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Wednesday, April 3, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Taste of the Town / Nancy Leson

Event has you eating well while doing good

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The days of rubbing elbows while bending elbows at the crowded, sold-out Taste Washington! event at the Paramount Theatre are over. This year, the annual eat-drink-and-be-merry fest celebrating Washington wines moves to the Stadium Exhibition Center across from Safeco Field.

From 5 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 21, a cast of thousands (OK, 2,000) can stretch out and enjoy Taste Washington! in a far more commodious setting.

If $85 seems like a lot to spend to attend, consider this: Once you enter through a virtual vineyard (yes, those are real grapevines), the cost includes tastings from 120 of the state's wineries. Wonderful Washington wines will be paired with festive foodstuffs from more than 60 regional restaurants running the impressive gamut from A(ndaluca) to Z(oë) — with practically every favorite in between.

With glass in hand, you can graze at the fresh oyster and shellfish bar, courtesy of Ray's Boathouse and the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, or at a dessert bar, where dessert-wine pairings are part of the package. Sweets don't move you? Cheeses and caviar are there for the noshing, but that's not all!

More room to move means more room to groove — and learn about Washington wines and the industry that proudly produces them. Wine education is part of the show, with informative mini-seminars on such topics as wine-tasting basics and opportunities to "Ask the Expert." Local wine clubs will be putting on the (eau de wet) dog in an effort to encourage membership to such groups as the Enological Society, Wine Brats, Women for Wine Sense and the American Institute of Wine and Food.

"Last year at the Paramount, we turned away 300 people," says Steve Burns, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission. "This year, with the space afforded us at the Exhibition Center, Taste Washington! will be much more of an experience. We've never had 120 winemakers in one room or generated this much interest from sponsors. This is the biggest Washington wine-tasting event ever."

Burns and the industry he represents have much to be proud of. Washington was recently designated "Wine Region of the Year" by Wine Enthusiast magazine — the first American region so honored.

"We've had four amazing vintages in a row," says Burns, "and Taste Washington! is a great way for novice wine-drinkers to learn about them."

Proceeds from the event benefit FareStart, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization devoted to helping the homeless and disadvantaged learn the skills for jobs in the food-service industry.

Tickets for Taste Washington! may be purchased (by those 21 and older) through Ticketmaster (206-292-0888 or www.ticketmaster.com) and at the following retail shops: Arista Wine Cellars (502 Main St., Edmonds); Esquin Wine Merchants (2700 Fourth Ave., Seattle); Fine Wines, Ltd. (16535 N.E. 76th St., Redmond); McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants (2401B Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle and 6500 Ravenna Ave. N.E., Seattle); Pike & Western Wine Shop (1934 Pike Place, Seattle); Seattle Cellars Limited (2505 Second Ave., Seattle); West Seattle Cellars (6026 California Ave. S.W., Seattle).

Big-time chefs at Boomtown

Despite the free-falling local economy, Boomtown Cafe (513 Third Ave., Seattle) hasn't changed its name — or its mission. The Pioneer Square restaurant, which closed briefly last year to refinance and reorganize (and shouldn't be confused with FareStart, which also operates a nonprofit restaurant), is open Monday through Friday for breakfast (7-9:30 a.m.) and lunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). Boomtown's kitchen continues to provide contract meals for local shelters and low-income residence hotels.

Creating an inviting, affordable, family-friendly restaurant environment and encouraging Seattle's poor and homeless to partake is what Boomtown is all about.

Those who can't pay may use food stamps or barter 15 minutes of their time, working in exchange for a meal. Those who can afford it pay $1.25 for breakfast and $1.75 for lunch, beverage included. Boomtown's door is open to any and all comers — including those of us who might consider making a larger donation to cover the cost of our meal.

Can't get down to Boomtown for breakfast or lunch? Why not make a reservation for "Evenings at Boomtown," when $20 buys a three-course benefit dinner, donated and prepared by some of Seattle's favorite chefs. Kicking things off is Chris Keff, owner/chef of Belltown's Flying Fish and Fandango, who will be on the job in Boomtown's Pioneer Square kitchen April 17. For reservations, call the cafe at 206-625-2989.

Scheduled for the remainder of the year are: Brian Schultz of Salty's (May 5), Tamara Murphy of Brasa (June 19), Tom Douglas of Dahlia Lounge (July 17), Charlie Durham of Cassis (Aug. 21), Dan Braun of Carmelita (Sept. 18), Gavin Stephenson of The Georgian (Oct. 16), Walter Pisano of Tulio (Nov. 13) and Mauro Golmarvi of Assaggio Ristorante (Dec. 18).

Ragin' Cajun closes

This week marked the closure of Delcambre's Ragin' Cajun (1523 First Ave., Seattle). Owner/chef Danny Delcambre, a native of New Iberia, Louisiana, brought style and spice to Pike Place Market when he opened his cafe on April Fool's Day nine years ago. Later this month the Ragin' Cajun will reopen as Cafe Mimosa, serving American breakfasts and French and Cajun specialties at lunch, says new owner Chau Nguyen.

Deaf since birth, Delcambre, who also suffers from Usher's Syndrome — a condition that causes severe tunnel vision and night blindness — gained national recognition and the admiration of all as he cooked-up red beans and rice, chicken and sausage gumbo and other Cajun comfort food favorites. During the past decade he proudly provided customers with a fun, festive dining experience and a service that few (if any) other restaurants offer: a staff fluent in American Sign Language. After taking it easy for a couple of months, the inspiring chef and businessman expects to devote more time to his second career — as a motivational speaker.

Nancy Leson can be reached at 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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