Health Kicks

Smoke, rats, and REM.

Plenty of important stuff to get to this week, but first I have to ask if you've seen the ad in the cartoon issue of The New Yorker wherein Michael Stipe and Mario Batali are pictured holding hands? Since they're both local-ish (the son of Salumi, chef Batali was born and bred in town, and though I've heard he's loath to admit that REM is more or less a Seattle entity, most of Stipe's touring band lives here—but I'm sure you know all that), it's worth noting that the two are appearing in the Sundance Channel's Iconoclast series. They'll interview each other, presumably about food and music, on Thursday Dec. 15, at 10 p.m. Moving right along. . . . 

It's no big surprise that everyone is still talking about I-901. Off the record, of course, many bar owners say that they'll clear out the ashtrays this week, but when folks light up, they'll look the other way. This might work well enough in bars where regulars are always on their second pack of the day, but it underscores the nagging questions about enforcement.

Smokers themselves can receive a ticket if the cops are called (and they have the time or resources to show up at the site of the complaint), and business owners can be slapped with a Health Department violation if and when complaints are received, but, judging from the nature of the response I got after my last column, we're concerned about the consistency of these things occurring. Should bartenders really call the police on Friday night at 11 p.m. to report a lit Lady Slim? Will they? If they do call authorities, but the authorities don't show and the town crier calls the county, will they eat the fine for a busy P.D. and someone else's nicotine habit?

All of this makes my head hurt—almost as much as it does when I have to sit next to a smoker all night. In case it's any consolation, a New York state case from 2004 sets an interesting precedent—at least back East. Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley Jr. ruled that New York's antismoking public-health law does not require bar owners to enforce it by asking smokers to stub out their cigarette or by refusing them service. Of the complaints in question the judge said, "The mere fact that patrons continued to smoke in defiance of the law is not ipso facto evidence of the establishment's failure to comply with the law." And then he dismissed $650 dollars worth of fines.

Speaking of complaints and the Health Department, when was the last time you visited There you can access individual restaurant inspections, restaurant closures, general information regarding inspection procedures, and even some tips on getting rid of rats. Turns out the rat info is especially pertinent.

A friend of a fellow SW food writer recently notified him that a very popular ID restaurant had been closed by the Health Department for reasons including a rodent problem. We checked online and sure enough, the Health Department had it listed as CLOSED in deep red letters, and rodents were one of several reasons listed for the shut-down. Wanting to be sure, I drove by the day after Thanksgiving and was surprised to find them doing a brisk lunch business. I put in a few calls to the county and found out that the restaurant had been closed from Nov. 14 through Nov. 16, and they had simply neglected to update the closure listings on their site. The restaurant was listed as closed—a real scarlet letter—for 10 days after its reopening. The way I see it, that makes the Health Department a bit of a rat, too.

Some happier news, concerning the ongoing saga of Michael Vujovich, former chef/owner of the Beach House Italian Cafe on Alki Beach: On the day after I received yet another reader e-mail inquiring as to his whereabouts, he called to tell me that he's returned from Montenegro and is back in West Seattle. Vujovich told me that soon after returning a few months ago, he and his wife were walking along California Avenue noticing what had changed since they'd been gone (Matador opened, Ovio Bistro moved) when a Cadillac SUV screeched to a halt beside them. A voice came from behind the tinted glass, demanding to know when the chef was going to open another cafe. Well, he isn't, actually, but he is doing catering. Under the name Gourmet Chef International, Vujovich is happy to cook for your party or event, big or small. Call him at 206-933-0788—but please don't stop suddenly in the middle of the street if you see him up near the junction.

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