Holiday trips home to family tend to score pretty low on the adventureometer and this year was no different:  lots of laying around the house broken up by relatives, church, forays to the store, and dog walking. The ambitious high point was an outing to see Happy Feet in a classic day-after-Christmas Seattle downpour. (Note to parents: turns out Happy Feet can be a little scary for the under-four set.) 

But even a sloth’s gotta eat, and eat I did. Christmas Eve dinner this year (quiche, salad, oyster stew) was bracketed by two beverages of note. The first was a Majella sparkling shiraz, produced in lieu of champagne. It was my introduction to fizzy red wine, though it’s old news in Australia and gaining ground over here, and it was delicious: fruity and full-bodied but still refreshingly dry. (Inspired, I picked up a couple bottles of a Loose End sparkling red blend for New Year’s.) Then after dinner  my uncle uncorked a bottle of Moet & Chandon Petit Liqueur, which I guess is pretty rare. M&C discontinued production in the early 90s and he’d been sitting on it for more than ten years, since he picked it up in a liquor store in DC. It’s an aged champagne to which cognac’s been added . . . and beyond that I can’t tell you much, because deep googling turns up almost nothing. It was wild, though: champagne creamy, the teeniest bit bubbly, and dessert-wine sweet.

I finally left the house on Thursday, on a mission to try the culatello at Salumi, the temple of cured meats that’s the retirement dream of lifelong Boeing engineer Armandino Batali (yes, he’s Mario‘s daddy). After double-checking the hours online my father and I headed for the Pioneer Square storefront . . . only to discover the entire outfit was closed for the week. So we went to Costco instead.

On my last day I made a pilgrimage to the Pike Place Market–which was, per usual, jammed with slow-moving tourists gawking at the salmon-tossing fishmongers. I love the market–one of the few year-round permanent farmer’s markets in the country–but lately more so in theory than reality. I did last long enough to fill the artisanal meat void with a sausage from Uli’s: a startlingly dusky South African Boerewors made with pork, beef, red wine vinegar, and coriander.

And that night I finally made it to arguably the hottest restaurant in town: Frites, a dingy late-night hole in the wall next to Neumo’s (the Empty Bottle of Seattle) that serves heaping cones of floppy, hot, salty, hand-cut, double-fried Belgian frites with a slew of dipping sauces, from classic garlic aioli to rosemary mayo, poblano ranch, and curried catsup. Open till 2:30 AM and smack in the middle of the Pike-Pine bar strip, this place is genius, and someone should open one here. Hot Doug, are you looking for a new project yet?