Showing posts with label Madison Park Conservatory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Madison Park Conservatory. Show all posts

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Keeping Up

Tree Walk returns June 21

Last year's first-ever guided tour of neighborhood trees is being repeated this month for those who missed the first go-round, as well as for those who would like to learn more about what makes Madison Park one of Seattle's great arboreal neighborhoods.  The "walk around" will be guided by the former Pacific Northwest editor of Sunset Magazine, Steve Lorton, and Ronald Heibert of Madison Valley's City People's garden store.  Both are current on Pacific Northwest biota, and each of them is a story teller with an historical bent. So come prepared to learn something (and perhaps to take some notes).

Steve Lorton expounds during last year's Tree Walk

The Tree Walk begins at Park Shore Retirement at 10 am, Saturday, June 21, and ends there an hour and a half or so later. This year's tour is a fundraiser for the Madison Park Community Council, which is the sponsor.  Donations to the MPCC, which is a registered non-profit, are encouraged but not required.

Neighborhood-based Arts & Crafts Farm

If you're a kid aged 7-12 (or are the parent of one), you may be interested in knowing that it's possible this summer for neighborhood kids to spend a week at an art camp without having to go anywhere far for the experience.  Madison Parkers Gayle Jack and Ann Wyman, who each have extensive backgrounds teaching kids arts and crafts, will be offering three one-week sessions of an "Arts & Crafts Farm" here in the Park during the weeks of June 23-17, July 14-18 and July 21-25.

The location will be 1601 41st  Avenue E., which is just one block south of Bert's Red Apple.  Activities will include painting, printing, jewelry making, tie dying and beading. The fee is $220 per week. More information is available from Gayle or Ann, (206) 322-4342 or

Madison Park Conservatory for sale

Although the website was recently taken down and the restaurant's Facebook page now reads "Permanently Closed," Madison Park Conservatory is actually on the market, we've learned, with a sale price of $249,000. The current owners apparently have a long-term lease on the property and would like to sell the lease rights, leasehold improvements, furnishings and the name to a new owner/operator. We've heard there's some interest in the space if the lease becomes available. It appears that the MPC has been on the market since it shut down in February, after three years on the local scene.

Villa Marina sold

The 14-unit Villa Marina apartment building at the foot of Madison Street was sold last month for $4,025,000, according to real estate broker Paragon Real Estate Advisors. The building was built in 1921, but many of the residential and commercial units have been recently renovated and we understand the new owners intend to complete that process for the remaining units.

[Art photo above (Kandinsky riff) from the website,]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keeping up

Tacos are in our future (and sushi?)

The rumor we picked up and reported a few weeks ago that a taco stand could be moving into the space once occupied by Best Buds flower shop at 41st and E. Blaine has proven  true. A company called Taco Bar LLC has applied for a liquor license for that site, though no construction activity is currently underway there.

Meanwhile, there's a new rumor, though unsubstantiated (that's the thing about rumors), that the replacement for the departed Mad Pizza on Madison St. might be "something Japanese."  As with the old Best Buds shop, however, the former pizza parlor is not undergoing rehabilitation at this point.

Finally on the food scene, Madison Park Conservatory served its last meal on Saturday, chef/proprietor Cormac Mahoney and some of his great crew posing for a final shot in the kitchen:

Those so choosing can leave their best wishes on the restaurant's Facebook page.

As an aside, Madison Parkers might be interested in reading a postmortem of MPC at one of the KOMO News websites, Seattle Refined, wherein blogger Frank Guanco muses, "maybe the neighborhood didn't deserve Madison Park Conservatory."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Madison Park Conservatory to close

In an email to its regular patrons yesterday afternoon, Madison Park Conservatory's maestro/chef, Cormac Mahoney, announced that the end is near:

"It is with a heavy heart that we let everyone know MPC will be closing its doors after service on February 15th. Restaurants are a crazy thing and many stars have to align to create a successful and enduring place. Although, we would have the liked our run to be much longer we are very proud of the past three years and have many fond memories to look back on. Most importantly, I want to thank our staff, both current and past, for accompanying us on this journey. Also I want to thank all our customers who have enjoyed MPC. So to all those MPC regulars, first dates, birthdays, anniversaries, company parties, wine clubs, family reunions, friendly gatherings, happy hour fans and sunset cocktail sippers - much love for allowing us to spend time with you. The everyday relationships made at MPC is what we'll miss the most. Lastly, thank you to all our vendors. We have been proud of our food because it is always started with great ingredients and it's the tireless work of our many vendors that makes our food possible.

The restaurant, which was the recipient of many favorable editorial reviews since its inception in November 2010, had been seeing a decline in patronage for some time. As Mahoney learned to his chagrin, restaurants are a tough business.

The loss of Madison Park Conservatory leaves another void in the neighborhood's business district at a time when some claim to detect a downward trajectory for Madison Park as a "destination neighborhood."  In that respect, this closing is not only a sad experience for the staff and patrons of the MPC but may also foreshadow the neighborhood's longterm retail vitality (or lack thereof).

Time will tell.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

News from the chow line

New deli operator to arrive in October

Park Place Deli reopened last week after a brief hiatus, but we were a bit ahead of the story in having earlier reported that the deli would be operating under new management. Through September 29, the place will be run by the current owner.  Sometime after that there be a new operator on the premises.

We've been told that Park Place Deli lost its lease because the business had been shut down. As a result, the landlord reportedly not only offered the space to someone else but required that the current tenant reopen the business or be in violation of the existing lease terms. So while the business has not been sold, it will soon be replaced. No word (at least to us) on what the new format might be when the management does change.

Cafe Parco celebrates first anniversary

Chef/owner Celinda Norton of Cafe Parco was profiled last week on, a website for foodies.  It's been one year since Norton opened her "modern Italian" restaurant here, replacing the venerable and French Madison Park Cafe. In the interview with Eater (which can be found here), Norton reports that the most popular regular menu item at Cafe Parco comes from the brunch menu: the bacon-banana waffle.

Her biggest surprise about Madison Park?  The fact that lots of regular customers suddenly disappear for the winter season, off to their other homes.

Madison Park Conservatory makes some changes

In addition to adding some lovely (but expensive to operate) propane heaters to the lower-level outdoor dining area this summer, Madison Park Conservatory has also revamped its to-some-cumbersome website with a more user-friendly one that includes at lot of great photography and even (get this) on-line reservations!

Chef Cormac Mahoney has seemed to revel in such things as having an obscure "Madison Park Conservatory" sign (a relatively tiny brass plate barely visible from the street) and a website that took some patience to deal with. On at least one of those fronts he apparently (and with great reluctance, we assume) finally relented.  Accessible is good.

[Photo of Celinda Norton by S. Pratt from SeattleEater and photo of Cormac Mahoney from the MPC website, both used without permission.]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Madison Park 'best' in two categories

Cormac Mahoney and The Independent Pizzeria score

It seems that when the Seattle Weekly comes out with its "Best of Seattle" issue each year, Madison Park makes the list in at least one or two categories---and this year was no different.

For those who are not regular readers of the Weekly, we note that the 2012 awards, published last week, included Madison Park Conservatory's Cormac Mahoney as "Best Chef" and, for the second time, The Independent Pizzeria as "Best Pizza, Thin Crust."

The Weekly described Mahoney as exactly the kind of chef to make New York media types salivate, since he is all about local ingredients, does his own interpretation of trendy dishes, and "stays close in touch with his hipster roots."  And, of course, there's the food: "smart,, restrained, and always exquisite."

The Independent Pizzeria, which was a "Best of" choice when hardly opened in 2010, gets praise from The Weekly for having mastered all of the elements expected of a good Neapolitan pie: crust texture, sauce flavor, and topping ratios.  And, of course, there's that great "near-waterfront location" that "would charm even the most finicky Italian."

Our beach did not get singled out this year, though it was once the "Best Beach for Babe Viewing" (2010) and "Best Spot for Running into People You Never Thought You'd See Again After High School" (2009).  Cactus! made the list in 2007 and 2011 for its cocktails.  Madison Park missed out in 2008.

[Editorial aside:  Another award given by The Weekly has a vicarious connection to Madison Park through the Madison Park Blogger.  As it happens, the "Best Local Girl Gone Bad" for this year is the tenant of a house we own. The apparent downfall of this former Ms. Washington (soon to be on trial for murder) is a lurid story which has gotten a lot of coverage, including this from The Weekly: "Peggy Sue Thomas: Drop Dead Gorgeous."

[The Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E. and The Independent Pizzeria is located at 4235 E. Madison St.]

Monday, July 2, 2012

More July happenings

Madison Park Days begins this week

It's become an annual tradition in the neighborhood to follow up the Fourth of July holiday with a sidewalk sale, a Kid's Parade, and a picnic in the Park.  Nine times out of ten, it seems, the weather for all of these events is better than weather on the Fourth, though apparently our bad memories of a couple of rainy Independence Day fireworks are improperly skewing our inexact weather statistics. On the other hand, we can't remember a single bad Madison Park Days parade!  Sunny and fun for all---animals included!

The sidewalk sale begins on Thursday, July 5th, and extends through Saturday, July 7th.  Saturday is also parade day, with the line up in front of the Wells Fargo branch at 11:45 a.m and the parade beginning promptly at noon.  The leisurely stroll down Madison Street, a ten-minute affair, will be consummated with a food-and-drinks extravaganza at the Park, the whole thing sponsored by the Madison Park Business Association.

MPC inaugurates Monday dinner parties

Beginning on Monday, July 9, Madison Park Conservatory will be hosting a multi-course dinner each Monday night featuring a "singular, coursed, prix fixe menu created around a guest Farmer, Winemaker, Boozehound and/or Chef," to quote from a recent MPC missive.  Progressive seating will begin at 5:30 and end at 8:30, with only 50 guests accommodated, so reservations are recommended. Courses and prices will vary with the night, "but four courses and $42 are good touchstones to remember." Details and menus will be available on MPC's website under Events, but here's the official rundown for the upcoming dinner on July 9:

"Stokesberry Sustainable vs. Local Roots: Two of our favorite farm families join us on our maiden voyage. We adore and rely upon Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry to provide us with improbably great chickens, eggs and Icelandic lamb. Nobody produces more pristine Old-World and heirloom vegetables than Jason Salvo and Siri Erickson-Brown do at Local Roots. We'll bring the best of each to your plate."

Epiphany hosts Summer Concert Series

Madrona's Epiphany Church is presenting a summer concert series this month, with performances by a wide array of musical artists. The concerts will be held every Friday night in July, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., outside in the Courtyard the Church. You are invited to "bring your kids, friends and family, blankets or lawn chairs, drinks and a picnic! Everyone is welcome whether you have a connection with Epiphany or not." If it rains, the event will be moved into the Church's Great Hall.

Here's the schedule of musical performances:

July 6th: Brass Band Northwest (shown above)
July 13th: Sambatuque
July 20th: Anzanga Marimba Ensemble
July 27th: Genesee Ramblers: Old Time Barn Dance

For more information you may call Epiphany Church at (206) 324-2573 or visit the website.

The Bike/Walk/Ride Challenge is on!

Madison Park residents are being challenged again this summer to give up their cars and, at least part of the time, bike, walk or ride (transit, that is) instead.  Those entering the July/August Challenge are eligible to win valuable prizes (top prize: an electric bike) and will be able to bask in the glow of doing something good for the betterment of the world--or at least the local environs.  Details on how to participate are available here.

Cafe Parco offers wine tasting

Those interested in something a bit stronger than what's being served at the Madison Park Days picnic on Saturday might want to make a detour to the courtyard of Cafe Parco for some wine tasting.  Robert Ramsay Cellars and Airfield Estates will be featured, with sampling "provided on the house" from noon until 3 pm.  Wines will be available for purchase by glass or bottle.

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E., Epiphany Church is located in the Madrona / Denny Blaine area at 38th Ave, between E. Howell & E. Denny, and Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E. Wine glass photo by Sébastien Barillot on]

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cormac becomes 'pilgrimage worthy'

Madison Park Conservatory's Cormac Mahoney has been named one of the ten Best New Chefs in the country by Food & Wine Magazine.  He was one of two Puget Sound area chefs so honored, the other being Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn on Lummi Island. According to, which broke the story locally yesterday, the Best New Chef award is "one of the most coveted distinctions in the food business."  And it's apparently unprecedented for two Seattle-area chefs to make the list in a single year.

In its press release, Food & Wine, which is not modest about its annual list, states "this prestigious award recognizes talented chefs with a unique culinary vision." And Editor Diana Cowin goes on to say, "It is such a delight to honor these incredible chefs, who have made a tremendous impact on the culinary world in a short period of time. They’ve created truly pilgrimage-worthy restaurants."

Though the awards will not be featured in the print magazine until the July issue, you can read a lively synopsis of Mahoney's favorite things and an overview of from whence he has come at Food & Wine's on-line site here.  Trivia question: Cormac has cooked dinner for the President of which African country?

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Ave. E.]

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snippets from the food & drink scene

Deli: moving from "too weird" to "family friendly" ?

The rumor was circulating earlier this month that Park Place Deli was up for sale, a story that seemed all too likely. Over the past few months we'd been getting reports of strange and inappropriate behavior by the deli's staff, which apparently included their yelling at each other and sometimes at the customers.  In fact the atmosphere in the place had apparently deteriorated to the point where at times it was, in the words of one former patron, "just too weird." The tense situation in the shop was compounded by stories, true or not, about the public behavior of owner John McCormick in the neighborhood.  So the idea that he had decided to throw in the towel after five years of owning the place did not seem farfetched.

As it happens, however, Park Place Deli is not for sale.  When we went in to check out the rumors we were met by a very friendly bunch of employees who reported that selling the store was under consideration "for about two hours."  But in the end, McCormick apparently decided to counter the deli's growing Seinfeldesque reputation by bringing back some old hands and conjuring up a "family friendly" environment.  Deli manager Nic Albice, in an email to us, confirms this scenario and reports that he himself had previously worked for John for three years, and other staffers are also former employees.  "The Deli is not for sale and is here to stay," he says. "I plan on changing a few things, giving the Deli a little makeover and a revamped menu." Patrons should expect "the same great deli with a new look and feel."

Stay tuned.

[Owner John McCormick has responded to this posting.  Click on "Comments" below to view his response.]

Kudos for MPC's Cormac Mahoney

Madison Park Conservatory's chef/maestro Cormac Mahoney came in for a pretty heady honor this month when Food & Wine Magazine named him as a "People's Best New Chef" nominee for the region.  The chefs from only ten restaurants across the "Northwest & Pacific" were nominated by the magazine for what was an on-line beauty contest, where anyone could vote.  The magazine's "regional" coupling of the Pacific Northwest with Hawaii is the first of its kind that we've seen--and in fact the winner turned out to be the one chef in the contest from Hawaii.

Nevertheless, the honor of the nomination is the thing.  Here's part of what F&W had to say about Mahoney:  "WHY HE’S AMAZING: Because his irreverent take on global cuisine is drawing crowds to Seattle’s tony Madison Park neighborhood."

Cafe Parco expanding seating

One of the great things about the old Madison Park Cafe was the fun of sitting outside on a warm, sunny day and enjoying the ambiance of Madison Park.  Since Cafe Parco took over the space last year, however, there has yet to be a single day on which that finely balanced combination warmth and sun was just right for outdoor dining.  We're sure that day will come.

In the meantime, Cafe Parco has embarked on an project to create a private dining room on the lower level of the building, where the restaurant had initially placed its racks of fine wines.  Some MPB readers had asked us what exactly had happened to those prominently displayed bottles, and Cafe Parco's blog provided the answer. Manager Nic Norton, who is doing the remodel work himself, reports that the new space will be used for small parties, which cannot be easily accommodated upstairs.  He also notes on the blog that lunch will be returning to the schedule April 11, though it will only be available on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The menu will be similar to the weekend brunch menu, he says.

In case you missed it, Cafe Parco, was the subject of a rather mixed two-star review in The Seattle Times last month.

Karen's next thing

And speaking of both Madison Park Cafe and wine bottles, Seattle Met Magazine reports that the Cafe's longtime owner, Karen Binder, is back from vacation and on to her next role as proprietor of wine shop Binder's Bottles. Its strictly an on-line affair where, according to the magazine, Karen states that patrons can get "anything they've tasted or seen in a shop or want me to find for them."

[Photo of Cormac Mahoney by Karen Loria, swiped from the Food & Wine website.  Park Place Deli is located at 4122 E. Madison St.; Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Ave. E.; and Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Short takes No. 11

Bank of America almost back to normal

Following the presumed arson fire at the BofA ATM earlier this month, the Bank needed to scramble to ensure customer service in Madison Park.  The branch itself was out of commission for about seven business days following the fire, finally reopening last Monday.  With the replacement ATM successfully installed and operating by Friday, the temporary mobile ATM--which had served a useful purpose during the interim--was driven away by Bank personnel on Saturday.

Bof A Manager Caitlin Bouroncle told us last week that while the branch is back to full service, there may still be a bit of contractor work going on for awhile.  When we went by earlier today, it appeared that the place was almost pristine.

An air of entitlement in Madison Park?

It's time for us to give a belated nod to an interesting piece posted on the Crosscut website earlier this month by Madison Park's resident journalistic gadfly, Knute Berger: "If fences make good neighbors, what happens when you take one down?"  Berger (aka "Mossback") dissects the current controversy over "access" to Lake Washington at Swingset Park, while ruminating on the nature of Madison Park and its denizens.

Calling the neighborhood "almost too good to be true" in some ways, Berger recites some of the blessings of living here, concluding that Madison Park "feels like a wealthy village that can afford to have the old neighborhood amenities that all neighborhoods used to have."  But he sees a darker side as well. "There's also a lot of entitlement in the air," he states, noting that "some people also believe they have a right to a sense of exclusivity here."   That attitude, he believes, permeates the debate over the fence, though he admits that not everyone living here shares that exclusivist position.  As for himself, he comes down strongly in the anti-exclusivist camp: "Madison Park, tear down that wall."

Those interested in reading the piece might also want to peruse the reader comments for some other perspectives on the neighborhood.

MPC makes the cut

The Madison Park Conservatory, which has consistently received good press since it opened exactly a year ago today, got another culinary send up last week when Seattle Times food critic, Providence Cicero, placed MPC on her list of the favorite Seattle restaurants she's reviewed in 2011.  The Conservatory is one of ten eateries making the list, which is available, along with her commentary, here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

News on the culinary scene

Hot on the heels of Seattle Magazine's choosing Maggie Savarino of Madison 
Park Conservatory as one of Seattle's Next Wave of Tastemakers, City Arts has just placed MPC's head chef and owner on the cover of its November issue, with an inside article entitled, "Live to Eat: Cormac Mahoney Cooks What He Wants."  Well, no duh.  The critical reviews of the end result of that cooking, by the way, have been pretty uniformly laudatory (see here, here, and here).  City Arts' piece, incidentally, includes some direct quotes from Mahoney that are clearly intended for mature audiences. When they come our way, Madison Park Blogger always screens these profane Mahoneyisms from the eyes of our sensitive readers. City Arts follows a more candid policy. Caveat lector.

Also noteworthy this week is a report from the recently opened Cafe Parco: the restaurant has just been granted a "temporary pre-approval permit" to serve "adult-type beverages."  During Cafe Parco's first two weeks, it's been a case of bring your own vino. But that's no longer the only option.  By the way, the restaurant's on-line reservation system is now up and running.

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E., and Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.]

Monday, October 24, 2011

MPC's Maggie Savarino: Poised to be notable

She's one of those rare folks who both live and work in Madison Park. Maggie Savarino, former food-and-booze columnist for Seattle Weekly, is known to many of us as the front-of-house manager, concoctor of drinks, and sometime bartender at Madison Park Conservatory.  She's also, in the opinion of Seattle Magazine, one of nine people "poised to become the Seattle dining scene's next notable names."  In other words, she has the honor of being in the City's "Next Wave of Tastemakers."

The November issue of the magazine, just out, cites Savarino for "her upstairs bar menu of tinkered, tinctured cocktails and other creative libations," noting that these are "a welcome discovery at an already impressive restaurant." Seattle Magazine also discloses that Savarino recently authored a new book, The Seasonal Cocktail Companion, which will be published next month by Sasquatch Books. Subtitled, 100 Recipes and Projects for 4 Seasons of Drinking, the book, in the words of foodblog, "contains DIY projects, including root beer bitters, booze-soaked cherries, and make-your-own 'cellos beyond the standard lemon variety. As the title suggests, the book is organized by season, with at least one drink recipe for each project."  DIY, for the uninitiated, is Do It Yourself.

We caught up with Maggie last week in MPC's upstairs bar, where she not only is responsible for creating the drink menu but also tends the bar on Wednesday evenings. She was modest about her newfound status as a tastemaker and somewhat bashful about getting her picture taken. But she was not shy about talking up her new book or touting the Conservatory. With regard to the book, she reports that her goal in writing it was to demystify the subject.  She accomplishes this by providing cocktail recipes, tips, tricks, and ideas (including how to winterize tequila).

With regard to the restaurant, she notes that there is a new bar menu upstairs, just introduced, which includes some interesting and tasty items not part of MPC's regular fare (such as "a burger of our very own," a grilled cheese/smokey tomato soup combination, and a grilled beef tongue with housemade pickles).  Happy Hour, by the way, is from 4 to 6 pm.

Another thing, she says, is worth noting: Tako Truk is back, at least in abbreviated form.  Chef/owner Cormac Mahoney reintroduced the specialty-taco concept at MPC earlier this summer as the Sunday night cuisine (4-8 pm).  It's an informal, family atmosphere downstairs, Maggie says, with no reservations taken and a menu consisting of interesting, unexpected and tasty tacos (including the popular Coco Piggy).  If you wanted to, she says, you could probably be in and out in twenty minutes (though you probably wouldn't want to).  In addition, there's fun upstairs for the 21-and-over crowd (featured on November 20, for example, is guest DJ Kurt “The Godfather” Bloch of Too Many Bands to Mention).  Details of the Tako Truk experience are available here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New York Times does Seattle

It's not every day that a Madison Park establishment is mentioned in the national media, but the Madison Park Conservatory merited this honor today in the New York Times, whose reviewer, Frank Bruni, created a Seattle tasting menu based on his experiences during the several days he spent in our mostly-rainy-though-briefly-sunny city. His story, which will presumably appear in tomorrow's printed edition of the Times, cites MPC as "an excellent recent arrival to the shores of Lake Washington" and calls the brunch he was served there "fantastic."

Bruni's take our town's culinary standing is worth quoting at length: "To eat in and around Seattle, which I did recently and recommend heartily, isn’t merely to eat well. It is to experience something that even many larger, more gastronomically celebrated cities and regions can’t offer, not to this degree: a profound and exhilarating sense of place.  I’m hard-pressed to think of another corner or patch of the United States where the locavore sensibilities of the moment are on such florid (and often sweetly funny) display, or where they pay richer dividends, at least if you’re a lover of fish."

You can read the full story here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February Happenings

It’s time again for the Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum to open its doors and get ready to celebrate the beginning of spring (so we hope). The Garden, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year, will emerge from its winter hibernation this Sunday with a traditional Shinto “Blessing of the Garden” ceremony and other opening events, which begin at 11 am. The Japanese Garden (shown above) is located at 1075 Lake Washington Boulevard E.

McQuesten Fine Art’s gallery in Maison Michel (1928 43rd Avenue E.), this month has on display never-before-seen photos of Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley that were taken by Seattle photographer Edward M. Melillo during Marley’s USA Survival Tour. The photos will be on view through the end of the month, at which time, the gallery will close. Owner Dee McQuesten reports that she is just too busy with her framing and fine art consulting business to devote the time necessary to keep the gallery operating at the optimum level. It is expected that Maison Michel will continue to put art on display, as well as the antique furnishings that are the mainstay of the store. Maison Michel moved from E. Madison to its new location during the summer last year and McQuesten added her gallery to the mix soon thereafter.

Madison Park Conservatory begins its Sunday neighborhood dinner series this Sunday, February 13, with a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner hosted by Lucio Gomiero, owner and winemaker of Vignalta Winery (located in the Italian Veneto). There will be one seating at 7 pm, for what the restaurant describes as a special dinner with the special wines of Vignalta. Details, including the complete menu, are available here.

The MPC, by the way, is not only beginning its Sunday dinner program but has now extended service into the daylight hours: Thursday through Sunday, 10 am until 2:30 pm. They are not calling what they're serving lunch, but rather the day menu. Last week that meant chickpeas and salt cod with a six-minute egg, baked eggs, salads, fresh baked goods—and “more.” The Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E. (206-324-9701).

Pharmaca (4130 E. Madison St.) hosts “Maximize Your Cardiovascular Health” with Erik Altmann, ND, tomorrow, February 13 (1-2pm) at the pharmacy, and “Stress and Depression” with Jason Peterson, ND, on Saturday, February 26 (1-2 pm).

Finally, we have this promotional teaser from Bill the Butcher in Madison Valley (2911 E. Madison St.): come into the store and find where we have hidden “a bit of love” in the form of something shaped like a heart. You’ve got until tomorrow to come up with and take a photo of the discovery, which then must be posted (details available at the store). Winners will be awarded a couple of choice steaks for Valentine’s Day.

[Notice to event planners, non-profits, and businesses located in Madison Park and Madison Valley: Madison Park Blogger will be posting a monthly Happenings report in which we will aggregate events expected to occur in the neighborhood during the coming month. If you wish to participate, please email us well in advance of month end with your information. We reserve the right to include or exclude at whim.]

[Photo of the Japanese Garden in winter (2009) by SpiralCageon on]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Madison Park in the media

Seattle Magazine’s Best of 2010 issue, out last month, apparently gives the nod to only one business with Madison Park connections, Hopscotch Tees. It’s a small, year-old personalized clothing creator and retailer, the brainchild of Madison Park resident Shana Perrina. Hopscotch focuses on customized t-shirts for both children and adults.

Although not technically located in Madison Park, Madison Valley’s Luc is cited as a Madison Park restaurant and hailed in the Best of 2010 issue as winner of the magazine’s Readers’ Choice award for Best New Restaurant. The magazine’s November issue, meanwhile, carries a full-page neighborhood review of Madison Park, in which we are described as having a “family-friendly vibe.” The Independent Pizzeria, Madison Park Conservatory, McGilvra’s, Red Wagon Toys, Smooth Sugaring Studio, and Spa Jolie are among the local businesses singled out for special mention.

Off the Vine, “The Left Coast Food and Wine Magazine,” gives Madison Park Conservatory a laudatory restaurant review this month, calling the space “intimate and warm,” and the cocktails “very well thought out,” while praising both the food and its presentation. Those wondering about the details of MPC’s menu will find plenty of descriptive detail in the review.

The efforts of the Madison Park Community Council and volunteers Gene and Liz Brandzel to prepare the neighborhood for the next big snowfall was the subject of a story in The Seattle Times on Monday, in which City officials state that Madison Park is the only neighborhood in Seattle to create an organized effort of this kind.

And finally, both Cactus and The Attic scored last month on Seattle Weekly’s list of Top Five Nacho Plates, coming in at Number 2 and Number 4 respectively. The honor of being home to two of the Top Five in this “comfort food” category is interesting given the neighborhood’s high-end image. But it’s very much in line with the honors given earlier this year by Seattle Weekly to other Madison Park attractions. In the paper’s opinion, we can now add nachos to the list of things we can be proud of, the others being our beach babes and pizza from The Independent Pizzeria.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Short takes No. 11

The case of the vanishing swings

The big swing set in the play area of Madison Park was suddenly missing its swings last week, though the cause was not immediately evident. On Wednesday, however, an explanation was provided by the parks department, which reported that it had removed the swings due to safety concerns.

It seems that during a routine safety check, an inspector detected that the swing set’s top rail, which is twelve feet high, tends to bow considerably, especially when “a large person” is on the swings. According to Seattle Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter, the top rail was actually bowing as much as two or three inches. This, in turn, was causing other structural bending, which is unusual. The swings have been removed until the problem can be addressed with the manufacturer.

While the swings are presumably in the Park for the use of children, their occasional use by “a large person” must be engineered for. As Potter notes, “play equipment safety is the highest priority for us.” The opportunity to swing in the Park still exists for those who can maintain proper ground clearance. The much lower, two-seat swing set remains functional—though probably not comfortably so for “a large person.”

Spa del Lago on the move
One of the neighborhood’s several spas, and the only one with a hair salon, is getting ready to pack up and move out. But it’s not going very far. When the New Year opens, Spa del Lago will be located just across the street from its current location. Its new digs will be on the first floor of the Villa Marina building, 1928 43rd Avenue E.

The move is reportedly necessitated, at least in part, by the recent sale of the building in which the Spa has long been located. But the move also fits nicely into the plans of Villa Marina owner Lakeside Capital Management, which is in the process of converting the building from apartments to retail/commercial use. Another ground-floor retail unit in Villa Marina is being built out as retail space on the 43rd Avenue side of the building. That space, which is next door to Maison Michel, should be available for lease in the first quarter of next year.

As MPB readers may recall, the Villa Marina Apartments was slated last year to be replaced by a ten-unit condo project. Changes in market conditions, however, forced a change of plans; and the conversion of the existing building to commercial use was the outcome.

No word yet on what will be happening to the current Spa del Lago space at 1929 43rd E.
Madison Park Café to ring in the New Year

Karen Binder is about to celebrate her 31st New Year’s at the Madison Park Café and would like us all to come celebrate the occasion with her. She reports she’s planning a special fixed-price New Year’s Eve dinner, promising both a glass of free sparkler and “great fun.” The menu is available here.

Binder and a business partner opened the Café in 1979, and it’s been serving French-bistro cuisine since Binder assumed full ownership of the restaurant in 1999. It is, without challenge, the longest-running white-tablecloth eatery in the neighborhood.

The Madison Park Café will also be doing a Christmas Eve Dinner this year, with an “early-ish” seating, says Binder. For reservations to either event call (206) 324-2626 or visit the website. The Café is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.

Chase lowers the voltage

From the moment the large neon sign was installed above the Chase (née WaMu) branch in the summer of 2009, it was controversial in certain quarters. The Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) certainly took a dim view of the bright sign, which it felt violated the sign standards for the Madison Park business district. The goal of those standards is to exclude large, lighted commercial signs from the neighborhood. Though not every Madison Park commercial establishment adhers to the voluntary standards, the MPCC still hoped that it could get Chase’s attention to the issue and, hopefully, convince the Bank to be a bit less visibly present at nighttime.

Now, almost 18 months after the effort began, the Council can finally report success. Chase this week installed a smaller neon version of the Bank’s logo above the entrance to the branch. To get this action, the MPCC’s Kathleen O’Connor reportedly went straight to the top at Chase, asking for the help of Chase’s Washington President, Phyllis Campbell.

Rumor has it that the next target of the tone-it-down effort may well be Madison Park Conservatory’s newly installed representation of a flying Canada Goose, a skeletal image which is lighted at night. No confirmation of this, however.

Update: Since our original posting, the Community Council put to rest the rumor that anyone there has a problem with MPC's goose. Board member Lindy Wishard, in fact, reports that she "worked directly with the owner to insure that his sign was in keeping with the guidelines," adding that "we're grateful to Cormac [Mahoney] for caring about the sign and his storefront."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The newest thing in the neighborhood

Opens tonight

When we wandered by the place this afternoon, they were cooking away madly, getting ready for Madison Park Conservatory’s opening at 5:30 this evening. Chef Cormac Mahoney admitted to being both excited and stressed, hardly surprising given the logistical requirements of getting a new restaurant properly launched.

Judging by the turnout for Saturday’s open house, there’s certainly a lot of buzz surrounding the Park’s newest eating establishment. Guests sampled food and wine while enjoying the atmosphere of the newly refurbished space. Much of the talk, of course, was about the food. On that point, Madison Park Conservatory has managed to preserve much of the mystery. Chef Zoi Antonitsas did confirm to us that she and Cormac agree that lemons and limes are important ingredients.

Tonight is going to be something of a “soft” opening, and diners could find that the staff still has a few bugs to work out. That’s all part of the fun, however. Tomorrow the new restaurant begins in earnest, taking reservations beginning at 11:30 a.m. MPC has kept Sostanza's phone number, 324-9701. The website should be up and running in a couple of weeks. Our earlier interview with Cormac is available here.

[Photos are each from MPC's open house on Saturday. Top: Cormac and Zoi in the kitchen. Bottom: panna cotta anyone? Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Madison Park Conservatory ready to make music

Open house on Saturday

By Bryan Tagas

Before we get to the blah blah blah portion of this posting, let’s go directly to the reveal: Madison Park Conservatory, the latest culinary incarnation to inhabit the onetime Sostanza space, is going to have its soft opening on Tuesday; and in advance of that, the neighborhood is invited to tour the refurbished digs and meet the new restaurant’s team at an open house to be held this Saturday, November 27, from 6 until 9 pm.

Now, on to the narrative:

Cormac Mahoney, maestro of Madison Park Conservatory, seems like a guy who’s ready for his close up. At 38, he’s done his time in the kitchens of other restaurateurs and has gained both assurance and bit of celebrity from his successful effort of last year: the trendy, well-regarded Tako Truk on Eastlake. That little venture, in which he was partnered by Bryan Jarr, was a “summer experiment” of intentional short duration. Operating out of window space in the 14 Carrot Café, Tako Truk was a quickly-popular, walk-up/carry-out purveyor of some adventuresome dinner fare—for example, the Coco Piggy Taco (coconut-flavored braised pork belly topped with pork rinds) and the surprising Octopus Taco (octopus boiled, sautéed, caramelized with lemon juice, and topped with a yogurt sauce and parsley)*. The critics raved and the place developed something of a cult-like following before shutting down.

Don’t expect another Tako Truk here in Madison Park, however. That’s not the plan.

But what is the plan? Since everyone wants to know, I’ve been doing my best to ferret that out, pestering Cormac for weeks to tell all. But though he was gracious and voluble, the guy was just not ready to divulge. Until now.

On Monday I got an email from him, and the subject line read: “built to spill.” So I eagerly bundled myself up and trudged through the evening’s snowstorm to meet Cormac at his new Madison Park Conservatory and get the scoop.

First of all, about the space. It’s been both lightened up and stripped down since the days of Sostanza. Outside, the building has been whitewashed, making it cleaner and brighter. Inside, the false ceiling in the main dining room has been removed, the fireplace eliminated, the wallboard pulled away to reveal the underlying cement, and the walls considerably lightened in color. The impact of all this is to make the room much airier and more open. Upstairs, the carpet has been pulled up to reveal a lovely wood floor, which has been refinished; the walls have been painted a light gray-blue in order to better tie the interior space to the view of water and sky; and in the bar area, decorative tin ceiling tiles have been installed to enhance the ambiance. The previously dark-stained bar—like the food counters downstairs—has been sanded down (by Cormac himself) to reveal the lighter wood beneath. Again, the impact of these changes is to create a livelier, happier space.

The Mediterranean atmosphere of the new restaurant, meanwhile, is heightened by the addition of hand-made Moroccan light fixtures. Large mirrors, which were framed in wood by Cormac’s father, will grace the main floor; but what other interior furnishings and decorations will fill the space are unknown to me, as they had yet to arrive. Hopefully, the snow will not prevent their delivery in time for Saturday’s event, so we can all see the full staging.

I had submitted a list of questions to Cormac before I actually got the chance to quiz him in person, not that he would have needed any advance prep in order to handle my interrogation. He certainly appears to be a guy who’s self-possessed, confident, and well able to think on his feet. He is also—by his own admission—profane, contrarian, and conceited. All of this, however, is overlaid with a well-developed, self-deprecating sense of humor. I was not fazed.

Here are the blogable results of my interview (some of which I excised in conformity with community standards and some of which Cormac himself decided were off the record, either before or after uttering the words). The questions and the responses have been paraphrased, except where there are direct quotes.

Bryan: Why the name, Madison Park Conservatory?

Cormac: Four things. First, “I like the way it sounds. It rolls nicely, and I like the acronym.” Also, there’s the greenhouse sense of conservatory. “We’re going to have our own garden and grow our own herbs and as much stuff as we can.” Additionally, “I like the whole idea of the music-school conservatory since there’s a correlation between music and cooking. At Sitka & Spruce [where Cormac was chef, 2005-09] I likened us to a house band. People came to us for the standards, but we wanted to do new things, too.” Finally, there is a certain “nudge/nudge, wink/wink” aspect to the name. “I wanted to play against the expected. Madison Park has the reputation of being staid and conservative,” and a conservatory is what people might expect to find here. “So it was kind of an inside joke, which maybe only I get: ‘Oh, let’s do lunch at the Conservatory.’ I was counseled against the name from some camps, but if I have gotten laughter or even a single giggle out of it, it’s what I wanted.”

Bryan: You’re being pretty coy about the menu. What kind of food are we talking about?

Cormac: As I always say, we’ll be serving “delicious plants and animals with a squeeze of lemon.” I really don’t want to define it further or put a label on it and then have it typecast. Once you do that you limit the food. “I’m going to cook what I want to cook.” My favorite dinner, for example, is roast chicken, potatoes and braised greens—the best vegetables ever. We’ll start minimally with the menu, the bar, and the space--and then let things take their course. I don’t want to overdesign it. It will grow organically. We will get feedback from our audience, and things may change. This is not to say, like Tom Douglas [famous Seattle restaurateur, in whose restaurants Cormac got his start] that the customer is always right. I reject that. I know it’s not true because as a customer I am sometimes wrong. So we’ll consider the input and then decide. I don't want this to be a place that intimidates people, but everyone will have to remember that “we’re a restaurant, not a catering company.” I want people to be comfortable here, but people will also have to be reasonable. This is going to be a mature, adult place. I want to have a healthy relationship with the neighborhood, including introducing it to new things that people may not already know and that might not otherwise be here. Mario Batali [well known New York chef and food impresario] has a sign up in his market, Eataly, which says ‘We are not always right, you are not always right, but together we’ll figure it out’ or something like that. I like the thought. “I don’t want Madison Park Conservatory to be a place that intimidates people. I want someone to walk away from a dining experience here saying ‘I learned something I didn’t already know.’”

Bryan: Can we talk about the Sunday dinners?

Cormac: We’ll be doing them every Sunday and if you want to dine you’ll have to make a physical reservation. In other words, come in, look us in the eye, and tell us you’re going to be here on Sunday and with how many people. We’ll post the Sunday Dinner menu on Thursday, so everyone can see what’s being served, the same meal for everybody. You’ll also get to look at the signup list, so you can see exactly who you’ll be dining with.

Bryan: Tako Truk—three months successful and then gone. How does your experience there inform what you’ll be doing in this new gig?

Cormac: “Tako Truk was an experiment, a street party. It was my frustrated artist scratching an itch. It was designed to be a summer thing, and it was fun for me to build something and then kill it. The food was good—I loved eating what we cooked. But I had to separate myself and get over myself for a second.” I learned to be self-critical. I’m sure I learned other things as well.

Bryan: What kind of atmosphere are you hoping to create at Madison Park Conservatory?

Cormac: “I want this to be a fun place, and I want this to be a place where big discussions happen. I have high hopes that the crazy Madison Park people will turn this into the kind of place where someone will suddenly break into song and that people will have great ideas eating here: ‘a full belly leads to an inspired mind’ or something like that. At minimum, I want people leaving here happy with themselves.”


Cormac is by no means alone in this new adventure, as he is quick to point out. Onetime Dahlia Lounge chef and celebrity Top Chef contestant Zoi Antonitsas, Cormac’s longtime friend from their days together in the kitchens of Tom Douglas, has returned from San Francisco to Seattle to work the “back of the house” with Cormac. “She’s my alternative life partner in the kitchen,” he says. A Seattle native of Greek descent, Zoi went on to become executive chef at Zazu in Santa Rosa after her 2008 stint on Season Four of Top Chef. She’s a believer in the simple and the rustic, and she’s on record as favoring the use of local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. That’s certainly a fit with Cormac’s own thinking.

Maggie Savarino, meanwhile, will be managing the “front of the house” at MPC. She’s a one-time booze, wine, and food columnist for Seattle Weekly, whose first job (so her story goes, as told by Cormac) was as a bartender in a roadhouse blue-collar bar. Cormac met her through a mutual friend, did a dinner with her, instantly hit it off, and came back gushing about Maggie to his girlfriend, he reports. “She’s a fabulous, fun person.” says Cormac, adding “she’s a killer.” But I’ve met her and she seemed pretty sweet to me.

Last but not least, Bryan Jarr continues as a principal player with Cormac in this latest endeavor. “If the rest of us are Charlie’s Angels,” says Cormac, “then Bryan is our Bosley. He picks the herbs and chooses the insurance, among a lot of other things—he makes the ball round. He’s the only guy who can tell all three of us no.”

Madison Parkers will get the opportunity to meet the whole MPC crew on Saturday, at which time you can quiz each of them unmercifully. Cormac already knows what he’s in for, since he’s met at lot of neighbors already and has concluded that we’re pretty free with our advice and commentary. He lives in the neighborhood himself and describes Madison Park Conservatory as a 24/7 effort.

Judging by my interactions with him, it’s clear to me that Cormac Mahoney is a big thinker (just to prove my point, ask him sometime for his views on the fetishization of food in American culture). And it's also evident that he's ready to move to center stage. Though he’s perhaps a bit crazy, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the proprietor of a top-end restaurant, even one located in Madison Park. He’s obviously got a lot of talent, a good team, and a thought-out game plan. I think we should set the bar high for Madison Park Conservatory and expect great things.

[*I’m abashed to report that I was not among those lucky enough to have had the Tako Truk experience. I’ve therefore relied on the excellent reporting of Seattle Times critic Tan Vinh for these descriptions. Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short takes No. 10

Madison Park Conservatory: getting close

Since neighborhood favorite Sostanza went dark in July, many Madison Park gourmands have been waiting with eager anticipation for news about its replacement, Madison Park Conservatory. Co-owner Cormac Mahoney added to the buzz last week by making the rounds of Village shops and charming the owners—or at least several of the female ones. We heard all about it, of course, and that prompted us to go direct to the source and ask the really important questions: when is the place opening and what can we expect to see on the menu?

As to the when, Mahoney says he’s expecting a late November or early December start date for the new restaurant. As to the rest? Well, he promises to divulge all (or, more truthfully, he agreed to speak with us and tell us something) within the next couple of weeks. Construction is quite obviously underway (the dry wall was delivered last week); and Mahoney confirms that, indeed, the fireplace is now a thing of history. But that’s about all of the news we could get out of the guy. Except for one other, not insignificant, fact. He reports that he’s moved to Madison Park from his abode in Eastlake, thereby making him one of the very rare—four or five at best—local business owners who are also residents of the Park.

While we’ve still got hope for a meaningful future dialog with Mahoney, all we’re left with today is this teaser: “Please be satisfied,” he says, “with our current mantra: we will be a Seattle restaurant serving delicious plants and animals with a squeeze of lemon.”

Did we mention the bit about his being young and charming?

MLK sale to FAME approved

As expected, the Seattle School Board (technically, the Seattle School District Board of Directors) last night approved the sale of the Martin Luther King Elementary School site in Madison Valley to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The vote was 5 to 2. Based on the emails we’ve received, as well as on comments left in response to our blog posting on the subject, the School District’s action is highly controversial, both in our neighborhood and in Madison Valley. For whatever reason, we’ve not heard from First A.M.E. or from any of its supporters since the story broke.

‘Honey’ declared a dangerous animal

The Washington Park Pit Bull which allegedly attacked three women on one day in August, has officially been designated as a “dangerous animal” by the Director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. As a result, an administrative process will now begin during which the owner can appeal the decision. Unless the appeal is successful, Honey, the tan Pit Bull (or Pit Bull mix) will no longer be allowed within the City limits. She is reportedly now living in West Seattle.

Rejuvenation anyone?

Just next door to the new Madison Park Conservatory is Spa Del Lago, into which former Madison Park resident Dr. Teri Burnett recently moved her practice. Although a plastic surgeon with nine years of experience in using more-invasive procedures, Burnett is now specializing in some less-intrusive approaches to helping people look younger: Botox, dermal fillers, and wellness supplements. You can get the details on her no-surgery/no-pills program by checking out her Facebook page, Get Young MD. Spa Del Lago is located at 1929 43rd Avenue. E.

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E. Photo of Spa Del Lago courtesy of Get Young MD.]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Madison Park restaurant shuts its doors

I wondered why when I walked by Sostanza on a sunny, warm evening earlier this week there was no one on the upper deck having dinner and enjoying the great Italian food and wonderful view. The answer was provided by Seattle Times’ excellent restaurant reviewer, Nancy Leson, on her blog yesterday: Sostanza closed on Monday.

It’s been no secret to many frequenters of this Madison Park mainstay that Chef/Owner Lorenzo Cianciusi has wanted out. The trattoria has been not-so-quietly for sale for several years. Popular and well-regarded for its food and ambiance, Sostanza was definitely a destination restaurant (meaning that people would drive here from other neighborhoods just to have the Sostanza dining experience). Nevertheless, it’s been obvious for some time that Sostanza’s business was hurt by the economic downturn, and perhaps by changing tastes as well. It was also pretty clear that Cianciusi was, after over 14 years running the show, tired of doing so. Sostanza will be missed.

But not to worry. This is definitely not another Constance Gillespie story. Sostanza’s space, according Seattle Magazine, apparently will be filled by a new eatery owned and operated by the former chef of Eastlake restaurant Sitka & Spruce, Cormac Mahoney, and his partner Bryan Jarr. Also associated with the new endeavor, to be called the Madison Park Conservatory, will be former Top Chef contestant Zoi Antonitsas. My wife, Margo Spellman, who is a consultant to restaurateurs and a foodie who knows about this stuff, tells me that “this is a potential culinary coup for the neighborhood,” given the team that’s involved.

It looks like we can look forward to something entirely new and exciting at the end of Madison Street by the early fall.

[Photo courtesy of Sostanza.]