either. Yikes!

This cannot end well. Around the country, retailers, chefs, and media are saying "stop wiggling."

A Bateau, a Melusine, a Porpoise

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Look who's having a great season: Renée Erickson, that's who. Three spots, no less, within the same building on East Union: an utterly charming restaurant called Bateau, a super-sweet bar called Melusine, and a coffee shop called (groan) General Porpoise. The overall concept is Erickson's longstanding fascination with all things aquatic, hence the name of her company (with Jeremy Price and Chad Dale), SeaCreatures. Then again, their 30-acre property on Whidbey Island is called La Ferme aux Anes. So we have the slight cognitive dissonance that Bateau (French for boat) will serve beef from the donkey farm. The Melusine of folklore is actually a water sprite; think of the Starbucks mermaid and you'll get the picture.

What all is on the menu at Bateau? Well, octopus, sweetbreads, tartare, and the like. A pork chop, a butter-poached fish. Then five kinds of beef. Filet, onglet, bavette, New York, and the pièce de résistance (as the French would say): Côte de Boeuf, the double-thick, bone-in rib-eye. The Italians call this cut Fiorentina; it's also known as a tomahawk steak (though that just means the butcher doesn't saw off the long rib bone). Set you back $125, it will. The doughnuts are a far, far better deal.

By the way, no tipping needed, since there's an automatic service charge. Part of Erickson's move toward greater equity between front- and back-of-house employees as the economy moves toward a $15 minimum wage. The menu explains that there's a 20 percent service charge, 55 percent of which goes to the employees directly serving the customer. One assumes the balance goes to the rest of the staff.

Bateau, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 Bateau Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Bar Melusine, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 Bar Melusine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
General Porpoise, 1060 E. Union, 206-900-8808 General Porpoise Coffee and Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ballet's Cap Hill Tap Dance

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You know that hole-in-the-wall Thai spot called Ballet on East Pike? One of a dozen pho parlors and noodle houses on the Hill, right? But it's pretty special for several reasons.

First, it makes no pretense at being hip; second, it's been in the same family for three decades. The current boss, Dzung Nguyen, now 32, has worked there for half his life now, and has lost none of his enthusiasm for the hospitality business. Ten years ago, his parents retired and his siblings moved away, so he took over the restaurant, which had existed since 1987. It's the antithesis of fancy Asian places like Momiji or Monsoon or Nue: 16 unadorned tables, plastic holders for the utensils, paper napkins, a fish tank, an elephant sculpture. Surprisingly, a website.

Yes, you can have pho here; it's a Vietnamese restaurant, after all. But Capitol Hill is crawling with pho parlors. Yes, you can have a vermicelli bowl or phad Thai, but there are a dozen noodle shops of all stripes within crawling distance. What I recommend is something that just doesn't exist elsewhere: the satay.

Rice noodles, check. Slivered cucumber, check. Crushed peanuts and bean sprouts, check. The combo ($9.95) adds a generous helping of prawns, chicken and beef. It's the coconut milk soup, fragrant, spicy with lemongrass and colored bright pink that's unique at Ballet. If you finish the bowl, you won't need to eat for at least a day.

And now comes word that Nguyen has sold the business to Freddy Rivas, who has a popular spot called Rancho Bravo (1001 E. Pine St.); his plan is to call it Buddha's Kitchen, and no craft cocktails, thank you very much. The building itself is owned by Ron Amundson, the enlightened developer whose projects aim to preserve the Hill's historic atmosphere. Only trouble is, a health code violation that has, for now, shut the place down.

Ballet, 914 E. Pike, 206-328-7983  Ballet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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