May 24 Red Mountain Food-and-Wine Extravaganza

May 19, 2014

Cicchetti kitchen and bar octopus photo

Want to support Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology Program while tasting wines from 24 Washington wineries, all expertly paired with gourmet food?

Then plan to attend Revelry on Red Mountain this Saturday, beginning at 6 p.m. Enjoy an unforgettable tasting event while enjoying gourmet food crafted by Chef Jake Crenshaw of Olive Catering and panoramic vineyard views of Red Mountain, the Horse Heaven Hills, and the Yakima Valley.

Twenty-four leading wineries will be pouring their current releases on the terrace of Col Solare Winery; the event also includes a silent auction.

Tickets are $95 and can be purchased online.

Hungry for more?!?!

The very next morning (May 25th), the extremely popular Red Mountain Walking Vineyard Tour & Lunch takes place. Join Scott Williams, Jim Holmes, Jackie Hightower, and Pete Hedges as they lead you through the new and old vineyards of Red Mountain. Sample fabulous wines along the way, while enjoying the spectacular scenery of Red Mountain. The tour will end with wines and hors d ‘oeuvres at Hedges Family Estate.

Tickets for both events–Revelry on Red Mountain and the Vineyard Tour & Lunch–are $195, and can be purchased here.


World’s Best 50 Restaurants Named

May 12, 2014

The willows inn on lummi island soup northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Late last month, Restaurant Magazine released its list of the world’s 50 best restaurants during a ceremony in London.

Copenhagen’s Noma, a four-time winner, reclaimed the title from El Celler de Can Roca, located in Girona, Spain, which came in at number two, after having knocked out Noma last year.

It is fun to look at the world’s 50 best and see how many you have eaten at (or, in many cases, even heard of)!

Seven U.S. restaurants made the cut this year, including Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, Per Se, and Daniel (all in New York City); Alinea in Chicago; Coi in San Francisco; and the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.

Here’s the complete list. I like to print it out every year and save it on my computer in case we travel to any of the world’s best 5o spots.

The willows inn smoked salmon appetizer northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

The world’s top-50 restaurants are as follows:

1. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
2. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
3. Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
4. Eleven Madison Park, New York
5. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
6. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain
7. D.O.M., Sao Paulo, Brazil
8. Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain
9. Alinea, Chicago
10. The Ledbury, London
11. Mirazur, Menton, France
12. Vendôme, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
13. Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand
14. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
15. Central, Lima, Peru
16. Steirereck, Vienna, Austria
17. Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand
18. Astrid Y Gastón, Lima, Peru
19. Fäviken, Järpen, Sweden
20. Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico
21. Le Bernardin, New York
22. Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal
23. Restaurant Frantzén, Stockholm, Sweden
24. Amber, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
25. Arpège, Paris, France
26. Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain
27. Le Chateaubriand, Paris, France
28. Aqua, Wolfsburg, Germany
29. De Librije, Zwolle, Netherlands
30. Per Se, New York
31. L’Atelier de J?el Robuchon Saint-Germain, Paris, France
32. Attica, Melbourne, Australia
33. Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan
34. Asador Etxebarri, Atxondo, Spain
35. Martín Berasategui, Lasarte-Oria, Spain
36. Mani, Sao Paulo, Brazil
37. Restaurant André, Singapore
38. L’Astrance, Paris, France
39. Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy
40. Daniel, New York
41. Quique Dacosta, Denia, Spain
42. Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark
43. Schloss Schauenstein, Fürstenau, Switzerland
44. The French Laundry, Yountville
45. Hof Van Cleve, Kruishoutem, Belgium
46. Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy
47. The Fat Duck, Bray, UK
48. The Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa
49. Coi, San Francisco
50. Waku Ghin, Singapore

Photos by Braiden Rex-Johnson, taken at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island (Washington State), during dinner at the restaurant there, manned by former Noma employee and James Beard award-winning chef this year, Blaine Wetzel. You can read my Seattle Times review of our experience here. 

Finding Your “Soil Mate”

April 21, 2014

Victoria, BC, farmers market photo northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

For the past 35 years, my colleague and friend, Vance Corum, has been committed to helping farmers market their products. He’s also the co-author of “The New Farmers’ Market.”

In a recent email, he said that a few weeks ago, while working in British Columbia, he heard about a new website that comes online for consumers next month.

“It’s called SOIL MATE,” Vance says, “like finding your soul mate in the person of a local farmer, anywhere in North America.”

His note went on to say that SOIL MATE’s goal is to connect people to their local food sources within 100 miles. Vance decided to help spread the word because the website seems straight-forward and easy to use. Every farmer, farmers’ market, and winery can list itself for FREE, so it’s a win/win/win for your farm, your markets, and consumers.

You can check out the short YouTube video on Soil Mate.

Farmers, farmers’ markets, and wineries can list their products, selling locations, and hours. They are invited to post photos, videos, a blog, and/or a website. The companies can can also sell products directly online.

Customers can filter by product category, specific items, growing practices, and services (U-Pick, CSA, and online sales).

SOIL MATE’s founder, Matt Gomez, has a passion for local food and a great background in marketing and social media, having helped Fortune-500 and Mom-and-Pop companies alike.

Just go to the SOIL MATE website and list yourself. You can put as much or as little in your profile as you want. It’s faster than applying to a farmers’ market. As a farmer, you’ll be linked to the farmers’ markets where you sell, and vice-versa.

As a CSA farm, you can list your pick-up locations. As a winery, you can list stores and restaurants that carry your product.

It’s even a FREE service, and you can help by getting the word out on social media or by direct (email) outreach.

To good marketing!

Urbanspoon Names Top U.S. Fine-Dining Dining Spots

April 14, 2014

Blueacre seafood bristol bay salmon dinner salmon gravlax photo northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

As thoughts of summer vacation start to creep into our consciousness, thoughts of where to dine while traveling the country also come to mind.

And good news! Late last month, Urbanspoon, a leading restaurant-discovery website and app that aggregates reviews from professional food critics, bloggers, and diners, released its list of the most popular fine-dining restaurants across major metropolitan cities, places where you can enjoy the finest in food, service, and atmosphere.

From perennial favorites like New Orleans institution Commander’s Palace to new hot spots like L.A.’s Hinoki and the Bird, the list was compiled based on factors including price, diner activity, and critic reviews.

How did our fair city “fare,” so to speak? Here are Seattle’s top tables, according to Urbanspoon:


— Ray’s Boathouse

— Matt’s in the Market

— Lark

— Canlis

— Book Bindery

And here’s the entire Urbanspoon listing of top-rated restaurants:


— Bone’s Restaurant

— St. Cecilia

— Chops Lobster Bar

— Bacchanalia

— Aria

— Tomo


— Neptune Oyster

— Hamersley’s Bistro

— L’Espalier

— O Ya

— Menton

— Rialto


— Alinea

— Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

— Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab

— Topolobampo

— Blackbird

— Spiaggia

— Hamada of Japan


— French Room

— Abacus

— Hibiscus

— Fearing’s

— Eddie V’s


— Sushi Den

— Zengo

— Sushi Sasa

— Frasca Food & Wine


— Brennan’s of Houston

— Cafe Rabelais

— Rainbow Lodge

— Da Marco Cucina E Vino

Las Vegas

— Bouchon Bistro

— Mesa Grill

— Joel Robuchon

— Restaurant Guy Savoy

— Aureole

Los Angeles

— Hinoki & the Bird

— Osteria Mozza

— Ink

— Providence

— Spago

— Matsuhisa

— Nobu Malibu


— Zuma

— Il Gabbiano

— Chima Brazilian Steakhouse

— Joe’s Stone Crab

— Prime One Twelve

— Barton G. The Restaurant

— Casa Tua

Minneapolis-St. Paul

— The Oceanaire Seafood Room

— Manny’s Steakhouse

— Meritage

New Orleans

— Commander’s Palace

— Mr. B’s Bistro

— Herbsaint Bar & Restaurant

New York

— Eleven Madison Park

— Le Bernardin

— Gramercy Tavern

— Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

— Nobu

— Minetta Tavern

— Per Se

— Peter Luger Steak House


— Alma de Cuba

— Morimoto

— Fork

— Vetri

— Little Fish

— Tashan Modern Indian


— Veritable Quandary Restaurant & Bar

— Andina

— Higgins

— Beast

— Paley’s Place

San Diego

— The Prado at Balboa Park

— Jake’s Del Mar

— George’s At The Cove

San Francisco/ Bay Area/ Wine Country

— Gary Danko

— Farallon


— Quince

— Sons & Daughters

— One Market

— Chez Panisse

— The French Laundry

Washington D.C.

— Jaleo

— 1789

— Restaurant Nora

— The Oceanaire Seafood Room

— L’Auberge Chez Francois

Photo by Braiden Rex-Johnson, taken at Blueacre Seafood in downtown Seattle. 


Willows Inn Dining Room Reopens

March 31, 2014

The willows inn on lummi island dining room northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

The Dining Room at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island reopened on Thursday, March 13, after a two-month recess.

The willows inn smoked salmon appetizer northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

You may remember I gave the property and restaurant a rave review in The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine back in 2011.

The willows inn oysters appetizer northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

During his two-month break, Head Chef Blaine Wetzel was named a semifinalist for the fourth straight year for the James Beard Rising Star Award (chefs under age 30). The nomination is well deserved for the beautiful and delicious dishes he prepares day in and day out. (Photos throughout this blog post were taken during our 2011 visit.)

The willows inn on lummi island soup northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Blaine also made a visit to Europe that included stops in Copenhagen and participation in a major food event in Italy. You can read more on the chef’s blog.

The willows inn mushrooms  northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

The Willows Inn is also offering a 2-for-1 Spring Special on select dates now through the end of April.  When you reserve an on-site room during March or April you can add a second night for FREE. During your stay you can indulge in spa-therapy treatments, walk and rock-hunt along Sunset Beach, take a bicycle ride, hike the island’s wilderness preserves, or simply relax with a good book (in the hot tub, perhaps). The offer is valid until April 31, 2014, and cannot include a Saturday night.

There is even a two-day Author Series Getaway with Nancy Pearl scheduled from Wednesday, March 19 to Friday, March 21, when you are encouraged to immerse yourself in two books recommended by Nancy. Enjoy book discussions in the cozy atmosphere of Loganita, a specially-prepared dinner with Nancy by the Willows Inn sous chef at the Beach Store Cafe, and a hearty breakfast followed by a second book-club session in the Willows Inn main dining room.

Nancy is the author of the bestselling “Book Lust” and, in 2004, earned the Women’s National Book Association Award for her extraordinary contribution to the world of books. She has become a rock star among readers—the tastemaker who people turn to when deciding what to read next.

The Author Series Getaways continues in April with New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford appearing on Wednesday, April 23. Guests will enjoy a book discussion with Jamie over his new book, “Songs of Willow Frost,” followed by a private dinner.

To register for either of the Author Series Getaway events, call the inn at 360.758.2620.

Photos by Braiden Rex-Johnson

Welcome to the ‘Hood: Aragona Restaurant

January 20, 2014

Aragona rendering northwest wining and dining website link

Last summer, we got wind that Thoa’s Restaurant & Lounge would be pulling up stakes. One of several restaurants owned and operated by my friend and fellow Seattle Dame Thoa Nguyen, the restaurant was located in the base of our condominium building at First and Union for an impressive period–10 years.

We wondered who might take over the large space with a bar at the front, kitchen behind glass, and peekaboo views of Elliott Bay.

Soon, word leaked out that über-successful Seattle chef Jason Stratton, the genius behind northern Italian-leaning Cascina Spinasse and Artusi in Capitol Hill, was interested.

We saw the architect’s rendering (above) and learned the concept of the new space, named “Aragona,” would be regional Spanish food. Having studied in Madrid for four months while I was in college, and falling in love with both the people of that Iberian country and its cuisine, I was psyched!

Aragona jason stratton tour northwest wining and dining website link

We watched the construction, heard the whine of the saws and banging of the hammers, and even sniffed the glue and shellac when the workers laid the floors, so felt very invested in the latest iteration at First and Union.

A few weeks before opening, we enjoyed a hard-hat tour, with Chef Stratton pointing out artistic details and the many new facets to the restaurant. . .

Aragona female chef northwest wining and dining website link

And chatting up Aragona’s Chef de Cuisine, Carrie Mashaney, who previously served as chef de cuisine at Spinasse and gained wide acclaim last fall after appearing on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

Aragona wine guy chris northwest wining and dining website link

Behind the wine table (pouring a dry Fino Sherry and Spanish wines from small producers), we recognized a former buddy from RN74–Master Sommelier Chris Tanghe.

Aragona jason kitchen northwest wining and dining website link

Stratton took us behind the scenes in the gorgeous new kitchen, completely outfitted with new equipment including a plancha (a flat-top grill widely used in Spain and Latin America to cook fish and shellfish).

Aragona column northwest wining and dining website link

This stunning column really spoke to me. . .a modern update of the many beautiful columns and pillars one sees everywhere in southern Spain. In a press release, it’s described as “the visual showpiece of the dining room. . .created by internationally recognized Seattle mosaic artist Kate Jessup.”

The column is surrounded by a central service table that will be used for decanting wine, carving ham, and dishing out paella-like rice dishes.

Aragona food northwest wining and dining website link

We enjoyed a variety of nibbles that afternoon including savory cookies and olives. . .

Aragona food northwest wining and dining website link

flatbread and nut-covered cheese balls.

Aragona group shot northwest wining and dining website link

Here’s an overview of the main dining room taken from the private dining room at the back and looking toward the bar (with the kitchen on the left).

Aragona logo northwest wining and dining website link

And here is the lovely logo that evokes the proud traditions of España.

Just a few weeks later, after many hours of overtime work by the construction workers and staff, the restaurant opened for business on December 9.

Aragona restaurant main dining room interior northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

We were lucky enough to be included in the Family and Friends dinner the evening before, and were blown away by the glamorous transformation of the interior, which manages to be contemporary, warm, and elegant while still nodding to restaurants in Spain. Here (above) is the main dining room.

Aragona bar area northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

The bar offers a separate, more small-plate menu and multiple wine-by-the glass options, which will be perfect for theater-goers and music lovers for pre-Benaroya-hall events.

Aragona restaurant jason stratton owner chef and carrey sous chef northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Here are Jason and Carrie looking relieved that their latest “baby” is finally open for business.

Aragona restaurant octopus cauliflower puree northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

We fought over the Grilled Octopus and Cauliflower Purée with its lovely charry notes and buttery richness.

Aragona restaurant dessert northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Although we didn’t have room for dessert, here’s a photo of one of several tempting options.

Rave reviews are already starting to stream in for Aragona. Please have a look at our friend and colleague Bethany Jean Clement’s complete, and very positive review from The Stranger’s January 15 issue.

Nicole Sprinkle, in The Seattle Weekly, also weighed in with a review in the January 21 issue, while Zach Geballe praised the impressive and inventive wine and Sherry offerings.

Architectural rendering and logo courtesy of Aragona.
Top eight photos by Braiden Rex-Johnson. Remaining photos courtesy of Aragona. 

James Beard Foundation’s Top-10 Best Dishes (Plus 5 Cocktails!) of 2013

December 23, 2013

Fat-Rice-Galdones-PhotographyFat-Rice northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Ever wonder what an organization as venerable as The James Beard Foundation considers the best dishes of 2013?

Canon restaurant seattle jamie boudreaux hooker cocktail northwest wining and dining downtown seattle website link

Me, too. Here’s a link where you will find 10 best dishes, and five cocktails, including one from Seattle’s very own Jamie Boudreau, owner/founder of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, for The Hooker.

There’s even a link to the recipe for this intriguing amalgam of Bourbon, Scotch, and beer, inspired by a song by John Lee Hooker, of course.

The cocktail is a very popular option at Canon. Way to go, Jamie!

Dynamic Dishes That Made My Day

September 9, 2013

In the movie “Dirty Harry,” beloved actor Clint Eastwood said, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Here are half a dozen dishes I’ve sampled in Seattle; on a car trip to Bow, Washington; and even as far afield as Winter Park, Florida, that have all “made my day.” Enjoy!

Andaluca eggplant appetizer


Beginning with appetizers, here is a beauty we enjoyed at Andaluca in the Mayflower Park Hotel in downtown Seattle: Grilled Petite Eggplant. Brushed with a light balsamic vinaigrette, grilled, and topped with alder-smoked tomatoes and fresh house-made ricotta, it was a soulful and hearty bite!

It paired perfectly with one of Andaluca’s by-the-glass pours–Fontaynes Argentinian Malbec Rosé.

Palace kitchen whole baked idaho trout

The Roasted Whole Idaho Trout at Palace Kitchen is always a winner, but tasted especially clean and fresh–perfectly cooked–on a recent visit. House pours of one of our favorite white blends from Washington State–Southard White–paired nicely with both the trout and the Fire-Roasted Mussels I enjoyed as my entrée.

Place pigalle oysters on the half shell

I downed my first-of-the-season raw oysters on the half shell at Place Pigalle in the heart of the Pike Place Market. They were Stellar Bay beauties from British Columbia waters, grown in the same bay as another one of my favorite oyster varieties–Kusshi. Our pairing that evening was a bottle of DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc, as good (and consistent) as ever. Thanks to our friend and winemaker Chris Upchurch!

Rhodendron cafe fried oyster caesar salad

The next day, still jones-ing for oysters, we drove to Bow, Washington and the venerable Rhododendron Cafe for a Fried Oyster Caesar Salad. It was a dish I’d enjoyed there several years ago and never forgotten. And even though it was no longer on the menu, Fried Oysters still were, so the chef was kind enough to accommodate my special request.

It was a fortuitous trip (very impromptu!) as the Rhododendron will close end of the month as the owners retire after 30 years!!! A few down days, then the young owners of the Farm to Market Bakery in Edison, Washington, will take over and make the Rhody Too Gallery (right next door) into a bakery and reopen the restaurant. So stay tuned!

And, as you can see, at lunch we stick to Iced Tea for our beverage pairing.  🙂

Cask & Larder ribeye hotdog

Late last month, we were in Winter Park, Florida, to help my father celebrate his 91st birthday. Although Dad doesn’t get out much any more, my brother, sister-in-law, Spencer, and I made our way to Cask & Larder: Southern Public House, a recently opened, very-popular gastropub and craft brewery in Winter Park, the sister restaurant to award-winning The Ravenous Pig, where we’ve enjoyed many a meal over the years.

Here is the Ribeye Hotdog with sweet Vidalia onion relish, Cask & Larder ketchup, and beer mustard on a celery-seed bun my brother enjoyed along with a house-made Whiskey Stout (which was cask-conditioned in a Jack Daniel’s barrel, aged for five months, and tasted of coffee and chocolate!).

Cask & Larder fried chicken bibb lettuce salad

Spencer enjoyed the Bibb Lettuce Salad with Pickled Watermelon Radish, Candied Squash, Spiced Pecans, and Buttermilk Dressing with an extra side of Southern Fried Chicken (spicy and good). The ladies had the same salad, but with an extraordinary side of smoked chicken. It was so good, the next day for lunch at Dad’s condo, we ordered in the very same salads!

Chowing Down in Charleston, SC

August 19, 2013

On a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, in service to Les Dames d’Escoffier, International, we enjoyed several memorable meals when we weren’t cooped up in conference rooms during 12 hours of intense Board meetings.

Charleston Crab House Hush Puppies

Here are the gorgeous hush puppies served up at the Charleston Crab House, which has been family-owned for the past 20 years. There are two locations, with the one we tried conveniently located right across the street from the venerable Charleston City Market.

Charleston Crab House Seafood Sign

This sign at Charleston Crab House says it all!

Charleston Crab House Garlic Crabs

We wanted to try one of the local delicacies, Garlic Crab, although our server warned us there wasn’t much meat inside.

Charleston Crab House Garlic Crabs Eaten

Should have listened to her, for the shells were almost as hard as those on a stone crab, with very little meat exhumed for a lot of effort. Glad we just got a single order since we didn’t even finish that!

Charleston Crab House Seafood Platter

MUCH better was this sampler plate of a crab cake (made of blue crab and SPICY–not at all similar to Northwest crab cakes, but equally good), fried shrimp (a rare treat for us–we chowed down on them), and King crab claws (not nearly as satisfying as Dungeness).

Charleston Crab House Waffle Fries

Waffle fries and coleslaw served as hearty sides!

Bacon Soda, Charleston, SC

We walked the entire Market area after lunch to work off a few of those Southern-fried calories. Guess the bacon craze is ubiquitous throughout the United States. Not so sure about Buffalo Wing Soda, however. 🙂

Water Park, Charleston, SC

When we visited in mid-July, it was one of the hottest weekends on record on the East Coast. Here are some smart local kids cooling off in a fountain near the sprawling Waterfront Park.

Husk PIckled Shrimp Salad

For Spencer’s and my big night out alone (before the meetings started) we chose Husk, the newest offering from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group. Here’s the refreshing Pickled Shrimp with Arugula and Cantaloupe, Shaved Fennel, HUSK Ricotta, and Watermelon Vinaigrette that I enjoyed.

Husk Corn Soup

And Spencer’s Chilled Sweet Corn Soup with Virginia Blue Crab, Salad of Summer Courgettes, Fire-Roasted Fennel and Corn, and Crème Fraîche–talk about LOTS of cream.

Husk Grouper Entrée

This is the lovely NC Flounder with VA Blue Crab, Chanterelles and Wood-Fired Peaches, Fennel, and House-Made Vinegar.

Husk Peach Cobbler

And what would a summertime visit to the South be without a bite or three of Fresh Peach Cobbler with White Chocolate Ice Cream and Bourbon Butterscotch?!?!

Husk Dessert Menu

Here’s a photo of the dessert card for a little more vicarious pleasure.

Cruising into Seattle

May 27, 2013

Space needle seattle city skyline photo

We’ve long been a proponent of cruising, and are especially devoted fans of Seattle-based Holland America Line and Seabourn Cruise Line.

I’ve even written about our Alaska cruise experience for both Wine Press Northwest magazine and on this website in my Northwest Notes blog.

The Seattle cruise industry’s season runs from May through September, with boats leaving from Bell Street Pier (Pier 66) and Smith Cove (Pier 91) cruise terminals.

According to The Seattle Times, the first cruise ship of the 2013 season–Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Symphony, arrived on May 1. During the 2013 season, the Port of Seattle estimates that more than 175 cruises will sail through Seattle with eight different cruise lines represented. They include Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland American Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean.

Seattle’s cruise industry is best known for its seven-day journey to Alaska. During pre- and post-stays in Seattle, passengers can visit the iconic Space Needle, Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, and Seattle Aquarium. For more information about cruise schedules, and to book packages, visit the Port of Seattle website.

And to learn more about the venerable Pike Place Market, please pick up a copy of my “Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook,” available in both print and e-editions.

Photo credit: Braiden Rex-Johnson



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