Le Pigeon: Leading the West Coast, Nose-To-Tail Charge

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Foie Gras Portland


Certain restaurants have developed reputations for nose-to-tail eating, where no part of the animal goes to waste. The most famous example has to be St. JOHN Restaurant in London. Chef-owner Fergus Henderson literally wrote a book on the subject, then followed up with “Beyond Nose To Tail,” since pig snouts and bone marrow apparently weren’t good enough. On this continent, Martin Picard of Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon is known for his passion for pig. On the recent food porn episode of “No Reservations,” Picard and his crew cooked every single part of a hog in a different manner and reassembled the beast on a butcher block. Gabriel Rucker, chef-owner of Portland’s Le Pigeon, may not have a monomaniacal devotion to pork, but he does deserve acclaim for delivering one of the most compelling dining experiences on the West Coast, with many market-driven dishes involving organ meats, including dessert.

Restaurant Specials Portland
The intimate space features only three tables and limited seats at an L-shaped bar, making Le Pigeon one of the toughest reservations in town. Rucker knows how to build anticipation, announcing tantalizing dessert options on a copper wall-mounted menu.

After downing a bottle of Rogue Brutal Bitter Ale ($5), which was surprisingly mild, given the name, our group of 11 people split every starter on the menu.

French Food Portland
Pork Belly ($14) was world class, a crispy brick of hog meat plated with ribbon-cuts of tripe, heirloom beans, herb oil and a cascading dollop of fennel jam.

French Food Portland
Argentineans are probably best known for blood sausage, but it’s hard to imagine a gaucho producing a version on par with Chef Rucker’s Blood Sausage ($13). The slab of anonymous hog parts featured a crisp exterior, a luscious core and balance from earthy lentils, bits of sweet pear and shaved black truffle. The herbaceous topping added an intoxicating aroma.

French Food Portland
The starter with the boldest flavors might have been Rucker’s Buffalo-style Sweetbreads ($14), which were perfectly fried, with thin sheathes. The jumbo-sized thymus glands were slathered with hot sauce and paired with pungent blue cheese slaw. The blue cheese probably could have been dialed down, but this was still a serious improvement on wings.

Foie Gras Portland
Pot au Feu is a classic French dish, but Chef Rucker took the concept to another level by substituting Foie Gras ($16). His perfectly seared slab of duck liver was served in a bowl of broth with cipollini onions, mushroom caps and shredded duck meat. This was a rich dish, but well worth the blocked arteries.

French Food Portland
The appetizer that gave the most people pause was the Beef Heart ($12), but it turned out to be relatively tame, a gritty cut of short rib-like beef balanced by diced golden beets, hard-boiled egg and horseradish cream sauce.

The only non-stellar starter lacked meat. No surprise. Still, the salad of julienned endive ($9), orange, blood orange, olives, Pecorino and shaved red onion was fairly well balanced in terms of texture and acidity.

French Food Portland
We each ordered our main courses separately, but everybody was willing to share their hearty portions. My entrée consisted of Duck ($26) that was pan seared at high heat so the outer layer of fat caramelized and the fat closest to the meat practically melted. The slices were terrific, cooked to an ideal medium-rare and sprinkled with a rich dice of dates, chestnut and bacon. On the bottom of the bowl: a lasagna-like sweet potato gratin that soaked up the duck juices to great effect.

French Food Portland
Chef Rucker’s cooking is highly seasonal, but if there’s such a thing as a signature dish at Le Pigeon, it’s probably the Beef Cheek Bourguignon ($21). The cut of beef was so tender it was practically quivering, bathed in rich stock with traditional vegetables.

If you’re feeling less adventurous, the menu also featured a Strawberry Mountain Farms Burger with potatoes for only $9, a bargain option that just had to be good.

Dessert Portland
The single greatest dish of the night, and probably my favorite dessert of all-time had to be the Honey Bacon Apricot Cornbread ($7) topped with a scoop of maple ice cream. The apricot-studded square of cornbread was kept sweet and moist from the honey. Then everything was sprinkled with candied bacon bits. The hot cornbread played perfectly off the cool ice cream. This dessert was magical.

Dessert Portland
Another knockout dessert: Foie Gras Profiteroles ($10), liberally slathered in caramel sauce and sea salt. The foie gras was cool and creamy, which perfectly complemented the sweet caramel, gritty sea salt and tender pastry.

Dessert Portland
A traditional Crème Brulee ($7) was well executed, served with a “Bonus Pot de Crème (in this case, decaf coffee) and a shortbread cookie. Several tablemates work in the coffee industry, and they still found the decaf coffee crème convincing.

Dessert Portland
The Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake ($7) with a cocoa nib tuile was Le Pigeon’s least exciting dessert. At another restaurant, the cake would have paid larger dividends, but not when placed in a line-up with honey bacon apricot cornbread and foie gras profiteroles and with cocoa nib tuile

Dessert Portland
With the check, we each received a complimentary square of fudge. Nobody needed it at this point, but we each greedily devoured the chocolate.

Until Laurent Quenioux opens Bistro 1100 in Los Angeles (if he ever opens Bistro 1100 in Los Angeles), I’d be hard-pressed to name a West Coast chef who takes as many risks and produces flavors as bold as Gabriel Rucker.

Le Pigeon: Leading the West Coast, Nose-To-Tail Charge

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

One of my favorite restaurants of all time. I would visit Portland again, just to eat there!

I was in Portland recently for work and managed to have two dinners at Le Pigeon. The pot au feu and sweetbreads were amazing dishes; Rucker is a tremendous technician to pull these off. And you’re right that the beef cheeks are sublime.

I meant Joshua. 🙂 Also, next time we’ll reserve the whole restaurant, not just 1/2 🙂

Gabriel, it was great to revist this dinner! Had a blast that night, truly memorable. Next time you are in Portland we are going to Toro Bravo & Pok Pok. – Matt

Matt,

Toro Bravo and Pok Pok are definitely at the top of my to-try list. Thanks for introducing me to Le Pigeon, Bunk Sandwiches and Clyde Common.

I was lucky enough to eat at Le Pigeon last fall, but there were only two of us, so we couldn’t sample like you could! Thanks for the memories.

Thanks. Did you try any of the same dishes?

stunning, i must go here…one day…

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