It was the first live opera performance in Seattle in 18 months! So it was a good thing that the music and plot of Puccini’s La Bohème were familiar. It was a little like going to Disneyland with your friends from summer camp. You practically want to hum “It’s a Sad World After All.”
So the challenge, in Seattle Opera’s production, is to offset the on-stage misery. The young bohemians (poets, painters, composers, philosophers) may be starving and freezing, but they’re determined to get through yet another discontented winter. Spoiler alert: the sweet-natured seamstress Mimi–sung by soprano Karen Vuong–doesn’t make it to April, despite her friends’ frantic, last-minute efforts. Colline (Cairo-born bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam) even sells his beloved overcoat to buy medicine, to no avail.
The story of these passionate scamps isn’t all about heartbreak, though. Paris in the 1890s was plenty raucous, full of bright colors and brazen sexuality, captured in director David Gately’s staging. The courtesan Musetta, especially–soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson–revels in being surrounded by a “scent of desire” in her delightful aria, By now Ginger Costa-Jackson has become a staple of Seattle Opera casting. Her waltz-time aria,“Quando m’en vo,” is often portrayed as the song of an innocent adventurer in a slinky silk gown, but Costa-Jackson plays her as a scheming hussy (with a heart of gold, of course; she sells her earrings in a last-ditch attempt to save Mimi).
A good thing that the audience knows what’s coming. This Bohème doesn’t slow down to showcase the opera’s big numbers; instead, it showers the audience with musical exclamation points and dramatic sparkles from beginning to end. The set may have been shipped over from Milano for Seattle Opera’s 1965 production, and the costumes (by Martin Pakledinaz) have seen three decades of use, but it all fits the “comfort mode” of nursery school familiarity. No complaints.
Enza Sorrentino, a traditional Sicilian chef whose deft touch with Italian pasta seduced a generation of Seattle diners away from canned spaghetti & meatballs and bogus fettuccine alfredo, passed away two years ago today; she was 76 years old.
She was born in Sicily in 1943 and grew up in Palermo, among the small farms, vineyards and fishing villages of the Mediterranean coast. She moved to Seattle after the birth of her first grandchild and joined three of her children here; for the next 15 years she would cook in much-loved neighborhood restaurants like La Vita è Bella and Mondello, serving as a culinary ambassador and bringing the spirit, flavors and hospitality of Sicily to Seattle.
“Mamma Enza,” as she was sometimes known, was the matriarch of an extended restaurant family. She arrived in Seattle from her native Sicily, in 2003, to help her oldest son, Corino Bonjrada and his business partner, Giuseppe Forte, run a popular sidewalk café in Belltown, La Vita è Bella.
“There is so much more in Italy than spaghetti, risotto and pizza,” was Mamma Enza’s motto. It was the opening salvo in her mission to broaden Seattle’s appreciation for Italian cooking.
Howard Schultz was an early customer in Belltown; Martin Selig and Gordon Bowker were among her fans. Italian opera stars arrived at her restaurants in Queen Anne and Magnolia. Jeff Bezos made a reservation.
Enza Sorrentino was born in the lean, post-Mussolini years, in Marsala, a small town on the west coast of Sicily. Her father was a teacher, her mother an office worker, but her grandfather had owned a restaurant. Enza grew up in the impoverished landscape of postwar Italy and jumped at the chance to escape; she married and moved to the French-speaking Morroccan capital of Casablanca for a decade. Returning to Sicily, she took a job as a bookeeper for the region’s biggest union, the CGL; thanks to her language skills she assumed a prominent role in the union’s international relations. But it was a political position, hence quite perilous. As the legend goes, after witnessing more than one Mafia hit, she walked away. Still, with five children to look after, she needed work. So she took a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant.Here’s where it gets interesting. One day, the cook didn’t show up, and Enza stepped in to prepare the restaurant’s lasagna. “Who made this??” the dumbfounded customers asked. So Enza was promoted.
Not that she wasn’t already an accomplished home cook. For years she’d been feeding her own family of five and their friends. But this was different. Now she had to cook for dozens of customers every night. Now, it seems to me that there are only a few jobs that require everyday, 24-hour attention. Not digging ditches; you knock off at sundown. One is a single mom raising a family of five. The other is running a restaurant. But Enza was anything if not resilient. And anything but lazy. She made pasta by hand; she once cut up an entire lamb with a blunt dinner knife. She was the least fussy of cooks, but demanding for all that. In Palermo, she ran a popular nightclub, standing up to regular shakedowns from both underworld dons and agents of the law. In Seattle, no such problems, so she never returned to Palermo except for brief family visits. Here, once she bought something from a vendor, she used it, used it all, no waste. She would turn up at the restaurant at 6 AM to bake two dozen loaves of bread; she would roll 200 meatballs by hand before lunchtime; she made her own sausage, her own pasta, her own pizza dough, her own sauces. Whenever she was physically able, she turned up at the Saturday market in Magnolia to sell her wares; she knew everybody.
She loved to go out. She particularly loved going to the opera to hear the great Italian composers. She had a love-hate relationship with restaurants; she would complain about high prices, tasteless entrees, and indifferent service. But when she found a place she liked, she was loyal to a fault. The chicken-liver mousse at Le Pichet. The fish & chips at Steelhead Diner. The tuna sushi at Shiro’s in Belltown and Sam’s in Ballard. Shiro, we should mention, was a longtime friend and next-door tenant at La Vita è Bella.
Over time, her five children provided her with seven grandchildren, who could, of course, do no wrong. And on whose behalf she would spare no expense. Her own shopping was limited to the bargain counter at Macy’s, Ross Dress for Less, and her favorite, the Goodwill. Still, like all Italians, she knew the value of the prestigious brands: Gucci, Prada, Rolex, Dior, Chanel.
She is still remembered by a generation of diners spread across Seattle (granted, many in Magnolia) who admired her lasagna, worshiped her gnocchi and ravioli, relished her linguine with clams. She was always touched by expressions of support, but she didn’t tolerate fools; many a vendor escaped her wrath only because, even after almost two decades in Seattle, she had failed to master the English-language intricacies of an Italian insult.
As it happened, some of the cooks at Mondello neither read nor speak English, so Enza would look over the tickets in English and call out the orders in rapid fire Italian. The Spanish-speaking cooks always knew just what to do. Her own English remained halting. She was not, like some of Seattle’s Italian restaurateurs, a front-of-house person. Though she was grateful for their compliments, she did not seek the attention of her customers by spending a lot of time in the dining room; her place, she knew, was the kitchen.
“Mangia,” she would say to her guests. You must eat! “Mangia!”
A grocery store’s two or three facings of pre-sliced, shrink-wrapped pepperoni or Swiss doesn’t make it a deli. You’ve got to have a back room where people actually smoke the meats or grind their own sausage.
And now that the retail outlet of Bavarian Meats, in the Pike Place Market, has folded its tent and slunk off into the night, it’s harder and harder to find a true Yurpeen deli in SeaTown. (A bit more about Bavarian here.) And yet there’s George’s Deli, not German but Polish, unassuming, family-run, close to the big hospitals. A steady clientele of folks in scrubs and three-piece suits; a phalanx of cheerful women taking orders and packing up sandwiches.
The reuben has an insider’s-secret reputation as the best in town, the potato salad has a secret ingredient, the shelves are stocked with jars of condiments straight from the Old Country. But my weakness is the beef tongue, sliced thin, on rye bread with “everything” (lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, pickles, Havarti). And what seems like half a pound of thinly sliced smoked tongue.
Gross? What, because it comes out of a cow’s mouth? Go suck an egg.
Usually a springtime promotion, but we were still in lockdown back then. So it’s Negroni Week right now. Sponsored by Campari (obviously) and Imbibe (a trade mag), it’s also a fundraiser (each participating bar used to pick its own charity, now there’s a list of some two dozen major categories.
Here’s the official recipe. The version I had last night at Gold Bar in South Lake Union was made with rum, an adjustment that might take some getting used to. No matter, it was a good-looking beverage.
I’ve written thousands of words about the Negroni, which is an aperitivo made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Eight years ago I found myself on a wine tour in Italy and took advantage of a stop in Florence to check out the Caffè Cassoni, where (according to lore) Count Negroni first convinced the barman to add gin to his favorite aperitif of Campari and vermouth. There were five of us, so five Negronis.
Reported earlier today that the Italian bakery Princi will close its freestanding location in the Denny Triangle. I’ve been showing up at Princi ever since they opened, and I’m glad that the stores inside Starbucks Roastery (on Cap Hill) and Starbucks corporate-support center (in Sodo) will keep going, and Tutta Bella, where this picture was taken, is still going strong..
Happy Hour as we know it (discounted food and drink) is hardly a new concept. It’s an outgrowth of Italy’s aperitivo culture: the civilized notion that urban dwellers need a period to transition between work-day tensions and dinnertime relaxation. It’s part of daily life, a routine in towns big and small, but especially in Torino and Milano: you enter the premises (sometimes ornate, sometimes not), you might pay a cashier up front and take your receipt to the bar; you might just place your order with the counterman. A sweet vermouth, a Campari-Soda, an infused bitter like Averna or Salers or Fernet, your call. There might be a saucer of potato chips or a few pieces of salami, or even a buffet of appetizers. It’s not dinner, that comes later. And you can always return to the Averna for your after-dinner digestivo. Or you can head to Bothell, where there’s a restaurant actually named Amaro, same owner as IL Bistro in the Pike Place Market, which has a pretty good amaro list of its own.
One of the country’s palaces of amaro is right here in Seattle. That would be Barnacle on Ballard Avenue, where amaro enthusiast David Little has assembled one of the country’s deepest collections. If you’ve never been, go soon.
The front of the rehabbed Kolstrand building is home to Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy and his soon-to-become event space, Marine Hardware. The back is where the sophisticated action happens: Renee Erickson’s Walrus & Carpenter and its offshoot, Barnacle, a delightful 12-seat cocktail counter, which houses Seattle’s most ambitious collection of Italian bitters.
Collectively, amari are one of the world’s great taste experiences, woven deeply into the fabric of Italian life, from big-city bars to rural caffès. Names like Fernet-Branca, favorite of off-duty barkeeps world-over; Campari, basis for the Negroni and the Campari-Soda; Averna, Zucca, Ramazzotti, Meletti, Braulio, Montenegro, Cappelletti, Amaro Nonino, Unico, the list goes on and on. Barnacle’s back bar shelters well over 150 labels, and the newly-designed menu features over a dozen tasting flights, $15 for three one-ounce pours, from the simplest (Montenegro, Vecchio del Capo, Ciociaro) to the increasingly exotic (Santa Maria at Monte, Sibilia, Casoni Ciclista). For newcomers to this closely-guarded treasure chest, a shot of amaro might well taste like cough syrup. Pertussin, for example. And you wouldn’t be too far off: for generations, pharmacists have been concocting elixirs from plants and herbs.
And there’s food, too, at Barnacle. Sardines, olives, on-the-bone Spanish ham sliced by hand from a jamonero, a stainless steel stand like a medieval torture device that holds the leg in place. (You can buy one for your own family! It’s under $600 at Costco, 15 lbs. of bone-in meat, the holder, and a carving knife.)
Wait, Italian? Does Starbucks know about this amaro thing? You bet. Especially at the Princi shops in South Lake Union, at the Corporate Support Center in SoDo, and at the Roastery on Capitol Hill, they’re into the whole aperitivo ritual. Rocco Princi, the superstar baker from Milano whose first American operation is right here, created a handful of signature aperitivi for Starbucks. I started out easy, with a rhubarb-based amaro called Zucco, then moved up. The Princi barista/bartender combined Campari, bourbon and sweet vermouth (so far, the ingredients of a perfectly respectable Boulevardier), added a touch of vanilla syrup, and poured it over freshly ground Starbucks Reserve coffee. Cold brew, right? Into a glass with a single ice cube and topped with a couple drops of lavender bitters.
Starbucks describes it thus: “Earth, oak, coffee, and cocktail come together through the exchange of techniques across the realms of bartender and barista. There is a delicious moment as the ruby red cocktail is poured over fragrant coffee grounds in a hypnotic circular motion. The coffee-kissed liquid trickled into a carafe and collects, excitement mounting, until it is poured over a sphere of ice, ready to be sipped and savored.”
I can’t recommend this highly enough. You don’t taste the coffee, just its smokey, slightly bitter chocolate character. It’s the creation of bartender Julia Momose, born in Japan, currently working in Chicago, recognized as one of America’s top young mixologists, furiously talented.
Princi offers a couple of salumi options to accompany its cocktail hour concoctions, but if you’re not sharing with a drinking buddy and the prospect of shelling out $22 for your very own plate of prosciutto seems daunting, you can shuffle over to the bakery counter and point to a slice of the Quattro Staggione pizza; a cheerful, white-capped commessa will heat it up and deliver it to you for $6.
More research. Artusi, on Capitol Hill, serves up an amaro called Lago Maggiore that starts out as a Nebbiolo-based, amarone-style wine and gets its kick from the herbs growing around northern Italy’s Alpine lakes. At Intermezzo in Pioneer Square, I was pleased to find another rhubarb-based amaro, Sfumato Rabarbaro, and a $10 assortment of cold cuts and cheeses. And at Ristorante Picolinos in Sunset Hill, I enjoyed an amaro from California’s St. George distillery called Bruto Americano; it made for a satisfying nightcap.
Onward. At Cicchetti on Eastlake, now in the capable hands of Christian Chandler after the death of founder Susan Kaufman, the amaro flight was a modest $14: Nardini’s fruity amaro, Tagliatella; a bright Ebo Lebo from Ottoz; and another Sfumato Rabarbaro. Could have stayed here and tried another flight and added some nibbles (cicchetti literally means “bar snacks”) but I was ready to wrap things up.
So up to Broadway for a final flight of amari, labeled Caveat Emptor (“Buyer Beware”), $20, at Herb & Bitter. This is the stuff of PhD orals: the toughest tasting exam you can imagine. Cloudy green Amaro Alta Verde (brim-full of Alpine herbs and a taste of absinthe); bright yellow Jeppson’s Malört (the Swedish word for wormwood and long a staple of two-fisted Chicago taverns); and, finally, the black-as-night bitter, bitter end: Elisir Novasalus. Dark, woody, acrid. Can you imagine the smell of the mastic used to glue linoleum to the floor or the countertop? Moist tree sap (if you’re in the habit of licking trees) would have at least some redeeming sweetness; Novasalus has none of that. They had to go to the Sicilian underbrush to find trees with sufficiently bitter sap, to which they then added flowers and herbs from Alpine meadows before marinating everything for six months in Marsala wine. It was only a one-ounce pour, but I was unable to finish it. Adding a splash of water was no help, an ice cube only made things worse, like a dirty bomb. Do you remember Black Jack chewing gum? That’s black-licorice flavor. Hated it when I was a kid, just thinking about it makes me shudder.
Still, defeat was not an option, so I declared victory and called it a night. I walked a block south along Broadway and ducked into Boca, where I chased the wretched taste of the Novasalus with a long, cold draught of Fremont IPA. Neither the barkeep at Cicchetti nor at Herb & Bitter had bothered to ask if I wanted anything to eat, but the owner of Boca, Marco Casas-Breaux, brought me an order of Argentina’s truck-stop mainstay, a boneless beef cutlet, breaded and deep-fried, topped with a pair of fried eggs. In genteel Viennese society this is known as a Schnitzel à la Holstein; in Berlin it’s a Strammer Max. At Boca, it’s called a Milanese, and it probably saved my life.
Princi announced today, in a note taped to the door, that it will close its free-standing Seattle store early next month. Two other locations, inside the Starbucks Roastery on Cap Hill and inside the corporate support center in SoDo, will remain open. Rats!
The “downtown” store, at the corner of the Urban Triangle Park on Westlake, where the Denny Triangle approaches SLU, is a combination a bakery, coffee shop & bar. Princi is part of Starbucks, though you’d never know it. A community gathering spot, with regulars at the outside tables and locals dropping by to pick up pizza slices or pastries for dinner. Princi’s very European influence among the towers of Amazonia will be missed.
More on Eater.com out of Chicago, here.
The French call it jeter l’éponge, throwing in the towel. In this case, it’s Thierry Rautureau who’s calling it quits, so the éponge is likely to be made of foie gras. Even so, it’s the end of an era. Thierry, who arrived in Seattle three decades ago, and known to all as The Chef In The Hat, started his run by taking over a hobby restaurant in Madison Valley called Rover’s and turned it into one of Seattle’s temples of haute cuisine. Champagne, caviar, duck liver pâté, one exquisite dish following another. Then came Luc, just down the street, much less formal, a French neighborhood bistro.
The folks who run the Sheraton Grand had been looking for high-end eatery ever since the pioneering Fuller’s closed; they invited Thierry to try his hand at a mid-town venue. That was eight years ago. And at first it succeeded brilliantly. “Restaurant of the Year” honors from every major local, regional, and national publication for its food, its wine list, its service, its ambience.
It wasn’t enough, though, to power past Covid. “Temporarily closed” for the past year has now become “Permanently closed.” Nor could Luc survive the terms of its lease; Thierry had announced a week ago that the doors would close for good at the end of August. Thierry’s wife, Kathleen Encell-Rautureau, will continue her business as a floral designer, but her best customer is now g-gone. The end of an era.
A bearded, grubby man whistles softly from the porch of his dilapidated cabin. From the bushes of a forest near Portland comes a muffled grunt, and a truffle-hunting pig trots out to share the man’s breakfast. Behind the beard is Nicholas Cage, a former chef now living off the grid. The movie, called “Pig,” gets underway when someone steals the pig and Cage goes back into the city to find it. (Never mind that truffle hunters everywhere use dogs nowadays.) I haven’t seen it, so this isn’t a movie review, but two professional critics who have seen it offer wildly divergent opinions.
Matt Soller Zeitz, posting on RogerEbert.com, gives it four stars. A couple of quotes: “What a beguiling, confounding film “Pig” is. From start to finish, it never moves as you might expect it to. … While conceding that it won’t be everyone’s, or even most people’s, cup of tea, I prefer to accept everything it does with an open mind and heart, because it’s so clearly an open-minded and open-hearted film.”
But wait. At Eater.com, reviewer Joshua David Stein finds a lot to complain about. “Cinematographically, Pig is shot with unrelenting solemnity. Everything is overcast; everyone’s bummed. The city is bathed in darkness; the forest in shadow. The overarching vibe is womp. … The film actually feels more like endless errands, listlessly run.”
So which is it? If you’ve seen it, did you like it?
It’s been a tough couple of years for the hotel industry, and along with the vanishing number of room-nights comes a dearth of diners at hotel restaurants. Seattle’s newest super-hotel, the 1,260-room Hyatt Regency, at 8th & Olive, across from the expanding Washington Convention Center, was counting on Daniel’s Broiler to anchor its northwest corner; it still hasn’t opened. Miller’s Guild has vanished from the Max; Brasserie Margaux at the Warwick, Outlier at the Kimpton Monaco, Rider at the Roosevelt, Tulio at the Kimpton Vintage: all temporarily closed. Dragonfish at the Paramount is up for sale. But the State Hotel’s Ben Paris is still operating; the Fairmont Olympic has refurbished and reopened its premium dining space, the Georgian Room; the Edgewater’s Six Seven is going strong. But the Goldfinch Tavern at the Four Seasons is still not fully open; nor is the full-service dining room at the Westin (which isn’t even a Westin anymore; it’s been part of Marriott for a little over a year). So where should Aunt Minnie from Minneapolis stay if she wants a decent dinner but doesn’t want to leave her hotel? She might feel right at home in midtown, at the Lotte Hotel, which occupies the bottom third of the towering F5 skyscraper at 5th & Marion.
The Seattle tech firm F5 doesn’t have the name familiarity of Microsoft or Amazon, but it has become a leading provider of what’s called Application Delivery Networking; without ADN, companies (like Amazon) that rely on “cloud” services would grind to a halt. F5, with revenues of roughly $2.5 billion and valued at about $11 billion, also leased the top 27 floors of Seattle’s fifth tallest building, originally called The Mark, a 44-story, 440 foot palace of glass and steel at the corner of 5th and Marion, now renamed the F5 Tower. The lower 16 floors, along with the adjacent architectural gem that was home, for decades, to the First Methodist Church, are given over to the Lotte Hotel. The one-time Beaux-Arts church (stained-glass windows, domed ceiling, pipe organ) was converted into the hotel’s event space and rechristened The Sanctuary.
The Lotte Hotel, for its part, is a tiny sliver of a South Korean chaebol also called Lotte Corp, a multi-pronged financial, industrial, and retail conglomerate. (Think Hyundai, Daewoo, Samsung, LG, etc.). Valued at over $3 billion, Lotte is Korea’s fifth- or sixth-largest chaebol, but its name is actually German. Company founder Shin Kyuk-ho very much admired the 18th century poet Goethe, whose seminal work was the epitome of German romanticism, Die Leiden des Jungen Werther (in English, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”). The object of Werther’s love was Charlotte, hence Lotte as the corporate umbrella, and Charlotte is the name of the hotel’s restaurant. Got that?
Lotte is also a rags-to-riches story. Shin, the company’s founder, passed away earlier this year at the age of 98. He was born to a large family in Korea and set out on his own by moving to Japan as a teenager; he started out delivering newspapers while studying chemistry. By 1948, back home, he launched a company that manufactured chewing gum. After the Korean war ended in 1953, his business expanded to include a full line of snacks, then department stores, duty-free shops, amusement parks, a baseball team, the tallest office building in Seoul, a massive footprint in the chemical industry (including a $3 billion plant in Louisiana), a bid to acquire the rights to eBay in Korea (still pending), and a string of some 30 hotels around the world. Lotte’s 189-room hotel in Seattle is the third in the USA, after New York and Guam.
Before it became the Lotte, the property had been an SLS hotel that never opened: 189 ready-to-go guest rooms outfitted by the French celebrity industrial designer Philippe Starck. But in 2017, SLS (an event-management and hospitality company based in Los Angeles) pulled the plug and withdrew from the Seattle market. The never-opened hotel sat vacant for almost two years, fully furnished but unoccupied until Lotte came along and revived it.
Today, Starck’s signature style, a riff on Mid-Century Modern, is on display in the hotel’s public spaces, especially the 16th floor lounge and dining room. It’s a curious mixture of blonde wood, abstract carpet patterns and zany touches (shelves full of fake books, retro wingback chairs, freestanding bathtubs in the guest rooms). In a way, it’s like the mullet haircut or the pumpin-spice latte; hard to escape, especially if you’re not much of a fan. The best solution may be to keep looking out the windows, where there’s a fine view of the Smith Tower, Elliott Bay, and the Olympics. Service by a platoon of international dining room attendants is almost painstakingly polite and deferential, a greater degree of ceremony than you might expect, given Charlotte’s bright, airy and informal décor. It may be that Charlotte’s dinner table accoutrements are its best features: cutlery and tableware by Guy Degrenne (a line called l’Econome by none other than our omnipresent friend Philippe Starck), glassware by Luigi Bormioli.
The restaurant’s executive chef, Alexander La Motte, came to Seattle after working his way though Michelin-star kitchens (French Laundry, Daniel Boulud); he offers an “innovative yet approachable” menu. Each dish is “refined and balanced” and “delicately plated.” This is boilerplate menuese for, ahem, fussy food, which wouldn’t much matter if it tasted amazing. Alas, it’s most often just as bland and uninteresting as the blonde wood tables and chairs (rather than vibrant like the abstract carpets). Almost every dish looked as pretty as a picture but tasted as subtle as a whisper (a polite way of saying, I suppose, that they were severely under-seasoned). For example, the gorgeous corn velouté, poured tableside into ceramic bowls bordered by edible flowers and flavorful crayfish, lacked almost any sense of character. Exceptions: the stone-oven octopus (which looked like something you’d want to avoid stepping into, but was full of umami), and a dessert soufflé of fromage blanc accompanied by a white-chocolate liqueur and a strawberry sorbet.
The wines were a better story. Sommelier Amanda Reed has deep roots in Seattle’s restaurant community; she’s been at Wild Ginger, Heartwood Provisions, and RN74, and comes up with some spectacular by-the-glass offerings at Charlotte: assyrtiko from Crete, riesling from the Rheingau, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay from Oregon, Passito di Pantelleria from the Mediterranean.
Back down at street level, you’re handed a bill for $15 for parking, which (the valet explains) is a $18 discount off the regular $33 charge. Next time (assuming there might be a next time), I’ll call an Uber. Aunt Minnie, for her part, can just summon the elevator.