November 18, 2019

The Mini Golf Apocalypse

In a hulking old building in the International District there lurks – but only for a short time – a miniature golf experience like you’ve never had before. It’s called Smash Putt and it’s as loud and as wacky as you might imagine with a name like that.

The aforementioned old building is a former INS detention facility, and in its unrenovated state it’s the perfect backdrop for an activity like this. Institutional lighting dimmed down in some spots, flashing lights in other spots, and a cacophony of noise that seems to ricochet through the various rooms. One such noisy hole has big cut-outs that pop up and random and slam back down, misdirecting your ball when you least expect it. The loudest one of all involves shooting golf balls out through some sort of gun-like affair aiming for terrifically percussive objects like sheets of metals dangling inside the protective cage.

And some of the holes are kooky rather than loud, like this “living room” hole where you putt through deep green shag, around a table, and through the legs of a chair. Needless to say, it’s a very slow roll.

Or the “foosball” hole – my favorite of the night – with foos men moving back and forth that may or may not catch your ball and spit it out a side hole, giving you a score of something other than 1. And perhaps my proudest moment, applying some of the geometry lessons learned at the pool table to the angle-heavy “K” hole.

There is most assuredly a bar at Smash Putt so it’s a 21+ activity, but if you’re of an appropriate age I highly recommend checking it out before the building transitions into its next life as artists’ studios. But do it soon – only four weekends left to experience the fun.

Where Ya At? Seattle Square, of course!

It was one of those beautiful summer mornings in Seattle… Bright and sunny, and warm on its way to being just the right amount of hot. The perfect day to be in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Square for the weekly Seattle Square, a new addition to the neighborhood this summer. It’s a small assemblage of local vendors – among them Tweet Toffee and Ilee Papergoods – with a DJ spinning tunes at the edge of the square. We were fascinated by the sort of oversized doily that you see in the photo above, but in the end left without asking if it was cloth or some other sort of material, an art installation or something with utilitarian purpose. Mysterious…

This isn’t a huge shocker or anything, but for me the most interesting part of the whole Seattle Square experience was the food. Although we weren’t able to fit in a sandwich from Here & There BBQ, or ice cream from Parfait, we did manage to sample some of what Ram & Rooster Dumplings had to offer. The pork dumplings with pork, napa cabbage, ginger, and green onions were fantastic, if a little more chewy than others I’ve had. Tasty but not quite as stellar, the vegan dumplings with green cabbage, ginger, green onions, carrots, water chestnuts, bamboo, and 5-spice tofu reaffirmed my carnivorous leanings. The green onion pancakes were good but not particularly flavorful, according to the discerning pancake palates among my crowd.

For me the main food event was Where Ya At, the New Orleans-themed mobile food vendor just launched by local Chef Matthew Lewis. In addition to hailing from New Orleans, Matthew recently came from a stint at Queen Anne’s Toulouse Petit and is clearly steeped in the cuisine of that great food city. The options for po boy sandwiches included roast beef, the Peacemaker (oyster, bacon, and cheddar), fried green tomato and Dungeness crab, as well as the oyster and shrimp versions that we sampled. Buttery French bread, lightly breaded shrimp, and a hint of spice. Fabulously tasty! I didn’t try the gumbo or the red beans and rice on this particular visit, but I’ll track down the truck again so that I can round out my experience. And I’m sure that my plans for a return to Where Ya At (named for the typical NOLA greeting, BTW) have absolutely nothing to do with the bags of powered sugar laden beignets and cups of special-blend Herkimer coffee that made their way to our table. Right?

Burning Beast

With an enticing name like “Burning Beast,” how could I possibly resist?

Well, there were reasons… The event was to take place waaaaay up north, much further afield that I normally travel for a meal. And did I really have the intestinal fortitude to consume the acres of meat the event’s name clearly implied?

/ photo by Alix /

Turns out that none of these were real obstacles, because last Sunday I found myself trundling up I-5 toward Arlington, with three intrepid friends and proven good eaters, on our way to Burning Beast. The event takes place down a winding series of roads that lead to Smoke Farm, a former working dairy that has been transformed into a home for artists, educators and performers, all working to promote art and creativity. Burning Beast is one of the major fundraisers for the year, and helps to support a range of initiatives and programs of Smoke Farm, among them things like poetry retreats, puppetry classes, blacksmithing camps and workshops for theater-makers.

/ photo by Andrew van Leeuwen /

Passing a tractor shed on our way into the farm we got a peek at the physical incarnation of one of those creative undertakings, the letter press machines that make up Smoke Farm Press. For a closer look, check out the post by one of my fellow travelers who went to examine in more detail the machines and what they’re producing.

So what exactly IS Burning Beast, you ask? In theory, it’s a chance for a group of extremely skilled local chefs to lend their time and talent to an excellent cause, and along the way teach the rest of us a bit about where our food comes from (connecting us to the WHOLE animal), and how good local, sustainably raised animals can taste. In practice, it’s 15-ish chefs and their cooking teams who spend a weekend preparing and serving an animal, vegetable or sea creature, using fire, earth, steel and little else. No electricity; it’s all open flame and a great deal of creativity.

I meant it: whole animal!

Picture this…

… times the number and variety of meats and sea creatures listed on the chalkboard menu.

/ photo by Andrew van Leeuwen /

(In case you didn’t catch that, we’re talking some of the best restaurants in Seattle represented here: Emmer & Rye, Serafina, Cicchetti, Marjorie, Monsoon, Crush, Art of the Table, Lark, Licorous. Be still my beating heart!)

A laid-back crowd, a fair number of people seemed to arrive at 3pm when the “doors” opened, interested in checking out the farm, the nearby river or maybe just lounging in the sun. At some point the trapeze artists set up in the middle of the field started performing, and there was live music from a couple of different bands throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Music, and music in waiting / photo by Alix /

That photo also gives you an idea of the size of the field where the event took place, with all of those tents representing different chefs and beasts. And after about 6:30pm when the food started coming off various fires, the scene looked a bit like this, with people lining up at various tables and tents for all sorts of deliciousness.

Where to begin with that deliciousness… Moose and blueberry sausage wrapped in bacon; rabbit stuffed with rabbit and housemade (fieldmade?) prosciutto sausage; Painted Hills ribeye on crostini; lamb with pistachios, golden raisins, golden beets and mint; slow-roasted harissa goat; moose confit –– just to name a few. And the sides that accompanied some of the meats were pretty fantastic as well: Calvados fig jam; farro with peas and blueberries; English pea and tarragon cream.

As promised, the event did include several non-meat options including a slew of extremely tasty roasted vegetables, the most enormous sardines I’ve ever seen and a huge stack of mammoth oysters steamed under a pile of wet burlap bags. Ingenuity at its best, I say.

And finally, after everyone was absolutely stuffed to the gills, here’s where the burning beast part came in: The massive wooden goat was set aflame and everyone gathered around as eventually, it became campfire-sized.


That’s the moment when the crowd began to disperse a bit, and we departed to make the drive back to Seattle. Though I suspect that’s when the real fun started, as there looked to be plenty of people armed with camping gear planning to spend the night. Maybe for year four I’ll be ready to eat myself silly and then crawl into a tent for the night. But only if I’m promised a rib-eye breakfast, I think. And maybe only if Fonte is still there and still pouring coffee.

/ Unless otherwise noted, photos by Chong Kim /

Modern dance gets personal

You know those times when you haven’t traveled far from home, yet you experience something far afield from your everyday? One of those for me is the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe. Although I grew up going to the Spokane version, I guess I just hadn’t been to a fair in quite a long while because it all seemed very foreign. Amazing that just a hop, skip and a jump from my usual urban Seattle life were blue-ribbon canned vegetables, pot bellied pig races, deep fried Snickers bars and towering carnival rides. I love that this kind of thing is easily accessible and exists so close to me, if only for a couple of weeks a year.

I had another one of those experiences lately when I got to be a part of a sliver of a new work by much-acclaimed local contemporary dancer, KT Niehoff. You might recognize her name as co-founder and former director of the newly relocated Velocity Dance Center, or as Artistic Director of now 12-year-old collaborative troupe of dance professionals, Lingo. It’s through Lingo’s newest project, A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, that I had a recent and very personal look into the world of contemporary dance. Glimmer, as described on her website:

“In 2006, KT began investigating the relationship between audience and artist with the primary goal of creating a more tangible intimacy between the two. This search has led her to seek out more potent environments that ask the performer and the witness to confront each other as unique individuals who bring to the exchange their personal histories and desires. A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, in all its forms, is an outcropping of this search.”

Cool, huh? Especially once you learn about all of the facets of the project: a culminating performance at ACT Theatre; for those same ACT performances, pre-show (!) cocktails with a cast member; dancers as kinetic sculptures throughout the Seattle Art Museum; and something titled One Performer/One Recipient/Many Locations. It’s that last piece in which I got to participate and let me tell you, really hit the mark on the tangible intimacy described above.

In a nutshell, the Glimmer cast was tasked with creating 30 solos for individuals, to be custom-made based on interactions with each person and performed in public locations throughout the city. The process began with a questionnaire — things like sweet or savory? what items are currently in your pocket? what is the last thing you lost? what is a Seattle location you love? — followed by more detailed conversations to really get a sense of the person. My friend was the one who sent in the questionnaire and got to experience this whole process, and I was lucky enough to be invited along to the performance.

And the performance? Wow. It turned out that Glimmer cast member Kelly Sullivan invited us into her home for the experience, yet another step in that intimacy for which the project was striving, I thought. Her dancing was powerful, vulnerable, beautiful and spot-on given my friend’s reaction as the solo finished. I was grateful to have been included in something so unique and magical, and again, amazed that this whole world of dance exists all around me. It just happens to be a community that I’m not very familiar with, that I don’t plug into on a regular basis.

If you didn’t luck into participating in the one-to-one performances, or seeing the dancers at SAM, you still have the chance to experience the project at the culminating performance of A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light at ACT through May 15. Can’t wait to see what this piece of the project will look like…

One of the surprising and wonderful outcomes of Kelly’s performance was that we got to meet her boyfriend, Eli Rosenblatt, a very talented artist in his own right. Eli played the guitar as Kelly danced, and the two of them together were absolutely lovely — and I thought that even before we were treated to tea and breakfast and great conversation. It turns out that Eli has quite a schedule of performances of his own, and I’m excited to add these to my plans to see Glimmer at ACT. Find out more about Eli and his music on his Monarch Duo website, and hear him this Wednesday night at Nectar in Fremont.

Who knew that such great connections could come out of one interaction? KT Niehoff, I suspect.

Sante

Step 1: Get in your car. Step 2: Drive east. Way east. Step 3: Screech to a halt in downtown Spokane in front of Sante, the year-and-a-half old restaurant and charcuterie attached to Auntie’s Bookstore. Auntie’s is Spokane’s fantastic independent bookstore, kindred spirit to Elliott Bay in Seattle and Powell’s in Portland. Perhaps there is a trend of talented restaurateurs running bookstore-attached cafes — see Tamara Murphy in Elliott Bay’s former lower level space — and if so, Chef/Owner Jeremy Hansen is an excellent example of this trend on the east side of the state.

From an interior perspective, it’s more upscale than other bookstore cafes I’ve seen. Though there aren’t a huge number of tables, the open ceiling and big windows that look onto West Main Street give the room a terrific spaciousness. The white wainscoting on two walls and dark, shiny floor contrast nicely, as do the substantial, very un-modern chairs and the distinctly modern menu. The space is well-proportioned and comfortable, but clearly much of the action is taking place out of sight.

It’s late on a Thursday night and Hansen is all energy and enthusiasm, excited to talk about his plans for Sante. He and his relatively large team will continue to produce great food out of what is a tiny kitchen for such a varied menu, while expanding into other areas of the building as the restaurant offerings evolve. The newest of these is a recently-finished space in the basement, now ground zero for their house-cured charcuterie and soon to become the same for cheese and bread production. For all of the restaurants that aspire to make everything in-house, Sante gives them a run for their money. Next up is an herb garden on the rooftop, I’ve no doubt.

The first thing that appeared at the table that evening was an amuse-bouche, literally something that “entertains the mouth,” a single bite of some bit of wonderful that arrives unbidden from the chef. This particular version was a thin crisp of toast with apple jelly, goat cheese and a blackberry gracing the top. Just enough to get the palate ready for more.

Next came the crespella, a goat cheese and leek stuffed cr&ecircpe with tomato confit and basil gastrique. The tomato arrived intact rather than confited, which was perfectly fine with me, and the gastrique was sweet and basil-y and the perfect accompaniment to the goat cheese and crepe.

The charcuterie plate was a rather substantial offering of salami, chicken terrine, brie, cornichons, baguette and two house-made mustards, my favorite of which was the marjoram. But for me the star of the plate was the duck prosciutto, immensely flavorful and gorgeously un-lean.

The true cod had a lovely sear on the top and was falling-apart tender and much more flavorful than I might have expected from this particular fish. No doubt it helped that the cod was paired with the creamiest root vegetable risotto, spinach, onion and beurre fondue. I’m guessing that last is a bit like beurre blanc only creamier, which likely gave the risotto the texture I loved so much. The balsamic reduction around the rim of the plate and plum and walnut chutney lent a bit of sweetness, contrasting with the salt of the gaufrette (a thinly waffled potato crisp) placed atop the dish.

We finished with this caramel apple crème brulee, paired with a granny smith apple sorbet. As with everything else we had that evening dessert was beautifully presented, but the chunks of fruit overwhelmed the crème brulee and the accompanying sorbet seemed an unnecessary addition when quite lacking in flavor. In my opinion, the only misstep in an otherwise fantastic meal.

Sant&eacute also looks to have a knock-out brunch menu, and I already have my eye on a couple of items: the duck hash (duck confit, foie gras butter, potatoes, onion, white sauce, duck egg, baguette) and the phyllo and house paneer (house-made paneer, date and walnut chutney, tofu, watercress, red wine gastrique). They’re also doing all kinds of interesting events worth checking out, including 15, a 15-course (nope, that’s not a typo) extravaganza complete with participating wineries, all benefitting Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane.

Clearly it’s not just Chef Hansen and the talented team in the back of the house who do great work at Sante. Kudos to our server, Eric, who did a fantastic job of pointing us toward menu items we might not have otherwise tried. He was knowledgeable, helpful and fun — three things I very much appreciate in someone walking me through a meal. With this kind of phenomenal food and service, and engaging community events, it looks like a bright food future for Sante, without a doubt.