Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nota Bene Cellars: Making Our Dreams Come True

Close your eyes and imagine you are in a large manufacturing plant surrounded by the whir of machinery and the clatter of bottles as they rush down the production line.  You get your bearings by gazing around and seeing numerous people in coveralls intently shepherding what appears to be beer bottles going down a production line.  You notice one employee standing next to you.  She’s a tall woman and you take note, this kid is not like the others.  She has made her coveralls very unique by putting a large cursive “L” on the shoulder.  This triggers deep-seeded memories of childhood TV watching and you are kinderstruck.  Wait a second….it’s coming back… that Shotz Beer? and am I in the Shotz Brewery?  You suddenly realize you’ve somehow time traveled back to 1970’s Milwaukee (funny how the attire is not that far off from how 2012 Seattle hipsters dress).

Many of you may be too young to remember Laverne & Shirley (worth checking out on DVD).  But, this is exactly the same memory both of us conjured up during our first (albeit not beer bottling) wine bottling experience recently at one of our favorite wineries, Nota Bene Cellars.  No, we did not quit our day jobs (wishful thinking), this was a volunteer job that proved to be both entertaining and educational (plus Tim, the winemaker, generously gave two free bottles of wine for every shift worked). 

Nota Bene Cellars is an urban winery located in an industrial park close to South Park (a hop, skip and a jump from where we live in West Seattle).  It’s a member of the South Seattle Wine Association (watch for a future blog on the SSWA).  Tim Narby the “N” in Nota and his wife Carol Bryant the “B” in Bene are the owners and Tim is the principal wine maker.  Their love for a particular bottle of wine enjoyed in Ashland, Oregon,  inspired them to try making wine at home using a kit they received as a wedding present.  That person should be thanked because Tim has honed his skill and is making some amazing wines using the finest WA grapes he can source.  Both Tim (a Boeing Systems Analyst) and Carol (a State Prosecuting Attorney) balanced busy day jobs and a family to get their dream off the ground.  We admire that as we also someday hope to walk away from our day jobs and pursue a business venture that involves one of our passions. 

More cleaning
Tim cleaning out the holding tanks
Tim driving a forklift. What can't he do?

The winery quickly became one of our favorites after we visited it on a 2nd Saturday (SSWA wineries are normally only open every 2nd Saturday of the month).  On our first visit we were surprised by how many bottles were in their tasting line-up (eleven in total) and doubly surprised when we liked every one of them.  Must we remind you that we are picky (not wine snobs—we just know what we like and don’t like).  The secret we believe is very much like what makes successful chefs and restaurants great.  Tim sources high quality grapes from the best vineyards (quality ingredients) and he’s skilled enough to know how to let those ingredients sing.

Custom Bottling Company, where Homer lives

Homer taking a smoke break
As we walked into the Nota Bene ”production facility”, which was a pretty cool 24 ft mobile trailer set-up from Custom Bottling Company, we tried to take in the beehive of activity that was occurring.  We rolled up our sleeves and got assigned to handing empty bottles up to the first man on the production line.  This was quite a risky job as you had to have a good hand-off or those bottles crashed to the hard ground.  We both made it out without breaking a bottle—whew!  Later on Ro got to switch jobs and put the caps on the bottles (guess she graduated).  The owner of the mobile machine showed Ro how to put the caps on the bottles and told her that he was just at Charles Hoppes' winery the day before bottling his wine.  Charles Hoppes is the owner and winemaker at one of Ro's favorites, Fidelitas. He proceeded to tell her that kids could do the job Ro was doing and that Charlie was running out of kids (apparently he has quite a few).  Gotta love child labor!

The group of volunteers at Nota Bene worked together like a well-oiled machine.  Everyone seemed to know their roles well, which meant we must have been the only newbies.  This was hard labor and we were glad we had anticipated sore muscles and booked a massage the next day.  There were two special helpers that came with the mobile production facility, a senior golden retriever, Homer who loved chasing wine corks and his Chihuahua buddy that was more shy and stayed in the back of the trailer most of the night.  The best part was when we started to see the line run dry and the fork lift didn’t bring any more bottles.  It was, blow the whistle, Fred Flintstone quitting time!

Quitting time—was the fun time.  The volunteers wasted no time partaking in the food buffet and the open bottles of Note Bene wine.   Much better than Laverne’s Pepsi and milk concoction she whipped up after her shift at the Shotz Brewery. 

Note Bene Cellars is the story of the dream of Tim and Carol coming true.  We had a great time participating in the bottling of what’s sure to be another award winning line-up of 2010’s.  Now skipping arm and arm, just as Laverne and Shirley started every episode, we’ll start down the road of pursuing our dream.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We're gonna do it!

Give us any chance, we'll take it.
Give us any rule, we'll break it.
We're gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin' it our way.

Nothin's gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We're gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin' it our way.

There is nothing we won't try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there's no stopping us.
We're gonna do it.

On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We're gonna make our dream come true.
And we'll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.

Aloha!  Live life with flavor and fun!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Take a Bite of Seattle

If you live in the Seattle area you've probably made it to the annual Bite of Seattle at least once.  If you live outside the area, this is a fun weekend to plan to visit Seattle and check out the variety of food the city has to offer.  This year marked the 30th anniversary of the event held at the Seattle Center in the shadow of the iconic Space Needle.  Since summer is very elusive this year, we put together a different strategy and a targeted focus for our visit to the Bite.

Our approach this year was dictated by two main drivers, crowd and rain drop avoidance.  We visited on the first day, Friday (the event this year was held from July 20-22nd) just as the event was opening up and a big thunder and lightening storm had passed through.  It proved to be a strategy we may follow in future years as there were no lines and we were able to maneuver to where we wanted to go without fighting the massive crowds.  We managed to stay dry as well, without even needing to bring umbrellas.

Although we weren't around 30 years ago when the event started, we are to understand it used to be much smaller and more of a showcase of Seattle's best chefs and food.  These days it has much more of a carnival and food on a stick vibe.  You can get rare food you might not normally get to try such as elk burgers, alligator on a stick and about any kind of Asian food you could dream up.  Ro actually sought out the most unusual foods she could find last year and created a nice little meal of these little known gems.

Because we were on our lunch hour and FloJo is not such an adventurous eater, we focused our attention on Tom Douglas' Alley.  This is where our early bird strategy really paid off.  Tom's Alley is usually very popular and normally has a long line of hungry people waiting to get food.  There is also normally no available table space to sit down and enjoy your plate of food.  Our early bird strategy rewarded us by only having two people in front of us and our very own table with a built in umbrella (in case it did rain).  We also discovered that if you arrive before 2 p.m. the wine pairing ticket is discounted by $3.  The benefits just kept adding up.

The alley garners so much attention because Tom Douglas is arguably the most well known Seattle chef.  He won the 1994 James Beard Award for Best Northwest Chef and this year he won the James Beard Award as Best Restaurateur (he's the owner of a dozen restaurants in Seattle).  Perhaps, even more impressive, he's one of the few chefs to take on Iron Chef Masahar Morimoto and walked away from kitchen stadium with a win.  Way to represent Tom!

FloJo, Tom Douglas and Ro

Unfortunately, we found the food to be less than spectacular this year.  The Dahlia Bakery's ancho-rubbed steak and PinkaBella's strawberry cupcake were our favorites from this year's tasting menu.  But, the best part of the $10 charge for the Alley's multi-course plate is a portion of the fee goes to support Food Lifeline.  This non-profit organization strives to end hunger in Western Washington.  They distribute food to nearly 300 food banks, shelters and hot meal programs.  Sadly, there are a lot of hungry people in our country and own backyard here in Washington state.  Food Lifeline serves more than 745,000 each year with about 35% of that going to feed children.  The Bite had donation sites set up where you could donate additional money and reminded us that for every $1 donated, that buck feeds one hungry person for a day.  If you are interested in making a donation you can find Food Lifeline's online donation page here.

The Alley Menu changes each day of the event with different local restaurants being invited to feature a dish.  Tom has one of his restaurants represented at the beginning of the alley and that rotates each day as well.
A coconut cream hat...."oh my!"

Friday's Alley Menu:
Dahlia Bakery Ancho-Rubbed Steak Salad with Hazelnuts and Blueberries
Suggested Pairings: 
Milbrandt Vineyards 2008 Traditions Merlot
Silver Lake Winery 2008 Roza Red

Al Boccalino Bruschetta con la Muffoletta with Olive Salsa
Suggested Pairings: 
Silver Lake Winery 2010 Roza Rose
Waterbrook Winery Waterbrook Sauvignon Blanc
Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill
Roasted Beet and Chervil Chevre Cheesecake with Hazelnut Crust
Suggested Pairings: 
Scarborough Winery 2009 "The Works" Bordeaux Blend
Icon Cellars 2010 Mourvedre
Koral bar & kitchen Marinated Grilled Shrimp with Watermelon Salsa
The Alley
Suggested Pairings: 
Orca Wines 2009 Pinot Gris
Nicola's Redmark Nicola's Riesling
Purple CafĂ© Cranberry Chicken Salad- Grilled Chicken, Bacon, Almonds, Scallions, Celery, Apples, Dried Cranberries, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Cranberry-Dijon Vinaigrette
Suggested Pairings: 
Sozo Cherish Pinot Gris
Din Tai Fung Taiwan’s Famous Hand-Made Steamed Juicy Pork Dumplings Filled with Soup
Suggested Pairings: 
Note Bene Cellars 2008 Syrah (one of our favorite wine makers)
Nicola's Redmark Nicola's Red
PinkaBella Cupcakes Strawberry Mini Cupcakes
Suggested Pairings: 
Chocolate Shop "Chocolate Lover's Wine"

Aloha!  Live life with flavor and fun!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Burning Beast aka Hog Heaven

Imagine yourself in a vast open space in the outdoors on a farm, among fields of tall grass and towering pine trees.  In the distant is a green carpeted landscape situated ever so peacefully on the mountain hillside.  Feel the sun as it kisses your skin with a few soft pecks before it hides behind the seemingly devilish clouds.  You feel a mild chill in the air as the wind picks up and in one breath your senses are captured by the concurrent smell of burning wood, charcoal and smoking meat.  You look around and you're suddenly aware you are completely surrounded by every meat you could possibly imagine being cooked, smoked and/or barbecued. This isn't any old farm, but a smoke farm.  Call it heaven or hell, but we found ourselves in our own personal heaven.  Surrounded by the beauty of remote Washington, some of Seattle's best chefs and a super-sized BBQ otherwise known as Burning Beast.

Burning Man photo courtesy Wikipedia
What is Burning Beast you ask?  Burning Beast is an annual fundraising event that benefits the aptly named Smoke Farm, which is a program center and event space and is affiliated with the non-profit, Rubicon Foundation.  The event is well past its infancy (2012 marks its 5th year) and is the child of superstar chef, Tamara Murphy (James Beard Award winner, owner of Terra Plata, and former owner of Brasa and Elliott Bay Cafe).  The concept of the event is to bring together owners/chefs of local restaurants, assign them a type of meat (sustainable animal) and provide them with local ingredients (notice a pattern?) in which to prepare a dish using their designated meat.  If you know Tamara, she relishes supporting local and sustainable food and the farmers that produce it, which seems to be main the driver of the event.  Tamara's inspiration came from wanting to attend Burning Man one year, but not making it.  She decided instead to create her own event here in the Northwest.  Burning Man is an event held in the Nevada desert every year that becomes a small city for the week it is happening.   Burning Man sets aflame an effigy of a man (see the tie to the burning beast)?  Burning Man has various goals but some of them include gifting, self-reliance, art, communal effort and leave no trace.

Our arrival with gear
Tamara has used that original inspiration and launched something wildly successful.  2012 was the Beast's 5th year and with every year it's gaining momentum and popularity.  According to our sources, only 400 tickets are issued and in 2011 the tickets sold out in 3 days.  In 2012, tickets sold out in less than 3 hours.  Ro just happened to hear about it within those 3 hours and scored two tickets.  Being Burning Beast virgins (BBV's), we inquired of our friend, Victoria (who is in charge of the event's social media) what we should bring and her must haves were chairs and wine and luckily for us we already had both.  

Finally, July 15th arrived.  We packed up our chairs, wine and beer (we like options) and our picnic table and set out on our trek to Arlington (only an hour + north of Seattle, but it felt like forever).  Thankfully we had cell service in the middle of no where, therefore our GPS worked and with every turn we kept thinking, "where the heck are we?"

Ro and FloJo with the Beast
We finally arrived at Smoke Farm, which is at the end of-- get this-- Smokes Road (a marketer's dream). We were immediately taken in by the scene before us.  It was unlike anything we'd ever seen.  A gaggle of people and camp chairs all haphazardly situated in an inner circle with rows of make-shift kitchens (of which most of them were emanating smoke indicating something was a cookin') around the outer perimeter.  Center ring was a not to be overlooked imposing, giant, statuesque elk (we suspect) made from scraps of wood.  This imposing statue stood tall, presiding over the event and was lovingly referred to as the Beast.  We later learned the Beast was going to be set on fire at sun down. A sacrificial offering to the food and weather gods, perhaps?  Or simply, just because we all love lighting things on fire.

After our bow and curtsies to the Beast, we set out and started checking out the various food stations.  As our journey was under way, we immediately bumped into our friend, Zephyr Paquette, owner of Skelly and the Bean.  Her station was lamb and we noticed that she was roasting one leg with coffee beans set over the fire (pictured below left) to provide a java flavored smoke (nice Seattle touch ZP).  We also noticed that she was having some fun while cooking (pictured below right), which is very important or else why do it?  It reminded Ro of Aunty Marialani's Cooking Show (if you're from Hawai'i, you'll know who "she" is).

After we visited with her for a hot minute, we continued our casual station hopping.  Rookie BBV mistake, we later learned that the vets eye each offering and prioritize a list of what to eat first (knowing that you can't possibly try everything).  We also learned by seeing our Burning Beast veteran friend's set-up (way to bring it Dan and Opie that we could make improvements for next year.

Dylan Giordan, Bin on the Lake - Chicken

Adam Hoffman, Adam's Northwest Bistro and Brewery - Duck

Brandon Karrow, Staple and Fancy - Salmon

Chalres Walpole,  Blind Pig Bistro - Sheep

Ron Jones - Pig

Ron Jones - Pig

Lindsay Herschlip, Maria Hines, Tilth/Golden Beetle - Cow

Jon Rowley, Taylor Shellfish - Oysters

Matt Lewis, Where Ya at Matt - Lamb

Mike Easton, Il Corvo - Goat

Aaron Matson, The Copper Hog - Bison

Linda Di Lello Morton & Tamara Murphy (Burning Beast Founder), Terra Plata - Beef heart with Inca Cola
Dinner was set for 5pm, but we noticed other Beastonians suddenly swarming the shucking station near the Taylor Shellfish oyster shack (come to find out a Burning Beast Mainstay).  This was an obvious sign (even for BBVs) that the party had started. Ro got in there (now an experienced oyster shucker) and scored us two nice sized oysters, which paired well with our wheat beer.  We then started mapping out our game plan for which stations we wanted to hit...uh try.  We decided we had to try the hostess's station, Terra Plata's anticuchos, a Peruvian street food of beef heart skewer with a spicy green sauce (it looked like chimichurri but wasn't) served with Inca Kola that tasted like cream soda (great idea Victoria).  We then wanted to try the most intriguing meat of the evening, Aaron Matson's (The Copper Hog) bison prepared two ways.

Oyster aftermath at the shucking table
Freshly shucked oysters with our wheat beer

Clockwise: Beef heart skewer, bison sausage, bison meat and Inca Kola

Clockwise: Lamb, ram skewer, goat

Try and guess what's what
As BBVs we thought the smart strategy was to pace ourselves. We approached Beast as a 10K and not a sprint.  We slowly moved on to Round Two, which include Matt Lewis' lamb, (of famed Seattle food truck, Where Ya at Matt) then onto Mike Easton's  (Il Corvo) goat and Josh Henderson's (Skillet) ram.  Lamb, goat and ram...oh my! 

In our third and final round, we threw our slow pace out the window and held nothing back as our eating went into high gear (we've coined it "Getting into Beast mode").  We hit up as many stations as our limited plates would allow.  You name it, we got it - cow, salmon, chicken, lamb, lamb balls, salted pork, chicken, sheep and corn on the cob.  The only thing we missed out on, but were dead set on trying, was the duck (we must have been in a protein coma). It was a devastating miss (not really).  We washed down what we could with a spin-off of a Dark and Stormy (a drink FloJo learned to make while working in Bermuda) with pork infused vodka, grilled pineapple and maple syrup from BathTub Gin.  It was pretty amazing that even the drinks incorporated meat.  We couldn't taste the pork, but the drink was delicious.  We topped off this feast of carne with FloJo's favorite item of the night made by Trophy Cupcakes.  A chocolate cupcake that was topped with a nugget straight from heaven, a bourbon infused piece of candied bacon.

FloJo with the Dark and Stormy spin-off
We really liked the concept as a whole, but to be brutally honest, we encountered a lot of dishes that were either overcooked or undercooked.  However, under the circumstances we figured we would cut the chefs some slack since they are not within the comforts of their respective indoor kitchens and probably aren't used to cooking in the outdoors over an open flame.  Even in meat centric diets, Asadors train for years to master the craft.  We were pretty forgiving given the vibe, the company and most of all the carefree atmosphere.  We did have our personal favorites (in no particular order) which were Where Ya at Matt's lamb served in a flavorful sauce with zucchini, squash and pickled onions, Taylor Shellfish oysters - what's not to love about BBQ oysters you suck down and throw down the shells, Trophy Cupcakes and the Dark and Stormy spin-off (non-meat favorites).  We stayed through the small rain storm and witnessed the long awaited burning of the Beast.  It was a bit medieval as the ceremony began with a woman dancing around the beast with fire fingers and another woman wearing a fire crown singing opera.  Everyone gathered around to watch as if it was truly a sacrifice.

We really enjoyed ourselves at our inaugural Burning Beast and are making plans for next year's event where we will be BBV's no more.  We're even considering camping overnight because it was a drag driving back to the city and getting up for work the next morning.  Anyone have a trailer for sale by any chance?

Aloha and good cooking.  May the Beast be with you.  Live life with flavor and fun!