“Foie Gras”….”Lamb Belly”….”Foot and Tail Croquette”…”Beef Cheek Bourguignon”. Gee, where am I, in heaven? Nah, just Le Pigeon here in PDX, where the accolades have always come fast and furious for chef/owner Gabriel Rucker’s charnel house cuisine. Talk about respect for your raw material. If you’re a pig who happens to catch Gabriel’s eye, there’s a good chance that 95% of you will end up on his menu. w and I made the trek to GR’s offal outpost last night for my birthday dinner, and explored many and varied parts of God’s creatures.
I always like walking into Le Pigeon’s cozy, warmly lit dining room. Plus, now that they have started taking reservations, the crap shoot that was getting a seat there has become more like a sure bet. We had rezzies for a table at 7:30, but this is one of those joints that if there is a seat at their tiny ringside-to-the-kitchen counter, you grab it so you can check out the action on the stove and maybe get some input from those who are cooking your dinner. Seeing two perfect seats at the bar open up, we gave up the table and bellied up, which for this place is an appropriate metaphor. The menu was looking amazing tonight. I could have had each and every starter. But reason took hold, and with a glass if Loire Valley fizz in hand, we made the tough decisions. We wanted to make the evening last, so we went with two starter courses of two appetizers per course before our entrées. I know what you’re thinking, but too much has never been a problem for me, and w is very tolerant of my “ways”. The first two out of the kitchen were amazing. Of course you know I’m having foie gras if it’s offered, and at LP it usually is. This was maybe the best foie I’ve ever had. Two thick slices served on top of a buttery fig tart, the whole thing drizzled with pine nut syrup. Decadence defined, and a truly sensational dish. The other half of our first course was a plate of neon green garlic noodles with snails and ramps. Another success, the citrusy noodle sauce offsetting perfectly against the earthy snails, the pasta itself with a nice al dente chew.
So far, so fabulous. Next round we had the lamb belly with asparagus, peas, and pecorino and the toro on top of couscous with favas and radish. Both scored huge on our pleasure scale. We were talking with Steven “Bones” Anderson who was slinging it right in front of us about the toro. He highly recommended it, saying that the lightly seared toro (the fatty belly of the yellow fin tuna) was like fish foie gras. With its melt-in-your-mouth texture, he was dead on. Gabe’s cooking at LP, even with all the red meat worship going on, is actually very seasonally defined, and the lamb belly app was the epitome of spring seasonal eating. No meat is more spring than lamb, and the incredibly fresh asparagus and peas alongside tasted like they came right off the farmer’s market stand. This was another stellar dish, the assertive yet meltingly tender lamb belly and the crunch of the veggies…awesome!
The courses were being perfectly paced at this point, nothing coming too quickly, a nice break between dishes that gives you time to appreciate what you just had. This a hallmark of an attentive kitchen that communicates with its floor staff. I had brought along a 1988 Panaretta Chianti Classico to drink with our mains, and it was one of those sublimely aged reds that couldn’t have been drinking better. The dry, dusty-cherry, earthy sangiovese fruit that domestic sangiovese producers can only dream about with still sharp acidity that makes these Tuscan treats some of the world’s greatest food wines. Fantastic juice!
Our two entrées were just making their appearance, and they looked delicious,, even without taking a bite. w had the seared duck breast on top of chunks of pheasant, broccoli florets, and raclette cheese. This dish was so rich, teetering on the brink of too much (I can’t believe I’m saying that) but managing to just hold back. The duck skin was just-right crisp, the meat moist and tender. I opted for the skate, which was lightly breaded and pan-fried, sitting on top of, as Bones described it, an orzo “risotto” with pork belly bits and cauliflower. Surf and turf was never so tasty! A nice counterpoint to w’s duck, I loved the moist, fresh flesh of the skate. The green sauce surrounding it was piquant and played beautifully with the semi-rich orzo and skate.
Since I wasn’t going to have birthday cake for dessert, I happily settled for their creamy, sensuous crème brulée with a side coffee pot de crème. Both were so good, and this has to be one of the best crème brulées in town. Washed down with a couple of glasses of Frenchman Eric Bordolet’s ethereally delicious pear cider (a great finishing drink, btw, with only 5% alcohol), this capped an amazing dining experience.
I hadn’t been to Le Pigeon for almost a year, and was hoping for a great meal. Sometimes with all the hype a place gets, though, there is always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind “Is it going to what I hope it is? Are they coasting?” After this dinner, and on a night when Gabe was out of the kitchen, this was start to finish one of the best dinners I’ve had in Portland, so the answer is a resounding no! This is a tight kitchen that is absolutely nailing it at a high level, with an equally proficient floor staff helping everything flow seamlessly.
[Bruce Bauer over at wineguyworld is a regular contributer to the site]