Seattle Sound 6/08: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Looking beyond French toast for the city’s best brunch

In his gritty Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain describes brunch as “punishment block for the ‘B’-Team cooks” who salvage “old, nasty odds and ends” to create dishes that sometimes include hollandaise, which he warns “is a veritable petri-dish of biohazards.”

For this month’s Dish-Off, I set off to four restaurants with Bourdain’s and my own prejudices in tow, hoping to find a brunch that might change my mind. Like Bourdain, I eat everything, sometimes subjecting my stomach to some weird stuff. But while I love food, I don’t love brunch. Why? My reasons are myriad.

First, brunch is like a glorified Grand Slam breakfast. More often than not, it’s French toast with sausage; heck, even my non-cooking dad managed to break out the Wonder bread to make that every Sunday morning. On my recent visit to Veil, the cooks have brioched the staple up, serving a lavender-scented version that seems to suit the setting; with pastel-colored flowers and pink touches amidst floating white fabric, I feel lost in the layers of a bride’s wedding gown. But where’s the beef? For another twelve bucks, you can order a trio of Moroccan-spiced lamb sliders (yum!) that are crying out for a side of potatoes. I find those, rustically prepared, in a duck confit hash (16 dollars more) that makes me want to scream in joy. But I can’t. The food is good, but the space, like the service, is a bit cold, and I’m silenced by its subdued nature.

Veil on Urbanspoon

Second, I don’t like the word “brunch,” and eating it cheats me out of a meal. (Hey, who’s up for “linner”?) Was brunch created for the hangover crowd wanting an excuse to start the day late with a Bloody Mary? If that, in fact, is the purpose of the meal, Moxie got it right, as I love the Mama Lil’s pickles they drop in the drink. But, while this restaurant might be more romantic at night, by day the dark walls, cement floor, and lounge music (set just a little too loud) give me a bar vibe. I’m surprised when the kitchen sends out two similar dishes fitting the atmosphere: chilaquiles and the chicken enchilada special. Clearly a step up from what I can get at nearby Peso’s (perhaps the true hangover joint), but still reminiscent of pub grub. And while my casually dressed and demeanored server is enthusiastic, I wish it were the menu items in this “food with nerve” eatery that had just a little more moxie.

Moxie on Urbanspoon

Third, I’m not fond of live jazz accompaniment to my meals. Seeing a sign  that promises as much outside of Serafina makes me tense. Will the music be loud? Relaxing? Good? Once inside, though, my tension eases. I smile as I see the brilliant color of fresh-squeezed orange juice in a pitcher at the bar. A table by the window is perfect. And the food is consistently good. Crisp ham baskets (filled with polenta and mushrooms) topped by poached eggs are playful, and sea scallops with Prosecco-grapefruit sauce are a special treat. I especially like the strata con uovo: prosciutto bread pudding with eggs over easy, sitting in a rich spinach sauce. Wow, that sauce is really green! In combination with the whites of the eggs and the reds of the delicate tomato slices, I’m transported to the Italian countryside. Serafina—meaning “fine night” in Italian—is alive on this fine morning: color jumps out on the table and in the tapestries, people talk and laugh, light streams in, and servers smile and nurture. I’m comfortable here. I can linger. And—would you believe?—in the background, the jazz is actually pleasant.

Serafina on Urbanspoon

Fourth, brunch is basic. I was an inn-sitter in Vermont, so I’m known for making a wicked waffle or salmon-and-egg scramble. Why go out for what I can whip up at home, I wonder, until I go to Café Campagne and taste the oeufs en meurette. Now we’re talking. A couple of beautifully poached eggs sit on garlic croutons floating like lilypads in a pond of red-wine foie gras sauce. The pearl onions, bacon and mushrooms add intense flavor. Let’s see: I’ve got eggs, bread, meat…all I need to complete the quartet are potatoes. I’m admiring the dish so much, I overlook the basket of pommes frites until the waiter asks if I want garlic aioli with it. This is best of the brunch bunch. This meal is hearty, and I’m happy. Café Campagne also does croques and quiches accompanied by fresh, simple salads I like. It’s a great place to get a good start in the city, though with its bustling (yet thoughtful) service and noisy atmosphere (silverware clanging and voices climbing), I wish Café Campagne was a little more campagne and a little less cité.

Cafe Campagne on Urbanspoon

Oh, and in case you had any doubt, Café Campagne also serves French toast. In fact, it’s what the two people seated next to me both ordered. I don’t understand why couples ever order the same exact item—especially French toast—when there’s so much more on a menu to explore. And four French toasts after my brunch binging, I still don’t understand why people normally in a rush stay hushed in line an hour or more to pay such a steep price for something so simple to make at home. C’est la vie! I’m happy to have found a couple of options I like next time someone insists I leave home to head out for brunch. Just hold the hollandaise, please.

WINNER: Serafina.

(Note: Veil is now closed.)



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