Friday, February 27, 2009

Tuesdays with Market

For this trip to our friendly Pike Place Market, the quirky culinary epicenter of the Emerald City, we visited Café Campagne for their incomparably affordable happy hour. I've always had an affection for French cuisine, starting back in my first kitchen class in culinary school, Skills Development. I'm sure my face took on a glazed look as the chef, Anthony Natale, began to talk about something called fond de veau. That was over ten years ago, and French cuisine is no less interesting to me today, in spite of the way it is sometimes disparaged as overly fussy or old-fashioned. If you go to France you realize it is the food (maybe not veal stock!) that ordinary citizens, working class folks, eat. One of my favorite stories to tell my students is how fascinated I was by reading the school lunch menus posted outside a grammar school in this or that nameless French city, during the two years I spent abroad in Europe after culinary school, chasing the ghostly dishes I was indoctrinated by in culinary school.. "What kind of food do French schoolchildren eat?" I always ask. The entire class always gets that faraway look that is or should be a message to the teacher that what they are saying is not readily apparent. "French food!" I exclaim, to only slightly more recognition. Oh well. It's still funny to me.

Anyways, Café Campagne's happy hour is the cheapest in town. $1 mini lamburgers exploding with juice and perfectly cooked- unlike the raw-in-the-middle burgers I forced my friends to eat last weekend after misreading their doneness while grilling them in the dark after a beer or two. There are also $1 pate sandwiches. Both are served on gougeres, which are the same thing as a cream puff, minus all the sweet stuff. Fantastic. There are also decent pommes frites served with garlicky aioli. Perhaps the highlight was the tarte flambee, which in this case is a flatbread smothered with a thick layer of melted onions, a dab of crème fraiche and a healthy smattering of crisp bacon strips.

Maybe the best part about this happy hour is that there is a selection of a dozen or so French wines of moderate quality offered for $2/3 oz pour! What a great way to sample several regional wines in one sitting for not much money. Granted these are not the prime examples of French wines, but they are tasty and pretty much as they should be. White Burgundy is a touch flinty and utterly lacking in oakiness. Bordeaux is grapey and tannic. There are also two sparkling wines offered.

Just to put things in perspective, when we went to Il Bistro two weeks ago, the happy hour bill came to $50. This time it was $30 and the food was better, the server infinitely more skilled. Campagne is a fancy, top-notch restaurant. Their happy hour is an absolute steal. Go for it.

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