Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Gabriel Rucker isn't in the kitchen tonight.  And he wasn't at Little Bird when I was there, either, just a couple months ago.  But not to worry: this was simply unfortunate timing on my part, because when he's not at one, he's prepping at the other.  Plus, his capable squadron at either/or are keeping things quite up to snuff.  Rucker runs a tight operation- not only in terms of food quality, but the quarters are pretty tight, as well.  Every team member announces "Corner!" as they swing to and from the kitchen and into the dining room. Ironically, that of Le Pigeon (the big sister of the two) is comparatively smaller, size-wise, though somewhat pricer, and allegedly more formal.  Both feel typical Portland, however, in the best possible way.  They've mismatched china and silverware,  unclothed communal tables and the eclectic, rustic paraphernalia scattered throughout.  Here continues the
Portlandia-esque avian them, of course.  And formality is the farthest thing from the mind.  As a couple of abandoned bottles on an upturned
wine barrel outside illustrate, Le Pigeon is as ideal for a late afternoon beer with a friend as it is for a destination repast.
Service, too, can be a little lackadaisical, although extremely accommodating (when they get to you) and then welcoming, affable and genuine.  There may have been lapses between courses and delays even to receive our menus at all, but such nitpicking feels like dissing a friend who arrives five minutes late to a picnic.

Butter Lettuce with Blue Cheese, Radish and Chive
The menu descriptions don't always convey the most precise account of what will arrive on your plate, but so the element of surprise (one of the greatest aspects of restaurant dining) remains intact.  And wise you are to trust Rucker with his food, as we experienced nary a misstep, even without his immediate oversight in the kitchen.  Remembering the great, bountiful butter leaf salad from Little Bird, we ordered the Le Pigeon version, featuring a robust blue cheese buttermilk dressing, translucent discs of radish and a scattering of fresh, zippy minced chives.  A panzanella salad was more esoteric- virtually a study of its elements: a prawn; slices of chorizo; a crouton; sweet, tart wedges of plum, plated strategically
Spot Prawn and Chorizo Panzanella
Paris Mushroom Carpaccio
aside a thick smudge of a piquant puree.  Similarly elegant was the Paris mushroom carpaccio.   I'm not sure why it was called this, but it lived up to its glamorous, Francophilic nomenclature.  Slippery thin discs of raw oyster mushroom spanned the plate beneath a melange of fat chunks of lobster meat, juicy tidbits of orange, and plump corn kernels, all swathed in a rich, nutty flurry of shaved fois gras, and topped playfully with crunchy, savory spiced popped corn.  It was like a delicious mash-up of Ecuadorian ceviche surf 'n turf, deconstructed, and laid out flat.  I didn't know quite what to expect when I ordered it, but I sure was happy in the end that I did.

For entrees, a simple gnocchi celebrated peak-season cherry tomatoes in gold and ruby, nuzzling tender pillows of the potato dumpling under a frilly veil of queso garroxta.  It simply sang of summer.  With Portland summers, however, you can get away with, like we did,  a rich beef stew in the thick of August, with temperatures that were topping out at a crisp, comfortable eighty degrees.  That said, this dish could shine even more brightly come mid-November, when tender, slow-braised beef cheeks melting into salty, buttery mashed potatoes would cut through even the dankest rainy Oregon chill.  There are no side dishes to order, but this Bourgignon is accompanied with a little bonus crock of baked carrots, cooked to retain a bit of bite at their core, with a sprightly garnish of fresh parsley.
Beef Cheeks Bourgignon
The menu makes no note of this, but it's an appreciated addition.  The only other thing not described on the menu is the daily fish, but I'm voraciously glad I made that inquiry.  With this, I lost all regret for showing up on the one day Rucker does not (Wednesdays he's at Little Bird), because had I awaited his presence, I might have missed the sturgeon special, which was easily the night's standout dish.  A lustrous, meaty cut sauteed bronze and slathered in a decadent slurry of mushroom duxelles, hunkered on a plate bedazzled with plump blueberries, warm like pie.  They glistened like beads of onyx in an intense, soulful beef jus studded with tiny cipollini onions.  
Sturgeon with Blueberries and Beef Jus
 Hulking cross-sections of chewy, caramelized garlic were profoundly crisp-edged, and ate like thick-cut home fries: an umami triumph.  That plate got licked clean like nobody's business, and maybe had a little influence in our decision to bypass dessert.  But moreso, with a font of seasonal Pacific Northwest seasonal fruit literally dropping from the trees and vines, dessert options tended chocolatey and cakey, which is less my style.  Even a plum tart boasted a chocolate crust.  Although as we rose to leave, I noted the quaint little shot glass of espresso creme brulee and regretted my decision to abstain: with such diminutive portions I could've handled-nay, even reveled in, some chocolate.  But fois gras profiteroles would have had to have been guinea-pigged before I would've ordered it.  Aside from having topped out my fois quotient with the carpaccio, on an exquisite summer night, it just seemed excessive- but gauging from the flawless execution of everything else, something tells me, counterintuitively, that these too would have worked.  Instead, a final swig of our fine Greco di Tufo sufficed to finish our meal (and this was hard-sought after bottle, as the wine list tends towards the pricey side and our brilliantly gracious waitress babysat us through a painfully extended hem-hawing to arrive upon it).  

In a recent interview bu the Portland Tribune, Rucker was asked about expanding, given the vigorous success of both his restaurants.  His response was such a rarity in today's star chef-driven world:  "There's always this need in this business for people to open more, open more. Then you stretch yourself too thin. I already feel like I’m stretched too thin, doing what I’m doing. ... Portland already has enough restaurants, why not make the ones we have as good as we can?"  Which is precisely what Rucker has done.  Now if only I could manage a reservation that coincides with his schedule, so I could tell him so in person.  

 738 E Burnside St
(503) 546 - 8796

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