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Eating Out

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Campagne Restaurant

consumed on 7/12/05

I finally made my first trip to Campagne. It was my birthday and I was torn between eating at one of my favorite restaurants or trying someplace new. In an effort to not write about the same five restaurants, over and over again, I’ve been trying to branch out and be adventurous—so Campagne won out.

It was a beautiful day, by Seattle standards, so we opted to sit outside in the courtyard patio. We started off with a round of cocktails and a small plate of gougeres. I was surprised that the gougeres were served cold, and was equally surprised that they tasted really good cold. They were airy and perfectly puffed and had an intense gruyere flavor.

Per usual, we ordered a ridiculous amount of food but I wanted to try a variety of things to get a feel for the menu. Our first appetizer was Oeuf et Saumon Fumet ($14), which was described as a “soft cooked Araucana egg in aspic with smoked salmon, wild salmon caviar, creme fraiche and brioche”. When it came to the table I just about died. It was flat out gorgeous; a perfectly cooked egg encased in a quivering, vibrant yellow aspic. What a devastating disappointment to find that the aspic was entirely for show and void of flavor. The creme fraiche was frothed until light and airy, which was pretty, but tasteless. The only flavor on the plate came from the small portion of luscious smoked salmon, the salty caviar eggs and caper berries. It was like going on a date with a really, really hot guy, then discovering he’s more boring than watching paint dry.

Our next course was Tartare de Boeuf ($10 for the small portion). This was a “raw hand-diced rib-eye with sweet onions, capers, Dijon mustard, raw egg yolk and herbs served with arugula, parmesan and pommes frites a la canard”. First off, I love beef almost as much as I love pork. And the mention of potatoes and duck fat in the same sentence makes me swoon. Needless to say, I was positive that I would love this dish. When the plate came it was, again, a beautiful presentation. The golden fries were perfect, identical rectangles stacked in log cabin formation, but when I bit into them they were soggy, starchy and tasteless. The side of arugula was overdressed and oily. The tender beef was formed into beautiful quenelles, but tasted bland despite the addition of capers and onions. At this point I was starting to question whether or not it was me. Did my taste buds pack up and leave on vacation without telling me?

The last appetizer, Assiette de Charcuterie ($13) was the saving grace. It was an assortment of pates and meats “served with cornichons, Dijon and stone-ground mustards, and house-made pickled vegetables”. The country-style pork and chicken liver pate was rich with a strong and pure liver taste. The veal tongue was incredibly tender and packed with beef flavor; this was what I wanted the beef tartare to taste like. My favorite was the duck and rabbit rillettes. It had great texture and consistency with a solid duck taste that wasn’t over-the-top liver-y and it was almost sweet… maybe a touch of Cognac? The small scatter of fleur de sel on the plate was all the accompaniment it needed.

For dinner, S ordered the Ris de Veau ($27), “roasted veal sweetbreads on house-made spinach noodles with crispy pancetta”. I personally have a hard time with sweetbreads. It’s not the taste, but rather the chalky texture combined with the oily aftertaste that coats your teeth and tongue. That being said, if I was a fan of sweetbreads, I would have loved this dish. The generous lobe of sweetbreads was nicely browned and accompanied by tender, heavenly spinach noodles in a light cream sauce with generous hunks of crisp, salty pancetta.

J ordered the Boudin Blanc aux Deux Pommes ($25) which were “black truffle flecked chicken sausage served with roasted apples and potato puree.” The sausages were impossibly delicate; like gently poached chicken mousse. The sausage texture was great but the truffle flavor was barely detectable. The sausages came with a slightly sweet reduction sauce, roasted apples and a smooth, but non descript potato puree.

I ordered the Cailles aux Feuilles de Vigne ($23), “grilled bacon and grape leaf wrapped quail with roasted black mission figs and red wine-port glaze”. When I first saw my plate I burst out laughing. The odd way it was plated made the two quail look like they were having sex; stacked one on top of the other with the bottom quail’s legs askew. At first I didn’t like this dish. It tasted under seasoned and the glaze was greasy and watered down—not at all like the rich, flavorful sauces I’ve come to expect from French cooking. The dish grew on me after several bites, but it never managed to blow me away.

My favorite plate of the night ended up being the Assiette de Fromage ($12). Someone in the kitchen really knows their cheese. It was a well thought-out and enjoyable assortment of cheese—all were paired well, perfectly ripe, and delicious. We had a luscious Pierre Robert triple cream (cow), Mimolettevielle cheddar (cow), Idiazabul (sheep), Tome St. Loup (goat) and Persille de Beaujolais, which was a pungent blue (cow). We also shared a delicious Tarte aux Peches ($8) dessert. It had a nice crust and great peach flavor accompanied by a compote of perfectly ripe strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. And cardamom ice cream to die for.

Overall, it was a very pleasant evening. The waitstaff was professional and attentive. The open-air courtyard felt romantic and summery (and very un-Seattle-like). I really wanted to love Campagne, but too many of the dishes left me wanting. The value was a bit skewed in the wrong direction; so for what we got, it seemed pricey. If I’m going to pay that much for a meal, I want it to wow me. Is that too much to ask?

Campagne on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Ballard Seafood Festival

consumed on 7/30/05

A few weeks ago I attended the Ballard Seafood Festival for the first time. Until my friend K told me about it earlier this year, I never even knew it existed. I’m one of those people who hears the word “festival” or “fair” and runs the other way. I’m not a crowd person. In fact, I haven’t attended a Bite of Seattle in something like fifteen years.

I decided to check out the Ballard Seafood Festival because of two things:
1. I like hanging out with K, who invited me along
2. K’s friend was in the lutefisk eating contest. How could I pass up a lutefisk eating contest?!

Unfortunately we got there (seconds) too late and the lutefisk eating contest was over—who knew it would only last fifteen minutes? We were disappointed but hungry, so we turned our attention to the food. The weather was ridiculously hot that day so our group decided to get food and bring it into the beer garden, with its tented tables and mercifully cool misting system (which I now want to install in my apartment). This is what we sampled:

Sofrito Rico
Tostones with garlic sauce – The tostones didn’t hold up very well under the heat and were slightly wilted. They didn’t compare to the first time we had them, but the garlic sauce was strong as ever and delicious.

Bavarian Restaurant
The Bavarian bratwurst made me very, very happy (surprise, surprise). We had two kinds: beef and pork. Both were smothered with hot-off-the-griddle onions and sauerkraut. The sausages were amazing. Oddly enough, I preferred the beef one to the pork.

Kaleenka Piroshky
Piroshky are perfect fair food—hand-held, delicious pockets of dough stuffed with savory fillings. We had one with salmon and cream cheese, which was surprisingly good with lots of dill and a good salmon flavor. The second piroshky we sampled was stuffed with ground beef and cheese. Mmmm. Cheesy, burger goodness in a sealed bun.

Gyros! Gyros! Gyros!
This was one of the better lamb gyros I’ve ever had. Perfectly cooked, flavorful lamb on soft, soft pita with a great tzatziki sauce.

The Hi-Life
The Hi-Life had an impressive grill going and were cooking up shrimp and chorizo skewers on pita with romesco sauce. This was by far the worst food we ate and the only disappointment of the day. The pita bread was insultingly stale and the romesco sauce, normally pungent with garlic, tasted like it was made from soggy cardboard.

Ballard Chamber of Commerce’s Alder-Smoked Salmon Barbecue
This was a big cook-out in the corner of the festival. We split a salmon dinner plate that came with alderwood smoked salmon, coleslaw and a slice of bread. The salmon was tender and flaky with a wonderful alderwood flavor. Paired with the sweet and creamy coleslaw, it was near perfect.

We ate our food and had a few beers, but were melting in the sun. To stave off heat stroke, we headed to the People’s Pub which advertised air conditioning. I ordered a deep fried pickle, because I have always wanted to try one. I think this is one of those things you either find delicious or disgusting. I thought it was highly unusual and had a bit of a disconnect eating a hot pickle, but it was very good.

I may have to revise my opinion about festivals; it’s a lot of fun to sample so much food in one day!

Friday, August 12th, 2005

Sunset Supper at the Market

consumed on 8/12/05

The Sunset Supper at the Market is an annual fundraising event for the Market Foundation which takes place in the Pike Place Market. It was my first time attending an event here and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The main street was closed off to car traffic and was filled with restaurant vendors, tables and a stage.

The gates opened at 7pm and we were there by 6pm, but there was already a line of at least sixty people. My astute friend noticed there was a second entrance listed on the map. We took a chance and walked down to find that there were only five people waiting in that line. Score!

When the gates opened we got our little plates and started meandering through the booths. At first there weren’t too many people around and we loaded up on food and found an area to stand while we sampled the food. Our second round of foraging fared much worse. By this time there was a sea of people and we were standing in lines for ten to fifteen minutes just to get a sample bite of something. Luckily after round two we were pretty full so we found a spot to sit and listen to the band.

About an hour or so before the event ended we decided to check out the desserts. This was probably the best part because almost everyone had left at this point, so we were able to sneak into the reserved seating areas and sit down with our desserts.

I think there were about seventy food and drink vendors, but we only made it to the following:

Canlis / Canlis Salad – Romaine, bacon, Myzithra and Romano cheeses with a minty lemon dressing. Very good, but extra points for serving the salad on skewers which made it easy to eat

Brasa / Bbq’d Smoked Brisket – decent, but not outstanding

The Art Institute of Seattle / Panzanella Salad – average as far as panzanella salad goes, but the students were really nice and talked about the program and restaurant

1200 Bistro / Fennel & Pork Sausage

McCormick & Schmick’s / Clams and Crab Cakes – good but generic

Dragonfish / Korean Bulgogi skirt steak – I go up and down with Dragonfish because they add sugar to everything, but this was fantastic. YUM!

Racha / Lamb Satay

Bandoleone / Yucatan marinated short ribs – good, not too sweet

DeLaurenti / Assorted cheeses – cave aged gouda was my favorite

Earth & Ocean / Rabbit terrine with white truffle oil – sounded so exotic but tasted bland

Ponti Seafood Grill / Cilantro lime scallop ceviche with habanero & grilled corn salsa

Andaluca / Chilled green gazpacho with Dungeness crab

La Panzanella / Caponata

Grand Central Bakery / Savory vegetarian swirls – Beautiful idea, poor execution as they were greasy and cold

Ten Mercer / Smoked sturgeon on crostini with herbed avocado cream cheese and roasted red pepper vinaigrette

Six Seven / Smoked black cod on crispy plantain with Asian aspic, Whidbey island micro greens – this was my favorite dish of the night

The Ruins / Chocolate dipped brownie

Etta’s / Peppermint patty chocolate cookies with peppermint cream dipped in chocolate

Procopio Gelateria / Rose gelato

Rose’s Chocolate Treasures / Gold dusted chocolate roses

icon Grill / Hot Fudge Sundaes – very good. So good that afterwards I went searching for the guy to get the recipe