The Glass Is Still Half Full… but

The weather turned south about ten days ago. After a hot, dry, sunny summer it suddenly changed to cool, wet and overcast. Conventional wisdom tells us Labor Day marks the end of summer even though the equinox doesn’t come around until later in the month. It signals the seasonal change. I realize that because of the minimal snow pack from last winter and the long dry summer we need the rain, but, selfishly, I hate to see the end of summer. The sun is late rising now and low in the south in the early evening. The fall rains will be arriving soon.

With luck we will get some more beautiful days but we’re in the transition zone. It’s mental as much as atmospheric. Instead of planning bike rides a week in advance we have to be spontaneous and take them when we can. Instead of looking for restaurants with outside seating we look for those with warm welcoming interiors. Instead of local produce and chilled salads we begin to think of pasta and chili. Outdoor concerts are dicey propositions now and we’ve started checking out the fall movies and new releases at Elliot Bay Books. I have a good friend who begins to lament the end of the weekend on Saturday night, and though that’s too extreme for me I do feel wistful as Labor Day passes and winter edges into consciousness.

This week Surviving Seattle began the transition and notched two new discoveries – a sensational restaurant and an indie film that shows why that genre is so important and artful.

Brian Clevenger is a local boy and the chef/owner of Vendemmia in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. At 30 years old he’s been around – starting in home town Anacortes where he made gallons of chowder as a teenager, to culinary school in Seattle, a year at a Michelin two star restaurant near Lyon, a stint at Delfina in San Francisco and two with Ethan Stowell at Tavolata and Staple and Fancy. It’s clear he knows what he’s doing. With a minimalist décor and small open kitchen, he opened Vendemmia in April and there is already a planned expansion with a roof garden where Brian will grow half of the restaurants produce.


Thanks to Seattle Times’ food writer Providence Cicero we chose the Chef’s Table (counter, actually) where service is limited to 4 people. Seated at the end of the counter where we could watch the food preparation and talk to Brian, it was a memorable dining experience. He and his staff were relaxed but attentive – talking us through the various courses as they were delivered. With paired wines to accompany them, we tasted a few small appetizers followed by roasted baby beets with razor thin slices of pear, grilled salmon, charred shoestring Walla Walla green beans, a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce, beef tartar with grilled bread rounds, black cod with leeks, and a panna cotta with grilled peaches – all at a very reasonable price. The night of our visit was Brian’s 63rd day without a break. Despite the long hours and lack of rest he was fresh and personable but looking forward to Labor Day when the restaurant would be closed for the holiday.

One of our dining companions has a health issue that calls for a complicated dietary regimen. She called Brian a few days before our reservation to ask if he could accommodate her diet and he told her it wouldn’t be a problem. With one or two exceptions our meal was built around those restrictions and the result was both impressive and delicious.

The Chef’s Table is now booked nearly a month in advance. Word is spreading that this is something special.

So, too, is the new film Learning to Drive, an indie jewel based on Katha Pollit’s real life experience as a New York woman who takes driving lessons from a foreign teacher after her male partner dumps her and forces her to become more self reliant. Patricia Clarkson, in the lead role, has been one of my favorite actors since her performances in The Station Agent and Good Night and Good Luck. The Sikh cab driver/teacher is played by Sir Ben Kingsley and the two are perfectly matched as social and cultural opposites. The highly strung, privileged, upper-class white woman and the unflappable Sikh professor now in political exile and working as a New York cab driver/driving instructor.

Learning to Drive

The film is alternately touching and funny with lessons learned on both sides. It’s a keeper.

The seasonal transition is in progress, but I’m not giving up on summer yet. The glass is still half full, and with luck we will have a few more weeks of mixed good days and bad – something like the stock market of late. Hopefully it won’t be that volatile, but it will highlight the change of seasons. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet but she’s warming up.

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