Monday, February 06, 2012

Truffle-licious Eugene Weekend

When the folks at Travel Lane County asked if I'd be interested in coming down to the Oregon Truffle Festival to forage for the elusive Oregon white truffle, I answered as fast as I could hit the "reply" button on my mail program and type "Yes, please!" Not only did it afford the chance to learn the secrets of the trade from experts, which I'd get to write about for an upcoming article in FoodDay, I'd have a chance to explore the city of Eugene, a place I hadn't been in far too long.

The festival was taking place at the Eugene Hilton, a large convention-type hotel near the Fifth Street Public Market, an indoor shopping center that opened in the seventies in a redeveloped industrial building. Originally a funky blend of hippie dress shops, coffee houses and import shops, the market's become a still-local but a bit more upscale home to restaurants, gift shops and artisan wares and is the anchor of the newly designated 5th Avenue Historic Market District.

Luckily for Dave and I, our designated lodgings were just a couple of blocks away in the far smaller but much cozier Campbell House bed and breakfast (left), a historic inn built in 1892 that is tucked in a quiet neighborhood of Victorian homes at the base of Skinner's Butte. Comfortable rooms, most with ensuite bathrooms, are nicely appointed but not crowded with Victorian gewgaws. It has a restaurant on the premises, as well, though we didn't have a chance to try it out, but breakfast came with great coffee, warm house-made scones and an entrée (scrambled eggs one morning, breakfast burritos the next).

Since we weren't due at the festival reception for a couple of hours, our first stop after checking in was just down the street at Steelhead Brewing. A mainstay of the market neighborhood for more than 20 years, it's roomy, comfortable place with a good selection of Northwest beers and a more wide-ranging menu than is found in most brewpubs. And it's a great place to work out the kinks from the road over a pint or two.

On our one free evening we met friends for a drink and apps at Sfizio (top and right), a fairly new place just north of the river across the Ferry Street Bridge. Though its situated in a strip mall, the glow from its warm and woody interior and the scent of Italian goodness wafting from within put to rest my initial skepticism about the location. Plus it had the imprimatur of Jason French (one of the friends we met) who said its chef, Alex Bourgidu, had been his very talented sous at Ned Ludd.

The cocktail list was well-edited, and many of the drinks featured house-made infusions and bitters. The apps were terrific and reflected a seasonal bent as well, like the grilled sardines with roasted white beans, fresh ricotta-topped crostini and house pickles. The rabbit sugo, which the table split, was an intensely flavored combination of braised rabbit and root vegetables with papardelle and shaved ricotta salata. This place is definitely at the top of our go-to list for dinner on the next trip down.

Crazily, after an evening opener like that, we'd made reservations for a late dinner at Marché, one of Eugene's top-rated restaurants. On the ground floor of the 5th St. Market, this very French bistro is casual and intimate with spot-on service that doesn't blink an eye (or turn up a nose) when you request splitting an entrée. Though of course by that time we'd had (another) appetizer—a dozen fresh oysters—and a cocktail, as well as ordering a bottle of wine with that entrée. (We were within walking distance of our B&B, after all.)

The plate we split was a gorgeous hunk of perfectly tender pork shoulder on a bed of toasted farro, with candied kumquats and an olive tapenade alongside, an inventive combination that was earthy and the perfect foil to the frigid temperatures outside. Again, I'd recommend this place without hesitation if you're planning a trip down, or even if you're just traveling through…they also serve breakfast and lunch, which I can only imagine would be just as wonderful.

Campbell House, a Country Inn, 252 Pearl St., Eugene. 541-343-1119.
Steelhead Brewing Co., 199 E 5th Ave. 541-686-2739.
Sfizio, 105 Oakway Center, Eugene. 541-302-3000.
Marché, 296 E 5th Ave., #226, Eugene. 541-683-2260.


Anonymous said...

If ever in Eugene again, Sweet Life Patisserie is an absolute must! :) It's my weekness.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Anon…I'm putting it on the list!