Evan Martin. | Photo by Ronald Holden
Evan Martin. | Photo by Ronald Holden

The name made sense when Emile Ninaud and his business partner Jacques Boiroux opened Champion Cellars in 1969, the first retail wine shop in the state: the business next door was a costume shop called Champion Party Supply. The two were also partners in a classy French restaurant, Le Tastevin, a couple of blocks away, and it was logical (or seemed to) for them to have a wine shop as well. There was a parting of the ways, almost 25 years ago, said to be over unpaid liquor bills; in any event Le Tastevin closed. The debonair Boiroux became known as a local TV chef, our own Julia Child, with a cooking show on KIRO TV, and a consultant to (and later part-owner of) the Metropolitan Markets chain. And Emile, with his suave, courtly manner, looked after the wine shop. He was joined 30 years ago by his wife, Stephanie, who had spent her career up to that point in wine importing and wholesaling.

Well, the corner of First and Denny on Lower Queen Anne is now facing the wrecking ball, and everyone has moved on. Champion Party Supply has moved to Interbay, Tini Bigs simply closed, the neighboring Hula Hula sashayed up to Capitol Hill, Morfey's wedding cakes found a space very close by, and Emile and Stephanie found a buyer for Champion Cellars. The good news is that the new owner, a sommelier named Erin Lyman, also found a great spot for the wine shop: the vibrant commercial intersection of 85th and Greenwood, specifically the storefront at 8503 Greenwood Avenue N.

Born in Hawaii, Erin has lived in Seattle for the past decade, working at Purple, RN 74, Zig Zag, and Cafe Campagne, where she was mentored by French wine steward Cyril Fréchier. Along the way, she earned certifications from both the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and the Wine Scholar Guild. She has passed these exams with distinction and she is a pinned French Wine Scholar. Her partner, Suthap Manivong, raised in Bellevue and with a degree from the University of Washington, comes from the world of live concerts, event planning, and accounting. He will take charge of Champion's business dealings.

It turns out that this neighborhood — Greenwood — was starved for a decent wine shop. Lyman is impressed by the number of sophisticated buyers who've been dropping by, to buy Alsatian riesling, for example, or wines from Slovenia. Ninaud understandably kept the focus on France, and Lyman will expand slowly with weekly tastings.

And what's next for Emile and Stephanie? “Retired” for two months, Emile is still nursing an injury; in the course of the move, he dropped a case of wine on his foot. Ouch!

***

Now open: Carnivore, at 5313 Ballard Ave. NW. Traditional steakhouses (national chains like Mortons, regional chains like McCormick & Schmick) are closing stores in Seattle; even Metropolitan Grill has shut down for remodeling. But new local spots are opening up. I'm thinking of Seven Beef and Bateau on Capitol Hill, the Novilhos outlet at South Lake Union, and across-the-street Belltown neighbors Buenos Aires Grill and Grill from Ipanema.

Carnivore describes itself as “a primal, paleo kitchen and bar, focused on the evolutionary approach to dining,” which seems only slightly pretentious, but if you're one of half a dozen eateries cheek-by-jowl on the same block of Ballard's restaurant row, I guess you've got to say something about yourself, lest a patron get mixed up between Garcia, Patxi and Bastille. Anyway, the excellent beef comes from Carman Ranch in Oregon's Wallowa Hills. The chef is Seamus Platt, a Washington native, whose previous contributions to local dining have been at Korean steakhouse Girin and Mollusk.

But there's another reason beyond the steaks to eat at Carnivore, and it's the wine list. Assembled by Carnivore's beverage director Evan Martin (last seen at Bellevue's Bar Code), it includes wines that other spots might ignore completely, such as the bottlings of a “natural” winery in California called Donkey & Goat. Their white blend is called Gadabout, the red Gallivanter, both moderately priced and ideal for a dinner that might include an heirloom tomato salad with pickled cucumbers and snap peas; a bavette, and a side of foraged mushrooms. A glass of Gallivanter is $11, the most reasonable price for a house red I've seen in, aheam, a donkey's age. Fine cocktails, too, especially those made with Mahon, a Spanish gin.

Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His new guide to local food and drink, “Forking Seattle,” is available at neighborhood bookstores (Magnolia, Phinney), and on Amazon.com