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This past weekend, having finally recovered from a debilitating weeks-long seasonal cold (at long last regaining my appetite), I decided to indulge my newfound senses in one of the truly quintessential dishes to be had in all of Seattle. A crown jewel of our city, not to be missed if you are paying a visit – oeufs en meurette at Café Campagne. Two perfectly poached eggs balanced on top of buttery, toasted brioche, swimming in a thick red wine and foie gras reduction. The sauce is dark and rich and slightly sweet, bits of lardon and mushroom and browned pearl onions adding layers of salt and earth. Finally, to slice into the soft egg, to see and smell the bright yellow yolk as it slowly pools at the base of the bowl is to be reminded again why I first fell in love with the food in this town.
The inimitable French bistro that godfather of Seattle cuisine Peter Lewis initially envisioned as “intimate, sweet and informal” still retains its landmark status and culinary cred nearly two decades since opening in Post Alley. A seemingly endless list of shining local talent has passed through the kitchen of Café Campagne (or big sister Campagne upstairs) before moving on to make their own mark on the restaurant scene – Tamara Murphy, Jim Drohman, John Sundstrom, Craig Serbousek, Shannon Galusha, Scott Emerick, ad infinitum. The kitchen is currently in the capable hands of Chef Daisley Gordon, who we last saw battling Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America (spoilers over here). The quality of product and attention to detail remain unwavering.
It also doesn’t hurt that the space Café Campagne inhabits seems to exist out of time. The lights are as a low as the ceiling, the aged hardwood floors and blonde banquettes as charming as the white-sleeved, black-vested waitstaff. The ancient bar is cozy and comfortable, wine bottles stacked neatly on every surface. It’s all very traditional, from the Kir Royale to the Gamay Beaujolais (the wine list is suitably epic). There are nearly 30 bottles offered by the glass, and small pours are also available if you’re just interested in a little taste. Patio seating is coveted during the summer, perfect for watching the ebb and flow of Pike Place Market.
The menu at Café Campagne hits all the highlights of classic French bistro fare. Naturally I gravitate towards the croques, and while I must confess they are not my true favorites in town, the Savoyard is still quite lovely when tomatoes are in season, fresh from the market stall. Sandwiches are served open-faced on light, sweet crumb bread, and then buried under a dripping, melty mess of hot gruyère cheese. Add Parisian ham, add an egg, add a requisite side of long, thin pomme frites with aioli for dipping.
The lamb burger is also worth trying at least once. Served moist and rare, with grilled onions, pickled roasted peppers and balsamic vinegar, the mildly gamey meat mellows with each bite until you’re left with a remarkably pleasant aftertaste. Or perhaps fresh trout, sautéed in almond-lemon brown butter – it’s just as rich and decadent as it sounds. There’s Niçoise salade and cassoulet and house-cured salmon gravlax – but I’ll be perfectly honest, it’s a rare day that I’m at Café Campagne not eating the oeufs en meurette (see paragraph one). Someday maybe I’ll finally try a few more things on the menu. Someday. Maybe.
After opening last Autumn to decidedly mixed reviews, I put Kerry Sear’s new flagship restaurant at the ultraluxe Four Seasons hotel on the backburner for a while. May as well give them some time to work out the kinks, right? Well, I’m happy to report that the wait was worth it, because ART Restaurant and Lounge is one of the most genuinely fun places to eat in town. Located on 1st Avenue across the street from the Seattle Art Museum (and, ahem, TASTE), everything about ART is designed to pull you in and chill you out.
And the heavy hand of hotel design cannot be denied. This is restaurant by committee, a deeply calculated space from the textbook “downtempo mixtape” soundtrack to the contemporary clean lines and blonde wood paneling to the ovoid water glasses. It is the Four Seasons after all. And yet, despite the pretense, and despite myself, I really enjoy the place. It has everything to do with the food too, which is impeccably fresh and surprisingly lighthearted. It also doesn’t hurt that every seat in the house offers a picturesque view of Elliott Bay, tiny ferries coming and going from Bainbridge Island, Seacrest Marina Park in the distance. ART was made for summer.
A long raw bar wraps around the center of the restaurant, all manner of strange and wonderful foodstuffs on display in various glass decanters and bowls. And there is definitely a heavy focus on conventional sushi preparations and other Northwest pan-Asian standards at ART. Ahi sashimi with pickled ginger and soy sauce is about as simple as it gets, until you notice the tiny green mound of freshly grated wasabi. A Dungeness crab spring roll might be a little greasy, but contains such huge lumps of sweet crab and a pleasantly spicy chili poke sauce that you’ll hardly notice. Even better: blue shrimp with horseradish and Bloody Mary dressing. This dish in particular showcases both the focus on innovative plating and the lighthearted nature of chef Sear’s kitchen. Ice cold shrimp chopped and tossed with diced tomatoes and microgreens and then arranged circularly around the base of a tall, salted shot glass filled with spicy Bloody Mary juice. It took me a minute, but I eventually figured out that I was supposed to pour the sauce over the shrimp. I know, Clever!
But nothing says playful quite like the “TV Trays” on offer during lunchtime (that’s Tres-Vite, ha?) Each of the ironic/iconic trays has a different selection of offerings, including one that rotates seasonally based on what happens to be fresh at Pike Place Market at the moment (for example, a few months ago all four courses on the tray featured asparagus, including dessert!) On that visit, I opted for TV Tray 2 – clam chowder as a starter, beef cheeks as main entrée with braising greens and a side of fries, and the dessert of the day, in this case a lemon cheesecake. The clam chowder was creamy and mild, with puréed Yukon potatoes and pancetta and celery root. The beef cheeks were served shredded and had a meaty, almost gravy-like flavor that completely obliterated any lingering reticence I may have had since that fiasco at Barking Frog. The french fries were eminently snackable, served in a paper cone with sea salt, and the lemon cheesecake was tart and topped with tiny flecks of edible gold (“Tasteless, odorless gold… To EAT!”) The courses are served all at once, on a compartmentalized tray, and give Spring Hill a run for its money on upscale lowbrow nostalgia food.
And yet, despite the startlingly good menu at the restaurant, if you need to find me, I’ll be in the Lounge. In fact, it’s a safe wager that I’ll be in the lounge eating one of Kerry Sear’s legendary mini-burgers. I’m fairly certain I only ever ate at Cascadia once during its storied history (forgive me), and I certainly would not have tried the burgers during my pescetarian days. But mercy! Now I understand all the weeping and gnashing of teeth when the place closed. These are more than sliders, and less than burgers; a distillation of the hamburger experience, a hamburger vignette. They are quaint, yet substantial. You can order beef, salmon or veggie, with truffle butter, cheddar cheese, portobello mushroom or pancetta bacon as extra toppings. They arrive deconstructed – beautiful sliced tomato, shredded lettuce and pickles arrayed along the top of the plate. Three small porcelain cups hold ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. The combinations are limitless, but I will attempt to find them all. (Although I must confess, I greatly preferred the plump, juicy ground beef to the salmon, which seemed like an afterthought. As always, your mileage may vary).
I haven’t even mentioned the wine list, which reads like a catalog of my own personal Greatest Hits. Some of my very favorites from Washington, Oregon and California, and some new discoveries (Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, big and juicy with a nice mineral bite). It’s one of those rare lists where anything you order is going to be great. And, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, ART has recently implemented a program by which you can sample any bottle of wine in the house. It’s a two glass minimum, and they derive the price by splitting the cost of the bottle by four glasses. Still! If there’s something particularly spendy that you’ve always wanted to try, this might take the sting off a bit. I think it’s a great idea.
One of many. Forget what you may have heard, ART is fantastic.
I’ve been meaning to get to one of Craig Hetherington’s Northwest Farm Dinners at TASTE Restaurant in the Seattle Art Museum for a while now, but they always manage to sell out before I get around to calling. So when I got the news that the latest multi-course menu was featuring Salmon-Safe farms and wineries, I immediately raced to the phone and finally managed to book a seating. I actually had no idea that TASTE was another staunch adherent to the local/sustainable/ organic approach to food preparation, but I would soon learn otherwise throughout the evening.
TASTE is a delightful restaurant to visit, irrespective of its farm dinners or affiliation with SAM. It’s very artful and contemporary, all straight lines and creamy lights. Despite being located in the heart of downtown, the room is quiet and comfortable. For the dinner last weekend, individual tables were pushed together so we could enjoy some communal face-time with our neighbors (who as luck would have it, were particularly affable). Throughout the evening, Chef Hetherington would briefly appear to explain each dish and then introduce a representative from the particular farm providing the ingredient(s) used in that course. Essentially, the Salmon-Safe folks work with Northwest farmers to promote conservation practices and habitat restoration, and all of the farms featured on the menu were Salmon-Safe certified. The dinner was both educational and delicious.
We began with an amuse of salmon “neat”, a tiny carpaccio of salmon lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon zest. A quick bite later, and we were served a fragrant cauliflower flan with impossibly vibrant, foraged miner’s lettuce and tiny cubes of rhubarb gelee (courtesy of Nash’s organic produce in Sequim). The flan was warm and creamy and topped with strips of buttery melted leeks. We drank a young, light-bodied Riesling from J. Bookwalter which worked well with the aromatic custard. Actually, all of the wine pairings throughout the evening were impeccable and generous (and the sommelier was, um, very enthusiastic about his job).
Next up was a fried green tomato from Hedlin Family Farms served over triticale tabbouleh with green garlic tzatziki. The tomato was juicy, but the tabbouleh really stole the show – huge, toothsome grains that practically popped when you bit into them. The tzatziki tasted like mint and cucumber, and the garlic generated a nice spicy heat. The dish was accompanied by a crisp, clean Chehalem INOX Chardonnay from Willamette Valley which had zero Oak flavor (I heartily approve).
And then on to the main event – an impressive piece of grilled, wild Alaskan King salmon from Cape Cleare Fishery. It was supremely rich and topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and truffles (which was, admittedly, a little bit overkill). Additionally: a very sweet rutabaga-cipollini gratin, more of that gorgeous miner’s lettuce and a glass of Rex Hill Pinot Noir (<3 <3 <3). I should probably also mention that the serving was about the size of a typical restaurant plate. It was seriously a gigantic piece of fish.
In fact, the portions may have actually been a bit too much. I was already feeling full, and there was still a lot more to come. Specifically, a duo of chicharrón and meatball “caprese” supplied by Thundering Hooves grass-fed livestock in Walla Walla. I have never eaten a pork rind before, so I was a little apprehensive. Of course, as Hetherington explained, his chicharrón was actually a fancy version of the pork rind – roasted “shoulder/butt” meat, pan-fried after the fat was rendered to create a crackling, chewy glaze around the moist meat. As if the chicharrón wasn’t intense enough on its own, the pork was then covered with a potent chimichurri sauce – finely chopped red onions and parsley, olive oil, and lots of garlic and black pepper. I have to confess I only made it through a few bites before surrendering. The meatball caprese was even higher-concept, but much more satisfying. Loosely packed moist beef, stuffed with ricotta on a tiny nest of savory, basil pesto vermicelli. I was overfull at this point, but I somehow managed to finish it off (and particularly enjoyed those tiny noodles). The wine served with the duo was the best discovery of the night: Seven Hills Tempranillo from Columbia Valley. Buttery, dry and just about perfect.
The only real misstep was the dessert course, which was somewhat surprising given everything I’d heard about TASTE’s resident rock star pastry chef, Lucy Damkoehler. It was an oatmeal semifreddo, covered in more of that triticale tabbouleh from earlier, with a compote of rhubarb and huckleberry and a wicked strong basil oil syrup. I dunno, maybe I was too full to genuinely appreciate the dessert, but nothing quite seemed to gel for me (the dry triticale grains didn’t work with the texture of the frozen mousse and the basil oil was screamingly sweet). Also least of the evening was the Terra Blanca Late Harvest Riesling paired with the semifreddo, but again, I don’t have much tolerance for super sweet.
Still and all, I’d say the dinner was a great success. It was genuinely informative listening to the speakers from each of the farms and learning about the Salmon-Safe organization and Stewardship Partners – an evening of unabashed locavore love. Now if they could only work on those portion sizes…
There’s something about Le Pichet that always makes me feel at home — in France. Whenever I step inside Jim Drohman’s enchanting downtown bistro, I quickly forget my American troubles and my troubles with America and allow myself to travel abroad. This is usually followed by a genuine sigh of relief. The archetypal space is so remarkably authentic, it’s hard not to be completely transported by the illusion. The floor is dotted with small tiles, the walls are hung with old photo frames and chalkboards scrawled in Gallic script, an enormous mirror reflects your image behind the bar. Wine bottles and casks line every horizontal surface. And while Drohman’s second restaurant Café Presse may have completely stolen my heart, Le Pichet will always be my first love.
The dining is not exactly communal, but the small tables for two are arranged so closely together in the cozy space that you will inevitably strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. “What’d you get?” is not an uncommon icebreaker. Or: “Have you tried the moules-frites…?” Penn Cove mussels with bacon, leeks and saffron. The frites are crispy and golden and taste like Belgium. (They are also the best in town and should not be missed – order them solo with traditional french mayonnaise).
Le Pichet is casual and crowded during lunch, and tends to attract a more upscale scene for dinner. There are certain items on the menu that you can order all day (le casse croûte), and certain dishes that you can only get during the evening. Of these, Drohman’s most famous spécialité de la maison is easily the poulet rôti à votre commande, and for good reason. His remarkable roast chicken is only available upon request, is only served for two, and takes an hour to prepare. Juicy meat, golden crispy skin, seasonal vegetables marinating in savory drippings… it’s everything you dream a roast chicken could be. I’ve heard tell that you can phone in your order in advance, but that seems like blasphemy to me. Enjoy a plate of charcuterie or cheese (or both) and take your time exploring the immense wine list. Why on earth would you want to get back to the States so quickly?
Despite his classical approach, Drohman continues to innovate and expand his technique. I’ve noticed in particular that quite a number of curry dishes have been showing up on the menu lately. During one visit this summer, I was utterly floored by a plate I had never seen before, one salade aux pommes de terre marinées, aux pissenlits et aux lardons (marinated red potatoes tossed with dandelion greens, olives, radish, bacon and red wine vinaigrette). I couldn’t even imagine what this might taste like, so I was quick to order. It was probably the most intense salad I can recall eating. The bitterness of the dandelion greens was countered by the relative sweetness of the vinaigrette and magnified by the spiciness of the radish. The potatoes acted as necessary buffers between each bite of salad explosion. I honestly don’t know if I’d order it again – it was a bit much. More enjoyable were the house-made grilled chipolata sausages with cauliflower and saffron aioli. The coarsely ground pork sausages were hot and spicy and the cauliflower florets were roasted and crispy.
But now as the autumn approaches, I find myself craving the classics – particularly the gratin lyonnais, a simple and delicious french onion soup with gruyère that will warm your heart and fill your stomach. I love Le Pichet. It’s one of a handful of places that truly makes me grateful to live in Seattle.