A Night at Le Pigeon

June 27, 2011

I think I first heard about Le Pigeon drinking some post softball game beers at Amnesia Brewery.  A fellow food enthusiast mentioned that this was the place to eat in Portland.  Since I am an avid food dork, I immediately went home and did Google search and learned that the Chef at Le Pigeon, Gabriel Rucker, is kinda the bomb and among other things, won the James Beard best rising star award in 2011 .  After about a month of endless chatter to Ben about Le Pigeon and James beard, I finally made a late reservation for a Friday night.

Immediately after walking in the door we were greeted by friendly staff and seated across from each other at a community table.  The cozy location has long dark wood tables and a bar surrounding the three chefs hard at work in the kitchen.    At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about spending our romantic evening in close quarters with others, but after a few minutes we started chatting with our neighbors about their deserts and got some great suggestions.  We had a dialog about the food and about the restaurant and suddenly our two person meal turned into a five person dinner party.

At the waiter’s suggestion, we started our meal with the gnocchi and foie gras.

Gnocchi with trout roe, broccoli and creme fraiche 
Foie gras with artichoke, green pepper corn, and brioche 

Both starters could only be described as special but the gnocchis really stood apart. Gnocchi is a dish that I have had in a range of places – from Cinque Terre, Italy to my great grandmother’s Bay Area kitchen. I feel like it’s safe to say that I have had my share of  gnocchis, but this was the only time that I can say that the dish was truly unique.  The broccoli and what I assumed was dill? had a very powerful green taste at first bite, but after chewing for a moment the pillowy texture of the gnocchi and the creaminess of the creme fraich dominated the palette.  Just when I thought my tasting journey was almost over, I was surprised with a splash of salty from the trout roe.

One of the very helpful waitresses pointed us toward a bottle of Xinomavro to share with our main course.  I had never tasted a Greek wine before and was excited to try something that was, again, unique to my palette.  The only way that the staff at Le Pigeon and I could describe the wine was “weird, but in the best kind of way”.

For dinner Ben ordered the Lamb and I had the Beef Cheek Bourguignon.

Lamb with green garlic risotto, pepper, and fennel 

Beef Cheek Bourguignon

Just like the starters, both dishes were fantastic but I think I liked Ben’s a little better.  The green garlic risotto had small pieces of radish which gave it a little pop.  And the fennel on top was pickled…with curry.  The bite of the acid from the fennel mixed with the creaminess of the risotto made the lamb dance on the tongue.

The best part of the meal was the only unpictured course from Le Pigeon, which may be a testament to how delicious it was.  Not unlike our other two courses, dessert had that combination of tastes that really gave the dish complexity.  All the desserts on the menu that evening seemed to have some savory component.  Our choice, the honey bacon apricot cornbread with maple ice cream was no exception to this rule and was brought out by Chef Gabriel himself. Because we were one of the last customers in the restaurant (we had a late reservation) he spent a little bit of extra time talking to us.  After gushing about the meal and about how happy we were with our night, he hooked me up with a sweet Le Pigeon T-shirt.  He was great fun to talk to and it was so inspiring to meet someone who is so accomplished, yet so down to earth.

If you haven’t eaten here yet, you need to put this place on your dining bucket list. The location is small and intimate; the prices are reasonable for the quality of the food; and all the staff are fun, knowledgeable, and very unpretentious.  The menu seems to change regularly, so I will definitely be back.  Furthermore, I often pass by Gabriel Rucker’s second restaurant, Little Bird, on my way in to work.  After literally having the best eating experience of my life at Le Pigeon, I know a lunch at Little Bird is in my very near future.  See you soon Little Bird!

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