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7.7.11: Eating like a Mad Man

Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

I just finished a lunch of wild salmon at the Needle, and my guests from Sacramento did the same. It felt like a summer ritual.

The Needle has always done well by seafood. On Easter Sunday, April 22, 1962, the day after the opening of Century 21, the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah stopped in to see the fair and sample its fare.

The Shah and his wife had lunch at the Needle and dined on "Dungeness crab legs on ice, green salad, filet mignon, peas, artichokes, potato gems, strawberries and coffee." Oh, waiter, yes please...

The Needle's first head chef was Rene Schiess, who moved over from his job at The Olympic Hotel to create Northwest dishes with international appeal for guests at The Eye of the Needle restaurant. Schiess was Swiss born, raised in France, and had worked at top hotel hotel kitchens in Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Italy, before coming to The Olympic from the Hilton Hotel in Istanbul. He seemed like the perfect choice to oversee the menu for Seattle's debut in high profile, international dining. Schiess continued to be a top chef for Western International Hotels for years after serving at the Needle from '62 to '63.

Before the Needle opened to the public, the food was previewed for hotel guests who got to sample dishes like crab en brochette, a kind of shish kabob of crab, bacon with mustard broiled in a bearnaise sauce. A version of that was on the Needle menu for years.

Schiess also shared one of his favorite salmon recipes with The Argus, a Seattle weekly newspaper that published it the day before the fair opened. Argus food writer Patricia Beck suggested that readers might want to plan on early luncheons or dinners at the Needle to avoid the rush. In the meantime, they could make Schiess' barbecued salmon scalopinis at home.

Here's the recipe:

"For each serving, cut 4 very thin slices of salmon of 1 1/2 oz. each. Marinate them for 2 hours in a good barbecue sauce. Grill them for 2 minutes on each side. Serve on top of Piloff [sic] rice with the following curry sauce (serves about 12 people):

1 tsp. butter
2 tbsp. mile curry powder
1 quart fish stock
salt to taste
1 medium size apple
1 medium size onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 fresh tomato
1/2 medium size banana

Melt butter in a sauce pan, add the onion, apple, garlic, and tomato chopped very fine, keep a medium fire for 10 minutes stirring frequently. Add the curry powder, the banana, the fish stock. Cook for one hour and press through a strainer. Bring to a boil and thicken with 1/2 tsp. cornstarch diluted in one ounce dry white wine."

This was a taste of the cuisine of the "Mad Men" era in Seattle. You can now serve it up at your own backyard barbecue.

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