Vic and I arrived in Seattle very late on a nippy October night in 2002. I was somewhat aware of his plan to gently entice me into the reality of the change from Baltimore (Charm City) to the quieter and smaller Salem (Cherry City), Oregon. Good plan – give me a taste of two of the northwest’s great cities−Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Cosmopolitan Seattle prides itself on world-class dining, hotels, museums, performing arts and scenic vistas that rival those of San Francisco, Hong Kong and Vancouver, BC, to name a few. Portland, gateway to the incomparable Columbia River Gorge, is a little more “granola” but a gem of a city nontheless. Restaurateurs have discovered Portland as a more affordable metropolis than other cities on the West Coast to open a new eatery. Lucky us!
To be honest with you, the fall visit worked and I was looking forward to living on the West Coast. Scarcely five weeks later our Baltimore home was on the market and I was driving west in our Volvo wagon with two dogs and my sister, Wanda, to help with the driving. Vic stayed back to clean the empty house and fly out with Mikki, our little terrier we rescued from the streets of Fort Worth, Texas.
Moving across town to a new home is stressful enough and your life is upside down for months, but this transition was a doozy. We spent three months in a kitchen-equipped hotel room with a German Shepherd and two terriers during one of the Willamette Valley’s rainiest winters – 47 straight days of rain. I won’t drag you through the ensuing months, but I can tell you that it was almost two years before I gratefully embraced our new hometown.
Flash back to that nippy October in Seattle. Even though we had a long day on the East Coast and a 5-hour flight, getting some sleep was another matter. Seems Vic had deviously booked us into a strategically placed hotel room with a breathtaking view of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the city’s famous Space Needle. Counting sheep was no match for these.
The first meal I enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest was Oeufs en Meurette at Café Campagne in Downtown Seattle near Pike Place Market. “Two poached eggs served on garlic croutons with pearl onions, bacon and champignons in a red wine and foie gras sauce served with pommes frîtes,” read the menu. Read no more, this is it! I know that Café Campagne’s menu offers many heavenly entrées, but I’ve never been able to separate myself from their “Oeufs en Meurette” experience on subsequent visits. It’s a “must eat” adventure! Although it’s a common dish in France, I’ve never seen it on another menu this side of the Atlantic.
After grazing around Seattle with our eyes as well as our appetites, we pointed our rental car south toward Portland for another adventure closer to our soon-to-be new home. As we neared the city center with one of us driving and the other with a map, we took in as much as we could of the city scenery as we made our way to The Benson Hotel. My first hint (“hint” hardly describes the impact) of the social demographics and political atmosphere, was a painted mural-size ad on the side of a multi-story building advertising a Gay Dating Service. Nothing shy or demure about Portland, one of the country’s most progressive cities.
The Benson is a grand hotel dating from 1913 and decorated appropriately. It’s the kind of hotel that “has graciously welcomed celebrities, CEOs and U.S. presidents.” Located on Southwest Broadway, The Benson allowed us to leisurely stroll for shopping and restaurants and is near the famed Pearl District. We’ve returned to Portland many times since to explore its alluring treasures. Portland was to become our new cosmopolitan escape. The City of Roses, as it is often called, happens to be the most environmental or “green” city in the US and the second in the world, just behind Reykjavik, Iceland. Of interest to foodies, Portland is also the birth home of James Beard, a pillar in the history of American Cuisine. He lovingly referred to his formative days in Oregon and how they shaped his attitude toward food and its preparation.
We said farewell to Portland at dawn on Sunday to drive to Salem. Salem is about a 45-minute drive from Portland when traffic is light, but we stretched it to about 5 hours by including Tillamook on the coast in our itinerary. I distinctly remember an odd thought entering my mind as we drove around Tillamook Bay: “How am I going to get fine coffee and tea here in the Northwest?” I had been fortunate to purchase fine coffee from The Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company that had been in business since 1895. Then I spied a shack on the beach that read “ Donna’s Taco Stand and Espresso Bar,” and my mental lightbulb lit up. “Ah ha, we’re in the land of Starbucks in Seattle and Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland. We’ll be just fine.”
While Salem can’t compete with cities like Seattle and Portland on size and cultural offerings, it is an easy-going town and it’s close to so much. Portland, Eugene (host of the Oregon Bach Festival), the coast, Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge, skiing, fishing, clamming, crabbing, to name a few. To the west are Sisters and Bend, two draws in Western Oregon, not to mention scores of smaller points of interest on the high desert of the southeast corner of the state. A little farther south are Crater Lake, Medford and Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Northeast Oregon is known for its pristine wildernesses, outdoor sports and cities such as Pendleton and LeGrande.
Oh yes, the eggs! Whenever a dish like Oeufs en Meurette gets under my skin, I’ll go to great lengths to learn how to recreate it. After much searching, I found two great recipes that I use to make my own. The first is by Anne Willan, published on epicurious.com, and is from her book, Cooking with Wine. The second one came from an article by Matthew Amster-Burton in the Pacific Northwest Sunday Magazine, published by The Seattle Times. The article is a witty read, and the recipe, adapted from Glorious French Food by James Peterson, is simply called Oeufs en Meurette, at home. The “at home” had me hooked.
The elegant oeufs en meurette at Café Campange are offered with a side of, if you will, pommes frîtes. I laughed heartily when I read Matthew’s comment, “Since you’re not likely to make French fries at home, a great accompaniment for these upscale eggs is Tater Tots.” TATER TOTS! OK, it’s still amusing, even though I enjoyed my first and this making of oeufs en meurette with Tater Tots. Crow eaten and wiping egg off my face. Tater Tots, hmm! (You will notice that I was too embarrassed to include my Tater Tots on the plate in the photo.) Forgive me, Ore-Ida.
Both Ms. Willan and Mr. Amster-Burton agree that this is not a terribly difficult dish since the elements can be made ahead of time, but it is not a dish to be hurried. You have 1) toasts or croutons, 2) poached eggs, 3) a garnish of baby onions and mushrooms and 4) a hearty red wine sauce. Each could even be made a day ahead. Read your recipes carefully, let the steps mull about your mind and then roll your sleeves up and begin. You and your diners will be immensely rewarded.
Matthew does remind us that Café Campagne elevates their version with demi-glace and foie gras, two ingredients rarely found in home larders. Commercially made demi-glace can often be found in gourmet stores. Foie gras, on the other hand, is not something you will likely find at your supermarket. In addition, there’s a line drawn between those pro foie gras and those against foie gras.
Poached Eggs in a Pinot Noir Sauce or Oeufs en Meurette
For the toasted croutons:
- 8 slices of rustic or sourdough bread
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) butter
- Cut generous rounds of the bread using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter or a large glass. (Rounds should be slightly larger than the poached eggs.)
- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and toast the circles until brown.
- If you have to do this in batches, you should wipe out the skillet and add fresh butter to avoid any burning.
- Set aside until ready to assemble.
For the garnish:
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) butter
- ¼ pound (114 gr.) mushrooms, sliced (I found fresh morels and gleefully sprung for them)
- ¼ pound (114 gr.) bacon, diced
- 18-20 baby onions, peeled (I substituted small cippolinis, as you can see in the photo)
- Melt half of the butter in a saucepan.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender.
- Remove the mushrooms to a plate and add the rest of the butter and the diced bacon and cook until brown and crisp. (I find lowering the heat and cooking the bacon slowly gives better results.)
- Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to the mushroom plate.
- Add the onions and cook while shaking the pan frequently so they brown evenly, about 10 minutes or so. Use your eyes as to when colored enough.
- Drain off the fat and return the mushrooms and bacon to the pan and set the pan aside.
For the Sauce Meurette:
- 8 large, fresh eggs
- 1 bottle Pinot Noir* (I used Erath from Dundee in Yamhill County)
- 1 1.5 ounce (42.5 gr.) container Demi-Glace Gold®, mixed with 1 cup (240 ml.) water, or you can use 1 cup of stock of your choice. Beef would be more authentic.
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- A bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, parsley stems, and a bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml.) black peppercorns
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ ounce (14 gr.) dried porcini mushrooms
- Add all the ingredients above except the eggs to a large shallow pan.
- Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is concentrated and reduced by half, about 25-30 minutes.
* Wine for Cooking: “For six months in the year, we live in northern Burgundy, where the local pinot noirs are inexpensive and appropriately light for this dish. Equally good for meurette would be a pinot from the northern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Avoid the “blockbuster” type of heavy pinots that come from the hotter climes of California and Australia.” ~ Anne Willan
For thickening the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) butter
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) all-purpose flour
- Using a fork, mix the butter and flour until homogeneous.
- Whisk in the butter and flour a bit at a time until the sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon.
- Strain the sauce into the pan with the garnish. Press hard on the solids in the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Bring to a boil and taste for correct seasoning. Adjust if necessary.
Poaching the eggs:
- Cooks Illustrated offers an excellent method for poaching eggs. Fill a 12-inch (30 cm.) skillet almost to the rim with water and bring to a rapid boil.
- Break the eggs into individual small-handled cups such as coffee or tea cups.
- Gently lower the lips of the cups into the boiling water and tip in the eggs.
- Cover and remove from the heat.
- Poach for 4 minutes for medium-firm yolks, 3 minutes for softer yolks.
- Remove from the water with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with several layers of paper towels.
Note: You can poach the eggs a day ahead and store in some ice water in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve them, simple place in rapidly boiling water with a slotted spoon for 20-30 seconds to reheat. Anne Willan poaches her eggs in the wine and stock (demi-glace mixture) and sets them aside. If you do this, I suggest you reheat them slightly in boiling water. (When working with poached eggs, it’s a good idea to have more than you need in case of breakage.)
- Place two toasted croutons or toasts on each plate, then a warm poached egg on each and top with the sauce and garnish.
- Serve with a side of crisp pommes frîtes or Tater Tots, along with a nice green vegetable such as asparagus.
If you’re serving these for brunch, mimosas would be fitting. If you’re having breakfast for dinner, enjoy with your favorite Pinot Noir, as we did.
Vic and I revisited Café Campagne in August of 2010. My review is here.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities