Note: 12/2010 – This restaurant has now closed.
I know the Food Dude rightly requires a few visits to each restaurant we critique, but in this case I thought it was fair to waive this requirement. The prior review, from 3.19.05, is still the gold standard. The other reason is that no one should have to sit through a restaurant experience as bad as mine at Bleu more than once. And yet, in pursuit of due diligence, I did return a second time. There will not be a third.
The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland is a good idea, and of course we want to applaud all good ideas grounded in the mission to teach as many people as possible the values of good food. So it pains me to have to say to all those hard working students: the Institute is failing you. A good cooking school would not allow its students to serve anyone, let alone paying customers, meals such as I was served. At one point as I was contemplating the effect on my stomach of biting into the barely cooked, gummy and stuck-together pappardelle, I asked myself, “Would the staff eat this?”
But the cooking is only part of the experience of course. On my first visit, wait staff twice dropped plates while we were having lunch, our waiter’s apparel was stained and we were kept waiting a full half hour for our entrées. (On the second visit, service ran smoothly and without incident.)
The décor is pleasantly uncluttered and contemporary, the white leather and mahogany chairs comfortable, and the two rooms spacious enough for diners to have a conversation without stress on the vocal cords.
Bleu offers a menu that is changed once every three months. during lunch, diners can choose either three courses at $10.95 or five at $14.95. Dinners are five-course dinners are $24.95. The dishes are based on mostly seasonal, local ingredients.
The Fall menu is as follows:
• Puree of Butternut Squash
•Tomato Basil. My Tomato Basil had chunks of canned tomato in a thin tomato cream soup. Not inedible, but about as tasty as a doctored store-bought version. And why canned tomatoes when good fresh tomatoes are still available?
•Spice-rubbed roasted Quail with orange glazed carrots, chermoula, black beluga lentils and quail essence. Did not sample.
•Manila clams and Totten Blue mussels steamed in fish fumet, white wine, saffron and chorizo with Parmigiano-Reggiano crusted baguette and saffron oil. Two mussels and one clam in a bland broth with a burnt baguette.
•Chive crepe with wild mushroom ragout, roasted shallots and herbed goat cheese puree. The crepe was pale and rubbery, the mushrooms (they seemed reconstituted from dried specimens) lacked any liquid or ragout as advertised, and the herbed goat cheese puree, which at first look I thought was mayonnaise, was spread under the crepe in a quantity so abundant to be off-balance.
•Radicchio and curly endive with marinated fall radishes and English cucumbers in a dill-buttermilk dressing with thyme oil. Did not sample.
•Frisee, red potatoes, fried croûtons and hard cooked egg in a sherry and smoked bacon vinaigrette. Did not sample.
•Applewood smoked rainbow trout with arugula, parmigiano-reggiano cheese and shaved fennel in a lemon-shallot vinaigrette. I wish it had been just smoked trout; it was actually a puree with a mayonnaise-like creamy consistency that overwhelmed any subtlety the fish may have had.
•Field greens and herb, a blend of local, organic lettuces and herbs with heirloom tomatoes, yellow and red bell peppers in a shallot-mustard emulsion dressing. Did not sample.
•Halibut lightly floured and sautéed in brown butter, lemon and parsley with purple pommes macaire, braised leeks and sautéed green beans. Did not sample.
•Grilled pork tenderloin sandwich served open face on fried crouton with caramelized red onions and whole grain mustard cream. The pork tenderloin was burned black at the edges, as was the large crouton.
•Cornish game hen vol au vent, fricassee filled puff pastry with batonnet of fall vegetables and wild mushrooms. One of things Bleu seems to find most difficult is dough – pastry or otherwise. In this case the texture was more like pie dough, with a firm bite, than light, flaky with fine buttery folds as you would expect. The hen and mushroom filling in the pastry doughnut-like hole was dry.
•Vegetarian pappardelle, housemade herbed pappardelle pasta set on rainbow chard with tourney vegetables cooked etuver with tomato coulis. The pasta folds stuck together, were barely cooked and completely inedible. The chard was next-to-raw, as was one of the two carrots.
•Vanilla Crème Brulee, a standard performance but fine.
•Cream puff, a pate a choux shell filled with vanilla pastry cream dusted with powdered sugar on chocolate sauce drizzle. It arrived collapsed, not puffy at all, with a bland filling and even blander chocolate topping.
•Pear galette, a pate brisee folded freehand, filled with poached pears set on caramel sauce and finished with honey-mascarpone cheese. The pastry was like a rich, heavy butter cookie. On my second bite I tasted salt. There’s that problem with getting the dough right again. Often there is a layer of frangipane or buttery cream beneath the cooked fruit to provide a rich counterpoint to the play of sweet and tart in the fruit. There wasn’t any in this one.
•Chocolate soufflé, with warm vanilla crème anglaise, came out sunken with the texture of cake and a weak chocolate flavor.
There are values inherent in a solid Cordon Bleu course, such as respect for ingredients, a striving for a balance and a mastery of technique, that sadly are not in evidence at Bleu. Despite being a training ground for students, Bleu should still expect to be judged as a professional restaurant since that is what it purports to be. At this level of performance it should close down and not re-open until it can consistently deliver even just moderately good food. A choux pastry is a simple thing, but to do it justice requires lots of practice and attention. It also helps when the student has direct experience eating a few sublime examples of the dishes. It does nothing for the education of the students to allow them to think what they are serving is the real thing.
Bleu’s purpose might be better served as a restaurant that strives to perform at a high level with just a few simple but comforting basics. I’d be happy to find a downtown restaurant where I could reliably find a really good roast chicken, a sole meuniere that is cooked just right, a dish of tender, elemental pommes vapeur or crispy frites, a garlicky soupe de poisson Nicoise and a tarte tatin served in those broad, think pizza-like slices as you find everywhere in France (but they’d have to work on that pastry problem). Any cooking student who can satisfyingly deliver those has achieved something of which to be proud.
Address: 921 SW Morrison Street, Portland Or. 97205 Google Map
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 6:00am-5pm Website.
Those interested can read Food Dude’s original review here.