Princi is closing its only freestanding Seattle location

Princi location in Denny Triangle announces closure

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 Chef In The Hat hangs up his apron

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.

Here, Piggy!

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?

Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Fromage blanc soufflé at Charlotte restaurant in the F5 Tower

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.

Corn velouté is poured tableside

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.

Oregon lamb tartare with a soy-cured egg

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.

Stone-oven octopus with purple farro

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.

Passito di Pantelleria

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.

Remember Pigs On Parade?

“Prosciutto & Melon” on a sidewalk in Belltown, summer of 2007

You might recall the concept, back in the summer of 2007: local artists created fiberglass sculptures based on Seattle’s Ur-Piggy Rachel, which were sold to raise money for the Pike Place Market Foundation. One such sculptor was Colin Reedy, an Oregon furniture designer also known for a couple of ride-em “Pork Choppers.” This particular creation, titled “Prosciutto and Melon Pig,” should have been positioned at a deli counter like DeLaurenti, not on the sidewalk in Belltown next to, gulp, the pork-free Tandoori Hut.

Where will it lead, all this “On Parade” stuff? Cows in Chicago, Cows in Zurich, “Sound of Moosic” cows in Salzburg, Vach’Art in Paris, nutcrackers and ponies in downtown Seattle, more piggies in Cincinnati, ducks in Eugene, salmon in Salem, hearts in San Francisco, donkeys and elephants in Washington, DC, bulls in Torino, Italy, lions in Lyon, lions in Venice. Whales on Parade to raise money for ocean research? Rats on Parade for urban sanitation?

What brings this on is the outrage in Rome this week over a new porcine sculpture, Porchetta, which drew the ire of animal rights activists and was vandalized within hours of its installation. The municipal authorities removed the offending artwork forthwith, but the story is far from over.

Don’t Cry for Me

Eva Duarte, who grew up in poverty on the Pampas of rural Argentina, married Colonel Juan Peron in Buenos Aires in 1945, a year before his election to the presidency. She quickly won the adulation of the country and became the voice of its “shirtless” masses, the descamisados. Evita died of cancer in 1952 at the age of 33.

Evita’s generous spirit inhabits Belltown’s historic Queen City Grill, which has been refurbished during the pandemic by the indefatigable Seattle restaurateur Marco Casas Beaux (a string of Argentine steak houses) and his business partner, designer Liliana Edwards of Restaurant Bar Design Group. The new name is Boca, same as Beaux’s older spot on Broadway, and he has given it a similar menu focused on charcoal-grilled steaks. Edwards reimagined the inside of the restaurant as informal yet clubby, with dark walls, leather banquettes, and bright spots of flowers. The restaurant’s celebrated back bar feels familiar but is entirely new.

The mixed grill at Boca in Belltown.

In the kitchen, grillmaster Luis Torrez puts out huge portions of grilled meats. The $40 parrillada, or mixed grill, featured an enormous pork chop, a small chicken, a couple of housemade sausages, along with half a dozen cuts of beef (New York strip, skirt steak, rib-eye, short ribs, tenderloin, and so on). The selection, which really should be shared by a couple (or more) hungry diners, is delivered atop a brazier of live coals.

Happy Hour is expected to begin as soon patrons can once more sit at the bar. Highly recommended: the beef empañadas.

The property at the corner of First & Blanchard had been home to Queen City Grill for decades. It closed for good a couple of years back and the owners, Steve and Jennifer Good, sold the property to restaurateur and music promoter Linda Dershang. Before she could build out her new concept (a place like Capitol Hill’s Linda’s Tavern), the pandemic hit and closed everything down. When Casas Beaux offered to take it over, Dershang agreed. So now it’s Boca.

Boca Restobar & Grill, 2201 First Avenue at Blanchard. 206-268-0528

Poisson d’Avril

It began in France, they say, the tradition of calling the first of April “April Fool’s Day.” Something to do with the old Julian calendar (that started the year on April 1), perhaps, a day to play practical jokes on those a bit slow to catch on. The French call it poisson d’avril, April fish, as do the Italians, pesce d’aprile. Slap a dead fish on your buddy’s back: like calling him dumb as a post.

Well, this year, as it happens, Easter once again falls on a Sunday. And it’s too early in the season for football, so what are families going to do to pass the time while they wait for the turkey or the leg of lamb to come out of the oven? May I suggest a parlor game?

Let’s consider the many ways we mistreat our food, shall we? Cruelty to vegetables, for starters.

Pity the parsnip. Artificially germinated, forced to sprout in a furrow, nurtured (if you can call it that) in a bed of manure, raised with indifference, virtually ignored until it reaches market weight. Then it’s thoughtlessly deracinated, mechanically decapitated, mercilessly skinned, and, in a final act of stultifying callousness, boiled alive.

Fruit and veg of other species fare no better. Corn is stripped from its parental cob. Parsley is hacked to death. Spinach is chopped and creamed, potatoes routinely whipped, pumpkins eviscerated, grain thrashed and flailed. Who’s there to coddle and console a carrot? Provide foster-care for an orphaned banana? Instead, there’s jubilation when cherries are doused in alcohol and set afire.

Think about this: by “harvesting” a string bean, we’re kidnapping the plant’s children. What does it do to our humanity, when, three times a day, we kill vegetables just to feed our voracious animal appetites?

Cruelty to vegetables ought to be a serious concern, but it’s hidden from view. Farming and gardening appear to be so natural, and questioning “nature’s way” isn’t politically correct. But lower taxes on farmland means higher taxes for the rest of our property. Plants require a lot of water, and water’s not cheap.

Look it up: I’ll bet farmers use more than their share of sunlight, too.

The Starbucks Mermaid

The Starbucks mermaid doesn’t have a name, but her creator does: graphic artist and advertising guru Terry Heckler. In the 1970s, the Seattle-based Heckler would brainstorm ideas for the new coffee company that his creative partner, Gordon Bowker, wanted to launch.

It was Heckler who came up with the name, a reference to Mr. Starbuck, first mate aboard the Moby Dick. “Seattle being a town settled by seafaring Scandinavians, we wanted to evoke the siren-song of the sea,” Bowker recalls. The name sounded right, so Heckler started looking through old books for illustrations of sirens, sprites, water nymphs, mermaids. The earliest version was brown and fierce-looking; her breasts had nipples, and her tail was forked. Eventually all that softened. and Heckler’s original, bare-breasted sea serpent became a friendlier melusine, then the current iteration (no longer a seductive siren, more of a mermaid).

wrote about the evolution of the company “mark” a couple of times over the years. Along the way, Starbucks not only ditched references to coffee in its logo, and, in a move that still seems shocking, even removed its own name from the logo.

Heckler told me, at the time, that it was “a horrible misjudgment” to remove the words Coffee and Starbucks from the logo. “Now she just looks like a princess with a crown on her head.”

That may be, but a new story in FastCodeDesign.com described what happened when the global branding firm Lippincott took over in 2011. The problem with the face, they decided, was its symmetry. It was too perfect.

So they made the tiniest tweak: the mermaid’s left eye drops down just a tiny fraction lower than the right eye.

“In the end, just for the face part of the drawing, there’s a slight asymmetry to it. It has a bit more shadow on the right side of the face,” says design partner Bogdan Geana. “It felt a bit more human, and felt less like a perfectly cut mask.”

Like fashion editors airbrushing photographs, the Lippincott designers pushed, pulled, stretched, even recolored their model  “In the end we decided that giving her a mythical, mysterious, alluring quality was something we wanted to retain,” Geana said. But a perfect mask would turn the mermaid into a Barbie Doll. Hence the deliberate imperfection. 

Heckler is retired and had no immediate comment on the FastCoDesign story. In addition to Starbucks, his clients included Rainier Beer, K2 Skis, Panera Bread, Cinnabon, Ivar’s, New Balance, and Red Hook.

When his clients hit the big time, they “usually go public and have to work with an agency with international credentials.,” he told an interviewer in 2011. “Then we do special projects work for them.”

The Bitter, the Sweet

Let’s start with the sweet. Two friends, Armen Tertsagian and Mark Balaban, who had immigrated from Armenia in 1918, became fruit growers in Cashmere and co-owners Liberty Orchards. In 1945, at the conclusion of World War II, sugar rationing came to an end in the United States. Tersagian and Balaban recalled a sugar-dusted candy they had known in their childhood, a treat called rahat locoum. The English translation is Turkish Delight.

Now they had all the raw materials at hand to recreate their childhood treat: bountiful crops of gorgeous apples and apricots as well as sugar. For a couple of decades, they sold their confections, which they dubbed Aplets & Cotlets, at roadside stands in the Yakima Valley. Then came the World’s Fair in Seattle, and suddenly they found commercial success. Until now.

For the past three years the owners have tried to sell the business, to no avail. So they will simply close the doors on June 1st. That’s it. Buh-bye.

WAIT, WAIT!! The owners now (June 1st) think they’ve found a buyer, so they’re going to stay open, at least until the deal goes through. It’s in the P-I.

My Dinner with Jim

The NYT ran a nice profile of Jim Haynes, who died last week at the age of 87, back in 2012. Five years earlier, I wrote this profile for Cornichon.org:

On the phone, Jim Haynes invites me to come for dinner on Sunday, something he’s been saying to visitors for decades. By now, well over 100,000 people–most of them total strangers–have accepted his invitation. mostly, but not exclusively, American visitors. [Another 25,000 have been added over the past five years.]

In a not-particularly-fashionable neighborhood in the southeast quadrant of Paris, a high metal gate swings open. You walk into a courtyard and enter a high-ceilinged artist’s studio. Jim is on a stool next to the stove, welcoming new arrivals (or on the phone, talking to strays who got lost). By 9 PM, the apartment is crowded with perhaps 75 or 80 guests.

The three-course menu is unpretentious and tasty: salad, boeuf bourguignon over pasta, ice cream with poached pears. On the landing, you help yourself to decent, bag-in-box wine. And you meet people, you converse. Jim makes sure of that. He calls out names. “Pierre, talk to Julie! Mitch from Cleveland, right? This is Suzanne. She lives in the neighborhood.” He doesn’t refer to his guest list, has it down pat. “Ronald, Seattle, Bruce, Seattle.” Bruce ignores me; he hasn’t come this far to meet neighbors.

A few of the guests are newcomers, some come regularly, others whenever they’re in town. To be sure, some are just cruising, but many are couples. “It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday night in Paris,” says a Belgian expat.

“Ronald, you speak French. Sit over there by the bookcase with Martine and Danielle!” They live in the suburbs, tell me they’ve heard about Jim’s soirées for years, finally decided to see for themselves.

Jim is from Louisiana, a theatrical type (as if you couldn’t guess), clearly enjoys his role as stage-manager. Why does he do it, this whole permanent floating crap game of an international dinner party? A pause, a smile. “Why not?” he answers.

A fine obituary, in The Guardian, is here.