Holiday Dinner 2008: Old World, New World
December 2008

In Seattle, like elsewhere, the holiday season is a time for oysters, truffles, and foie gras – and for tasting menus, which the city’s restaurants have only tentatively embraced. Seattle remains an a la carte, casual fare restaurant town; but in the days before Christmas and through New Year’s, diners look to celebrate. And celebration calls for a prix fixe.

Campagne knows how to do it up, Old World-Style. Their special December menu is seasonal and rich: oysters, truffled chicken dumplings, pork and lamb crepinette, Baba au Rhum. They charge $65 for 5 courses, with an option of wine pairings by Sommelier Cyril Frechier, who excels in pairing lesser-known French gems.

Their New Years menu is geared for celebration, dotted with caviar, truffles, and sweets. A recent holiday tradition is “Chicken in Half-Mourning” – stuffed with truffles beneath the skin, roasted and served for two. When it’s sliced and carried through the dining room, the aroma gets everyone excited – and usually a number of orders tumble in after the first one is brought out. French as this may sound, it’s still the Pacific Northwest that we’re talking about…and what’s on the plate is a mix of Old World and New.

Campagne is perched over Pike Place Market, with a grand view of the glowing market sign, the water, hills and the sunset. Even in the morning, the dining room is romantic in its promise of what’s to come later that night: delicate French fare, spun from Northwest ingredients, that’s being prepped in the glass-walled kitchen flush with the quaint cobblestone alley that runs along the restaurant’s front.

Daisley Gordon has been in the kitchen since 1995, and executive chef since 2000. He travels to the motherland at least once a year, and returns to the restaurant with a breath of French air – most recently from Provence and Bordeaux. French cuisine is the starting point of Gordon’s dishes, and like any French chef worth his fleur de sel, local ingredients are his muse.

He was inspired early on by Joel Robuchon’s Cooking through the Seasons, compiled in the mid-90s from the chef’s newspaper columns on local, seasonal ingredients. It reinforced Gordon’s belief that simple things done well can make for extraordinary eating experiences – like la puree pomme de Robuchon, which elevates potatoes and butter to new heights.

The popularity of French cuisine in it's most luxurious, buttery manifestations has waned, but French-American lives on – notably in Daniel Boulud's ever growing repertoire. But it could be said that French influence has pervaded America through the locavore movement, which grew out of the west coast. Gordon's personal definition of French cuisine is to the tune of what’s become recognized stateside as the California cuisine gospel. But in his case, it’s firmly rooted in French techniques:

“There are certainly traditional, signature dishes that you can replicate. But really it’s about the approach to the product, and the approach to putting things on the plate for balance, texture, complexity, harmony. Once you learn that approach, wherever you are, you find whatever the best product is close by, and you apply that approach to whatever the product is and you get something fantastic. ”

Taking the best of what's near you, and turning it into something special: so French, and slowly but surely, so American. Aim for the simple but extraordinary, says Gordon. It is the holidays, after all.

Note: Were he serving these recipes as a holiday tasting menu, Gordon says he’d finish the night with his take on Baba au Rhum, with wild plums that have been soaking in rum and sugar since being harvested in August. “I really like a bit of strong alcohol at the end of a meal. Certainly you could have something sweet, or a Cognac or Armagnac, but this kills two birds with one stone.”