El Chupacabra, Ballard
I spent a long year of my adolescence in Switzerland with my family, living in a city on the northern coast of Lake Geneva, or lac Leman as the locals have it. Lausanne is the capital of the canton of Vaud, with the Valais just to the east one of the two primary centers for Francophone Swiss agriculture, primarily vineyards and orchards (not, of course, considering dairy, a much larger segment of the economy).
Both the Valaisiennes and the Vaudois produce a characteristic regional wine. As I recall, in The Valais, it’s a dry red known as Dôle. In Vaud, it’s a snappy dry white called Fendant (which is also made in the Valais). A similar wine, from the same species of grape, is vinted to the west of Switzerland in france where it’s called Chasselas. I believe the names in each case are drawn from the grape varietals, but not being a wine expert, really don’t know.
The Fendants are vinted from community-managed vinyeards that line the northeastern shores of the lake, steep terraced slopes that are unbeleiveably scenic to drive through. Every couple of miles you wind through a little cluster of neat, thick walled buildings, and somewhere nearby you’ll find the village’s caveau, where the wine is available. I think the wine is also made in the caves, but can’t recall.
This wine is commonly available durring the summer and served at the various community festivals in the region and is treated informally as the correct complement to a midday meal of sausage and cheese and the like. I suppose in some ways one could liken it to the way Americans drink beer in the summertime. Unlike beer, however, the Swiss drink it in tiny, near cylindrical glassed that I suppose must hold about two shots of liquid. It’s common for these glasses to be emblazoned with the heraldry of the town holding he festival or the location of the dining establishment. The wine, in essence, formed my palate for white wine, and to a greater or lesser extent the degree to which a white diverges from this crisp, apple-like dry white with some overtones of salt and sometimes a hint of sulfur determines the personal attraction to the wine.
As the wine is primarily produced for local consumption, it’s quite rare for it to be exported in any quantity, and in the twenty years since I was last in Switzerland, I have only had Swiss Fendant a couple of times, most recently about six years ago at Le Gourmand in Ballard. Since then, I have made a habit of pestering wine stewards all over the city for news of any imported Swiss fendant. I just missed a few bottles last fall, I understand, to my frustration.
Imagine my joy, then, when last week I found a bottle of Puget Sound produced Chasselas, made by Mount Baker Vineyards, an outfit sadly lacking in web presence. Priced at a reasonable nine bucks, the bottle is a slightly sweeter incarnation of this than the pseudoplatonic ideal resident in my memory. But it’s pretty close and I’m thrilled to see it being produced here. Vaud is at approximately the same latitude as Mount Rainier, not Mount Baker. Baker is aligned with the French region of Alsace, where the grape is also vinted. The Alsatian versions are also sweeter. The Mount Baker Vineyards approach seems to me closer to the Swiss than to the Alsatian. I look forward to more.
R. W. Apple in the NYT takes a crack at Salumi, to which i was happy to bring my parents and Viv last week. Yummmm.
R. W. Apple holds forth, with some bloviation, on Northwestern oysters in The Oyster Is His World [NYT]. I’ll slurp to that!
Tonight we braved the wilds of westernmost West Seattle for a tasty sunset meal at La Rustica, a place I’ve often wished to try.
We enjoyed a delicious appetizer of broiled oysters with spinach, cheese, and pixie dust. Viv had some chicken deal, and I had a wild boar chop, wrapped in bacon. It was very good.
Viv variously enjoyed and was blinded by the setting sun over the waves. I personally ejoyed looking at my wife as she was brilliantly illuminated by the sunset.
On the drive home, Viv noted the neon in motion of a traveling carnival in the south parking lot of Northgate Mall. It’s cold tonight and they did not appear to be doing big box office.
I was bummed to learn of the closure of Bert Grant’s Yakima brewpub from the P-I today. From the time it opened to the last time I was on Yakima, about five years ago, a stop at the old depot was a requirement of the trip, in token of Grant’s role in the craft brewer renaissance and in celebration of my family’s agrarian roots in the Yakima valley. Pears ain’t hops, but the incipient vineyards and hops fields of my childhood promised a richer, tastier adulthood, a promise which mostly has been borne out.
I swung by the liquor store on my way to pick up Viv, in need of gin, and wandered aimlessly for a patch. Rounding a corner I was haply surprised to see Clear Creek Eau-de-Vie, a variety of brandy that has been of interest to my family for years (my grandfather was a pear farmer and my dad has a long and lively interest in the manufacture of wine and liquor). So I added it to my forage, traded a small pile of pebbles and such to the man watching the mouth of the cave, and swung up into the saddle of my bantha, the booze in the trunk.
When Viv and I reached home, I picked up the paper bag with the bottles in it, which tore and dropped about five inches to the floor of the trunk. As i reached to pick it up, I was puzzled about the source of the liquid gurgling all over the floor of the trunk. The pear brandy bottle’s neck had sheared off.
I was able to save most of the booze by straining it through a coffee filter, and eventually got the pear out. But I’m still bummed, as I had hoped to open the bottle with my pop.
Yo quiero el pastrami sandwich! Dammit, they are closed at 5 on weekends.
A while ago I concluded that I had accidentally eaten part of a habanero, a conclusion not embraced by all but one which remains in place in my mind. This belief was reinforced when last night I unthinkingly popped a whole roasted pepper into my mouth and then thought to ask, just as my diaphragm went into convulsions, “Was that a habanero?”
It was. I’m still feeling it. The immediate, five-minute symptoms last night and last May were quite identical. Happily, we were able to flag a waiter down to bring a shot of rum in short order. The rum was quite helpful.