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Home Grown: A celebration of local culinary enterprise

John Platt and "Pablo" Butler, feeding orphans (and their parents) at St. Clouds

Three decades ago, there was a novel by John Irving called "The Cider House Rules." It was set in an orphanage, St. Cloud's, in rural Maine, with a doctor, Wilbur Larch, who was both an obstetrician and an abortionist; and an orphan, Homer Wells, who was trained as his successor.

In the movie version, Michael Caine played the doctor, Tobey Maguire the youngster, but long before the movie came out, the book was adapted for the stage and produced at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. English teacher John Platt, from the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, ended up cooking for the Rep's cast and crew as they work shopped the production.

By this time, Platt was no kitchen amateur; he had trained at Coastal Kitchen and 5-Spot and had been a general manager.

When "Cider House" took itself to Los Angeles and then to Broadway, Platt teamed up with colleague Paul "Pablo" Butler, the Spanish teacher at Charles Wright, and plunged into the restaurant business.

Both men were social activists and wanted to incorporate a spirit of community in their project, which found its home in the Madrona space vacated by Cool Hand Luke's (1131 34th Ave.). They decided to emulate Dr. Larch's sense of duty and generosity, so they named the restaurant St. Clouds, and they made a commitment to monthly "homeless cooking" events.

Since 2001, Platt and Butler have been feeding more than 200 people at five homeless shelters every month, based on food donations and ideas from participants. As they say on the restaurant's website, "We hope, by the act of creating a meal together, we can build more connections among ourselves and provide an hour of dignity and good food for those who find too little of both in their lives."

They cook on the third Wednesday of every month, and everyone is invited; bring an apron, a knife, a cutting board and a few vegetables.

If you come as a customer on a weeknight, there's a happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m. If you come on Monday night, there's jazz in the cozy bar at 8 o'clock. If you come for brunch on the weekends, be prepared to wait a while. (St. Clouds does provide baskets of toys for the littlest kids.) If you come for dinner, you could do a lot worse than the pork tenderloin. Gage Tschyekovsky runs the bar until late at night and mixes a fine Negroni.

The food is homey, unfussy, comforting - not just for the orphans, not just for the residents of Madrona, but a place where all of Seattle can find a sense of home and family.

Araya Pudpard, Ambassador of Vegan

Until 1987, there was not a single restaurant in the Northwest that was both vegan and Thai. Then along came Araya Pudpard, who opened Araya's Place in the University District. An outpost in Bellevue followed. Not one to dally or tarry, Araya would move the restaurants periodically (whenever her landlord would sell the building), but would always stay in the neighborhood. The old Bellevue location may yet return, once the high-rise condo is complete. Her daughter Cheryl is currently operating an Araya's outpost in Hollywood, and her son Fang (along with his wife) has just taken over the Rover's property (2808 E Madison).

The irony, ooh the delicious irony. Rover's, for decades a beacon of fine dining when fine dining implied French cuisine, and French cuisine implied foie gras, well, Rovers was Seattle's monument to foie gras. As tastes changed and other opportunities beckoned to Chef-in-the-Hat Thierry Rautureau, Rover's closed and Luc opened, Loulay opened, and the little yellow house in Madison Valley, where Rover's had welcomed the aspirants to (and masticators of) French haute cuisine, Rover's became Araya's Place. The setting, in that flowered courtyard, is so welcoming, and the sense of hospitality inside the clean, well-lit house is simply irresistible.

A year ago, the Food Network's show about spicy food, "Heat Seekers," taped a segment at the U District Araya's restaurant featuring its "Drunken Mushroom" stir-fry. To quote the menu, "Classic Thai spicy wide rice noodles stir-fried in garlic & chili with veggies beef, Portobello and other mushrooms." The other mushrooms are shiitake and white button mushrooms, and there's also red and green bell pepper, asparagus, and fried Thai basil. Perhaps Araya's son is being polite, but I did not find huge amounts of heat in the stir fry. Flavor, yes, but not heat.

You might want to start with a Tom Yum, a traditional Thai hot & sour soup, flavored with lemon grass and lime leaves, studded with mushrooms and tofu. An order serves the entire table. I also enjoyed the avocado curry, which featured mock-chicken seitan, fried tofu, bell peppers and basil in creamy green curry sauce enriched with coconut milk. Save room for at least a bite of dessert; the chocolate bar is outstanding.

November 2014

 Ronald Holden is a Seattle-based journalist who specializes in food, wine and travel. He has worked for KING TV, Seattle Weekly, and Chateau Ste. Michelle; his blog is, and he has just published a new book " Home Grown Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink"

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