Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Arrives in Madrona

In case you missed the story, as reported in today's Seattle Times, our town is not immune to this new strain (also known as H1N1). Among the three Seattle cases so far reported is an 11-year-old boy who attends school in Madrona.

According to the UW Medical Center, once a Swine Flu diagnosis is made, a patient whose case appears to be mild can be cared for at home in order to minimize additional exposure to people in clinics and hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control have a very useful guide to caring for persons in the home, including basic infection control practices, as well as when to seek medical care (

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free truffles for everyone!

In the apparent belief that no neighborhood can have too many chocolate shops, Suess Chocolates & Pastries will open its doors in Madison Valley (2909-B East Madison) on May 1, just down the street from the popular Oh! Chocolate, located in Madison Court. But whereas Oh! Chocolate has a French take on the subject, Suess (pronounced zoose) will specialize in German chocolates, pastries, and coffee.

The name means “sweet” in German, and the owners (Dennis Haupt, David Hua and Karl Kim) say they intend to create a family-friendly atmosphere in their shop. According to their Facebook page, they are “committed to bringing back the fun in all things chocolate through interactive chocolate making for everyone big and small.” All chocolates and pastries will be made on site, they say; and there will also be free wireless for those who choose to hang around and soak in the chocolate atmosphere. Classes in hands-on chocolate making will be offered for both adults and children.

The party begins on May Day (Friday) at 9:00, with free truffles promised. Suess is located by CafĂ© Flora, next to Missi Lu. Store hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 9am – 7pm. For details check out their website:
[Photo courtesy of Suess Chocolates via their Facebook page.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

McGilvra’s: Much-needed addition to the neighborhood or big-time disappointment?

When long-time neighborhood eatery Sorella’s closed its doors for good following the summer season last year, Madison Park regulars began anticipating what would come next in that prime space (foot of Madison across from the Lake). Sorella’s had become tired, dispirited, and in need of a first-class upgrade. The owners, reportedly, just didn’t have their hearts in it anymore. Therefore, the opportunity fell to someone else to renovate and renew the location that had once been home to the venerable Hank’s.

Opinion is divided over whether McGilvra’s Bar & Restaurant, which opened April 3, is what was needed in the ‘hood. My wife and I, who ate there at the end of Week One, both think that owner Peter Johnson (who also operates Finn MacCools’s on the Ave) has done an excellent job of upgrading the space to create a more interesting and exciting atmosphere-- somewhat reminiscent of Hank’s. Moreover, our food was good-to-excellent, and our waiter was one of the best we’ve ever had (we eat out a lot and know good service when we get it). A neighbor of ours here in the Park and her friend were at McGilvra’s that same night, and they each had a very positive reaction to both the food and the staff.

Not everyone, however, shares this opinion. Some of the reviews of McGilvra’s on Yelp and elsewhere have been surprisingly negative (here’s a somewhat representative comment from a naysayer: “An hour after eating, I feel like I will need to drink a gallon of water to handle the ‘salt lick’ I ate for dinner”). Additionally, I talked to two other neighbors of mine (each of them a life-time resident of Madison Park) who tried McGilvra’s on subsequent nights and concluded (along with their spouses) that the food was bad (“1 on a scale of 1 to 10”), the wait staff was disinterested, and the atmosphere was loud and uncomfortable. One couple actually got up and left after an unconsummated five-minute wait for their initial order of beers.

What gives? Peter tells me he is mystified by the bad reviews on the internet site and by the unhappy experiences of my neighbors. Any new restaurant, of course, needs time to get the bugs out, he said—and they are working hard to get it right. All of the bar staff, he noted, and most of the wait and kitchen staff are well experienced. He told me there have been very few complaints made directly to him, but that if anyone has a problem with the food or service they should say so and he will do what he can to fix it. He did admit that the place is pretty noisy, but that’s principally the result of its early success. Frankly, McGilvra’s appears packed at both lunchtime and dinner, based on my own observations. Peter tells me that they have had way more business in their first four weeks than he expected. This may have over-taxed the staff to some extent, both in the kitchen and upfront. He invites everyone who felt they had a bad experience to try McGilvra’s again. He says he’s intent on having his place be a great addition to the ‘hood because he plans to be here and doing his thing for the next 15 years or so.

If you decide to make the judgment on McGilvra’s for yourself, here’s what you’ll find in the way of food: appetizers, soups, and salads (all under $10) and, in a possible nod to Sorella’s, seven kinds of pizza (including Greek). Sandwiches include the Meatball Sub and Pulled Pork, and there are burgers as well, including garden and chicken. In homage to his Irish (Northern Ireland, that is) heritage, Peter includes Guinness Beef Stew and Shepherd’s Pie among the entrees (and there are also Irish Nachos among the appetizers). The menu rounds out with fish & chips, barbecue pork ribs, spaghetti, London broil and chicken marsala, all in the $10-$15 range. I had the stew and thought it was great. My wife had a pizza and said it was good (though a little too saucy and too much for one person).

McGilvra’s appears to be rocking most of the time, and there are obviously a lot of very-satisfied patrons. Unlike Bing’s, McGilvra’s is not particularly family friendly—and if noise is not your thing, look elsewhere (I suggest Impromptu across the street, which generally looks like it could use the business). Peter says he is resisting the well-meant suggestion of one customer that he install sound-deadening tiles on the ceiling. (Some of us like raucous!) Note also that this is a bar with a restaurant and not the other way around. Peter, who worked for several years at The Attic and therefore knows the neighborhood well, says he is trying to fill a gap by providing the area with a great bar.

It’s typical for new restaurants to enjoy a lot of early success, as everyone rushes in to see whether they like the food, the atmosphere, and the service. So the real test will come for McGilvra’s after the summer season ends and the place becomes more dependent on the locals for its ongoing success. Will McGilvra’s become a neighborhood fixture on a par with Bing’s? For the answer, tune in again next winter.

In the meantime, if you’ve tried McGivra’s and have an opinion, please comment on it (or on this posting) by clicking on the pencil icon below. I’ve promised to share your input with Peter.

[McGilvra's is located at 4234 East Madison Street]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not ready for crime time

Apparently it’s that time of year again in Madison Park. The beginning of the good weather (is that what this is?) usually means a few things for our waterside residents: a surfeit of door-to-door magazine sales thugs, a sudden absence of on-street parking, and an increase in the level of criminal activity, especially break-ins. On this last item my evidence is entirely anecdotal, but I think we have arrived. Just in the last week or so our little corner of the Park (near the Reed Estate) has had more than its share of criminal activity. We’re often subjected to car break-ins and other dubious behavior (last summer, for example, someone shot a small, bullet-sized object of some kind through one of our high windows), so what’s going on is nothing entirely unexpected. It’s always something. But a recent house break-in near us, where a lot of valuables were reportedly stolen, certainly ups the ante. Since we’re not supposed to talk about this burglary (the owners don’t want the neighbors to know they’ve been victimized apparently) I don’t know whether there was an alarm system in place or, if so, the system was turned on. We believe the homeowners were out of town at the time.

The same weekend that this break-in occurred, another of my neighbors discovered that his truck had been broken into while it was parked on the street; and, in an apparent botched attempt at hot wiring, the perpetrators had broken the steering column. Nothing was stolen from the truck, however, leading him to conclude that something had probably scared the thieves before they could grab the goods. Last summer, a neighbor had his SUV stolen from his driveway, right out from under his bedroom window. The police later surmised that a tow truck may have been used to cut down on the noise. I guess that we have our sophisticated criminals as well our less-experienced types.

You might think—if you didn’t live in the Park—that this area is relatively secure and crime free. Not so, for whatever reason. In the seven years that my wife and I have lived here we’ve been surprised by the number of suspicious activity reports made by our neighbors (especially those on the blocks to the north of us, who have an excellent email-based alert system for this kind of thing). And of course there are the actual crimes (including a major case of stalking, multiple thefts of Christmas decorations, vandalized signs, and various smash-and-dash thefts from on-street vehicles). No murders reported, as far as I am aware, however.

I am trying to get some statistics on crime in the area, and I may devote a future blog entry to this subject. In the meantime, with regard to crime in the Park I guess it’s a case of caveat lector (let the reader beware!).

Word of the Day:


(noun) 1. perception, knowledge, understanding;
2. range of vision

The world as I see it seems to be inconsistent with other people's ken.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Who ya gonna call?

Is it me? Or is there something a bit incongruous about this construction rig sitting in a juxtaposed position to the Reed Estate over the weekend? And if you've got subterranean problems of such a delicate nature is now really the best time to go budget? I was not the only passer-by chuckling.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

You haven't changed a bit!

It's been 18 years or so since this motley group of current and former commercial bankers last worked together in the corporate banking division of Security Pacific Bank. Since that time we've remained close-enough friends for us to have one reunion (at the Dahlia Lounge last week). Those of us with sufficient memories can recall a time when bankers recorded loan payments by writing on the backs of loan notes; all of the loans were manually added up each day (reconciled)on large 50-key machines; we gave our secretaries our loan write-ups to type into their word processors; and we dictated our call reports (if we ever did one) into little dictation machines to later be transcribed. In those days, some of us even were required to sit at our desks throughout the day in full business attire (suitcoat and ties!). I think we used something called white out to correct our documents; and if we were held up in traffic and late for a meeting with a customer, we got out of our cars at the nearest phone booth and called on a land line to let them know we were on our way.
On the other hand, we also had a chandeliered executive dining room with tuxedoed waiters, a top-of-the-line chef, and a fabulous view; not to mention a million-dollar corporate art collection, two on-premise displays of gold [Alaskan prospecting nuggets and Russian icons] and--in spite of all this waste and inefficiency--a return on average equity that our banks today would be glad to replicate.
Everyone at the reunion felt that we looked exactly the same as we did 18 years ago, except perhaps for Bryan, who appeared to be older, but no wiser. Thanks to Mike and Kris for organizing this event.
[Photo courtesy of Kris Radke Ilgenfritz. CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE. Pictured left to right standing: Greg Stevenson (Wells Fargo), Susan Gates (Charter Bank), Kris Radke Ilgenfritz, Matt Rudolf (Summit Capital), Lynn Manley. Seated: Bryan Tagas (Sterling Savings Bank), Bob Ingram (US Bank), Laura Bachman (Barrientos), Mike Mecham (Google), Joel Carlson (Celtic Capital).]
Word of the Day:

Detritus (pronounced deTRYtus)

(noun) a product of disintegration, miscellaneous remnants, debris, odds and ends

I was looking for a bed of roses, but all I found was an alley of detritus

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What God might have done if only she had thought of it

This is Lagoon Point, Whidbey Island, Washington, a truly artificial creation, at least most of it. Virtually all of the lagoon and beach (the stuff in the photo shown sticking out into the blue of Puget Sound) was either 'sluiced' from the cliffs above or dredged up from the waters below during the late 1950s. Sluicing [pronounced SLOOSing] is a mining technique whereby water is shot from water canons into the earth and the resulting slurry is sluiced away (in this case, right into the marsh below). Sluicing of the cliffs and dredging of the marsh resulted in the dry land, 'inland' waterways and beach that we know today as Lagoon Point. The extensive amount of intrusion into Puget Sound caused by this development would not be legal today due to environmental laws passed during the 1960s. But it was probably a lot of fun to watch at the time!
(Thanks to my brother-in-law Stuart for this aerial photo).
Word of the Day:

Jocose (pronounced jeKOSS)

(adj.) playful or humorous

I tried to be serious, but most of the time I slipped into jocoseness.