Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parfait Ice Cream

Parfait Organic Artisan Ice Cream

I recently learned about a compellingly oddball movement called "Architecture Against Death", led by artist Shusaku Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins. In a nutshell, they posit that comfort is the enemy, that by making our surroundings less convenient, we can lead longer and more vital lives.

If Arakawa and Gins are right, pasty chef Adria Shimada will be with us for a long, long time. As the owner of Parfait Organic Artisan Ice Cream, Shimada cuts herself absolutely no slack.

Open only since July, Parfait stands out in Seattle's increasingly crowded and competetive iced treat arena by doing things the hard way. Within the ice cream industry, the practice of using a commercially-made base mixture of stabilized, sweetened milk is widespread, accepted even by some "homestyle" makers. Next to these industrial ice creams, Parfait's products are strikingly pastoral. Shimada starts by selecting the highest-quality ingredients, relying on local suppliers wherever possible. Her staples include milk and cream from the Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy Farm in Langley, eggs from Stiebrs Farm in Yelm, and coffee roasted locally at Caffe Fiore. As for sugar, vanilla, "...and other items that don't grow at the 47th latitude, we purchase only organic ingredients from sources that use socially and environmentally responsible practices." Most Parfait flavors are created from five or fewer ingredients, and never include corn syrup, preservatives, or added stabilizers. The ice cream is made in small batches and served in fresh homemade cones or biodegradable bowls.

The no-compromises approach means Parfait's products incur higher-than-usual material and labor costs. To compensate, Shimada chose to hit the road instead of going the bricks and mortar route. Parfait's lovely custom-painted "mobile parlor" (pictured below, right and left) makes regular stops at selected farmers' markets and Caffe Fiore coffee shops; a schedule is posted on Parfait's website and other stops are announced via Twitter.

I snagged two pints at the final Queen Anne Farmer's Market of 2009, before the market went into hibernation and Shimada went on maternity break. Parfait's menu emphasizes luxurious updates on classic flavors rather than envelope-pushing novelty. Shimada characterises the Fleur de Caramel (pictured above) as "traditionally French", promising that it would pack none of the salt-lick punch that characterizes many faddish caramels; indeed, it has the perfect amount of salt to bring out the smoky sweetness of the caramel. The Fresh Mint Stracciatella (pictured below, center) is delicate and refreshing, a balanced partnership between Dagoba chocolate and mint from Full Circle Farm.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choco Coffee Mochi

Choco Coffee Mochi
Viet Wah Grocery, $3.50

While I don't consider myself to be a food critic, I feel honor-bound to say these are pretty awful. Since I'm a sucker for all the constituent elements of Choco Coffee Mochi, it was inevitable that I would cave in to their appeal, but my first box of these stale, over-packaged, artificially-flavored, mass-produced imports will be my last.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Great Wall of Sathers

Sathers Display
Downtown Seattle Post Office

In the lobby of Seattle's central post office there is a small newsstand with a strikingly organized display of Sather's "2/$1.00" candies, arranged in alphabetical order and numbered for easy reference. I was inspired to learn more about the company and surprised to discover a strong affinity between this display and Sathers' corporate identity.

Since it was founded in 1936 by Minnesota grocer, John Sather, Sathers has had many incarnations; most recently it joined with another venerable candy company, Farley's, in 2002 and went on to acquire such brands as Chuckles, Now and Later, Rain-Blo, Super Bubble, Fruit Strip, Trolli, and Brach's. As a "re-bagger", Sathers had existing relationships with many such companies, buying bulk quantities of their products, then repackaging them for sale to consumers. According to Wikipedia, it is as a marketer rather than as a manufacturer that Sathers has made its mark; "The Sathers company is considered to be the innovator behind packaged 'pegboard' or 'hanging bag' candy, now one of the candy industry's primary marketing programs for general line candies." It's hard to imagine that the potential of the pegboard has ever been exploited more fully than at the Seattle PO.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Remo Borrachini's

Remo Borracchini's Bakery

"Seattle's Favorite Bakery"?? Open since 1922?!? How did it take me 6 years and a serendipitous wrong turn to stumble across this place? I mean, they're not exactly hiding their light under a basket...

In the 15 or 20 minutes that I spent wandering the jam-packed aisles of Borracchini's grocery- deli-bakery complex I ate least a meal's-worth of samples and had my socks knocked off a couple of times. From tubs full of crumbled cookies and crackers, I had a chunk of the tenderest, most flavorful amaretti biscuit ever. Back at the bakery counter I discovered that simply letting your gaze linger momentarily on any of the goods in the case would cue the staff to extract an item, snap it in two or more pieces, and distribute the shards to any customers within reach. I especially enjoyed the traditional Italian treats (such as sfogliatelle, a stack of paper-thin pastry sheets wrapped around a citrusy ricotta center; pictured below center) and the seasonal iced sugar cookies (below, right). I also had a couple of bites of delicious sheet cake and watched at least a half-dozen birthday and wedding cakes go out the door.

Remo Borracchini's Bakery and Mediterranean Market
4737 California Ave SW
Seattle, WA