Friday, June 28, 2013


Finally, I made it to Le Pigeon's globally acclaimed Little Bird, the one everyone always asks me if I've been to... but hadn't until now.  I do wonder if Portlandia didn't filch the avian theme from Gabriel Rucker's restaurants when they came up with the lark of "putting a bird on it".  First came Le Pigeon, and more recently Little Bird.  It's not new, but as his restaurants seem to follow a European holiday schedule, every time I was "home" in Portland either late summer or Christmas, they were closed.  This European feel carries over in ambiance and menu as well; this is Little Bird Bistro, after all.  A French bistro with an avalanche of Portlandness that creates its uniqueness.

Here is much more casual than the Pigeon, its room spacious and airy  with high ceilings covered in hammered tin, the decor following an obvious avian theme with multi-colored birds painted on the walls and decorative bird cafes aloft.  Ironically, (or perhaps subconsciously) we didn't order any poultry.

    Two sizable salads were worthy starters, and while perhaps they lacked a bit in differentiation
between the two (greens with cheese), they were both abundant and balanced.  Mixed greens were gently anointed with a zippy banyuls vinaigrette and dusted with shavings of goaty Le Chevrot.  Even better for me was the mountain of sweet butter lettuce tossed with a saucy mustard dressing, glass-thin slices of radish and wispy peashoots.  Spring produce had yet to burgeon full-force in Oregon, so this was a nice seasonal nod despite the chilly, nor'easter-type cloudburst that was pummeling down outside.  Perfectly apt for the weather, another
 starter was easily big enough to serve as an entree.  Big, plush mussels rose above a rich and zesty pernod-inflected tomato broth, deeply redolent of fennel, of salt and sea, and swathed with two tender lobster claws,  liberated from their shells.  Use the mussels shells, however... or a spoon, or the crusty baguette provided to each table - whatever you can find to sop up every droplet of the broth that really can be described as nothing less than profound.  This comes with a quaint red-and-white checked paper cone of kettle cooked potato chips: hearty, thick cut chips that I didn't quite feel with the soup.  A nice tender hunk of bread is more useful.

Entrees held all that momentum, hearty enough coming off of a late-to-arrive spring but with elements of the warmer season just around the corner.  A juicy hunk of pork shoulder was glazed in tangy sherry, served with tender young kale atop kernels of roasted corn and fingerlings smothered in manchego.  A handful of mild seared padron peppers crowned the affair, comforting enough to cut any
 of winter's residual chill with the lightness of summer summer produce additions.  Chicken-
fried trout was a close as we came to eating bird, this hefty specimen's flaky flesh almost as meaty as poultry.  It took a spin from a milanese, crusted in a thick golden shell and littered with a festive scatter of herbs, pickled carrots and cukes.  These brightened the richness of the crispy coat, but the surprisingly dense, sweet trout was almost enough of a balance on its own.  A side that didn't go particularly well with anything we order was appreciated on its own worth.  A side dish of wild mushrooms sauteed with chunks of mild chicken and marrow sausage could've served as a small lunch if you paired it with a crusty hunk of bread and a cool Lambrusco.   The sausage was mild and sweet, like a weisswurst, whereas if I'm going to have sausage I prefer it wish a meatier kick, so most of this got doggie-bagged- somebody would like it in a sandwich. And speaking of sandwiches, you mustn't visit Little Bird without meeting its burger.  It's the same  burger that ranked #37 in the nation (that may not sound so notable, but only 50 were even mentioned), that Le Pigeon used to offer in only limited quantities (smartly, they recently lifted this quota).  At Little Bird, too,  they'll make them as long as you order it.  It's an impressive sandwich, impaled with a steak knife and paired with a lemony dressed salad or fries (if you decide for fries, peanut allergies be damned.  The canola oil
 version offered pales in comparison).  The chips held over from the mussels jumped in at this point to provide that classic fried potato partnership.  The bun is a chewy, flour dusted roll so superior to those squishy brioches upon which burgers are too often mounted.  This one holds up to the house-ground burger and its luscious slaw of iceberg lettuce, pungent melted aged white Tillamook cheddar, and aioli, mustard and ketchup, all made in house.  It is a thing of wonder; it is Rucker's baby.

Dessert had us torn between an ile flottante and a dainty sounding apricot givre , but I was enticed by the former's elderflower so we went with that.  Like a tiny, s'more-ish Baked Alaska, the soft, marshmallow-y ile was flottante atop a crunchy sablee in a shallow pool of  fruity cream, filled with a marvelously fresh strawberry ice cream and topped with pristine, perfect berries that tasted height-of-the-season.  And with that, the torrential rains outside ceased and the last moments of sparkling sunbeams broke through the clouds before it set.  Nobody can rain on this parade.

219 SW 6TH AVE.
(503) 688 - 5952

Friday, June 21, 2013


I'm not sure I can amend my initial review of this restaurant too much.  Tertulia scores really high marks all around, and even though chef Seamus Mullen was cooking for a charity event out in New Jersey that night, the quality suffered for nothing.  And this time, I was in a large group, so we got a chance to sample a great deal of the menu.

So off we went.  On my own, I'd never order charcuterie, but ruffles of jamon serrano, cured 18 months, were cut so delicately thin they almost melted in the mouth.  Picnic-style, a half dozen deviled eggs sported jaunty toppings augmenting
their novelly flavored yolks, from a pungent mustard version crowned with a Marcona almond to a smoky romesco-tinged one draped in anchovy.   We had two skippable plates: one was a salad of crunchy wax beans, whose whole-leaf chicories were a little tough and unwieldy, too heavily dressed especially in contrast to the earthy vegetables.    The other, a large rectangular
flatbread with a cursory topping of somewhat dry, flavorless wild mushrooms and wads hard-to-stay-put goat cheese begged the Spaniards to leave pizza to the Italians.

Everything else was quite literally spot on.  We tried an array of the seasonal daily specials, but couldn't resist some of the menu stalwarts like the coles di bruselas (they've tried to take these off the menu spring and summer but there was too great a backlash. In illustration, we cleaned up three orders.) and alcachofas a la brasa, the latter of which boasted
hints of smoky bonfire char and were served with a mustardy anchovy aioli.   Fried pimientos di padron glistened, slick with oil and crumbles of sea salt.

    Of two cephalopod dishes, I preferred the chopitos: squid with sugar snaps, the inky sauce pungent with garlic and absolutely lip-smacking.
  A second paired octopus with white beans and a kale pesto, nutty with Marcona almonds.  Lots of seafood and beans, in fact:  fat clams riddled with melted onions in a saucy stew of pintos was hearty but lean.

        Arroz alla plancha was probably the most unexpected dish, arriving rolled up like an enormous inside-out burrito, the golden soccarrat acting as a  wrap to encase a decadent stuffing of snails and mushrooms  flavored with aromatics and jamon iberico.  Skewers of meaty cobia spanned a crock of steaming peppers and charred spring onions, dripping with garlicky juices.  The meatiest dish of all was the grilled
 short ribs, but I always find these tough when they aren't braised, a superior method of cooking which coaxes them into juicy, tender morsels instead of grilled, which tends to dry out these chewy cuts.

    And that, my friends, as the hour latened, left little room or ambition for desserts, which is always a tragedy, because there is a spectacular selection of traditional sweets like crema catalana, a custardy flan with a sugar scorched crust, and more novel options like a chocolate covered almond cake sided with (very American) peanut butter ice cream.  But even missing dessert left no sense of wanting.  Tertulia satisfies your very soul.

      359 6th Avenue
      tel (646)559-9909

Monday, June 17, 2013


I took it on the directive of Wylie's old pastry chef from WD-50 (who is hardly old) to hit up Dufresne's new gastronomic destination, Alder.  A seasonal new American retains his hallmark quirk at a slightly gentler price point and notably casual-er atmosphere.  He also keeps things a little dark, though while Alder is substantially brighter inside than WD-50, it still touts a shadowy dimness.  The ceiling is crossed my long rustic planks, that also serve as acoustic buffers, keeping the noise level in tune with the lighting.  Menus are rubber-banded across rectangular wooden boards (made of alder, I'm sure), so there's rubberized theme reoccurring throughout the space: the forgiving texture of the tabletops and the bands around the water bottles labeling it NY tap.  Wood and rubber, Wylie-style.
The cocktail list is in the hands of Dufresne vet , Chaim Dauermann, and though the drinks are NY priced, they are much more generous than your average city tipple.  So much so that that some are offered as "shorts"- 1/2 mugfuls that encourage sampling.  All have painfully punny names, but the drinks are tasty enough to anesthetize any residual angst.  Our Hey Rube was a locavore tweak on a Pimm's cup featuring rhubarb for an aqueous and hydrating refresher.

There are a trio of bites kicking off the menu that are on the small side, but the rest of them are recommended to share, so we were pushing excess in ordering four.  But it's hard not to want to try a lot of everything on the menu.  And not to toot my own horn, but we put them down quite valiantly.  Thanks to a complimentary little appetite-sparker sent out from the kitchen, a fresh, pickled giardiniera whet my appetite and illustrated the careful balance between tradition and novelty that would prevail throughout the evening.  Our first dish was a

gorgeous grilled asparagus, chopped into bite size bits and nestled into a creamy, gently cooked huevos revueltos  studded with dense flakes of pale smoked trout.  The charred spears and the smoke from the fish dazzled against the mild creaminess of the eggs, dusted with a salty crunch that tasted of bacon and inoculated with a rich brown butter .  My first thought after licking the bowl clean was to wonder how often they will change the menu here:  I would return eagerly just for this dish.  That said, I wouldn't necessarily order the Grilled Octopus again.  I was hoping for a lot more char from it, instead the tartly flavored tentacles, tender as they were, seemed more steamed or braised, although this showcased well the watercress salad with its thick smear of deliciously nutty cashew pesto.

Now I forget which, but recently some food publication noted that cauliflower is the new brussels sprouts, stealing some of the thunder from my favorite and now ubiquitous crucifer.  Dufresne's serves his T-bone Style, steak knife included.  Or maybe more like chicken fried steak-style: the menu describes the partially dismantled head as fried, although its tenderness belies that.  Served with a thick, lemon-almond puree flecked with crunchy bits of cocoa nibs, with curling shards of lardo that melted into the extreme heat of the florets.  This is as main-course as a vegetable can get.  I mean, it's not even close to vegetarian.  That said,  little on the menu is.  On this visit, a vegetarian would be relegated to a beet salad and some pub cheese... so they'd better not be lactose intolerant.  But this was of no hinderance to me or mine.  

Our final course was a quartet of bronzed scallops, golden crisp and softly translucent within, tumbled with  fried mini-hushpuppies I wished had tasted more strongly of corn, tasty though they were with crunchy crusts and dense smooth centers that mimickeding the scallops.  Sauteed leaves of fresh swiss chard kissed with kimchee keep things kicky without going too Korean.  Tiny tufts of delfino decorate the medallions, a rare enough relative of cilantro that tastes a bit of parsley and chervil.  

    Those rubber-banded menu planks didn't list dessert, which were instead rattled off by our accented server, making it hard to figure out exactly what was being offered- let alone at what price.  I know there was a cheesecakey something with cherries, and vanilla ice cream with chili oil (I'll let some other blogger tackle that one).  Ah yes- the root beer pudding... that was tempting.  But with full enough tummies, Alder's sweet side will have to be assessed at a later date.  Hopefully, they'll still have that asparagus around when I go back.