Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Dessert That Changed My Life: Le Pigeon

Finally, my dream come true: bacon for dessert. Someone call my cardiologist and tell him, "Screw you and your pork fat moratorium, buddy. Jesus Lord, there's bacon for dessert!" We're talking an apricot, honey and cornbread cake topped with a scoop of maple ice cream and sprinkled with sizzling cubes of bacon, their greasy goodness slowly melting the ice cream. I was so shaken by my reverie that the nice couple at the table next to us had to snap the picture. My hands were trembling, my upper lip sweaty. She kept saying, "I know. I know. The first time you eat it, you know every dessert after that is just something sweet." Later, she told us we may have set a record eating that crumbly, salty pig honey (a new term, I think) in just under two minutes. The Ranger and I are nothing if not efficient.

Chances are Chef Gabriel Rucker stole a page from Voodoo Donuts, just down the street, after some ass-grabbing drunken night sous chefing around town. The Voodoo's maple bar topped with bacon strips is pretty damn good at 3 a.m. But this. This was a back fat slice of heaven.

For much of 2007, Le Pigeon and wunderkind Chef Rucker were all anybody talked about. He fit the bill for celeb Portland chef: freakishly young with sticky-uppy hair, highly tattooed arms and legs, a cooking school drop-out. At 25, he made the cover of Food & Wine magazine, named one of the ten best new chefs in the country. And then Gourmet got on board, and there went any chance of getting a reservation. But the buzz has simmered down a bit so we dropped in for some signature dishes including the beef cheeks which I had to order because I like saying "beef cheeks." And here's what's left of them, both right and left.

At first I was put off by the delivery: a huge blob of blackened meat. But that's what happens to beef after it's been simmered in red wine for 16 hours and then nestled on a little mountain of potatoes, carrots and caramelized onions. Now, Le Pigeon is a tiny storefront of a restaurant, the size of our bedroom, so when the plate was set in front of me, half the people stopped in mid sip and let out a collective "Whoa" because the smell was as intoxicating as the taste. Washed down with a bottle of something from Languedoc and Second Edition kissed her last remnants of vegetarianism adios (or is it adieu). What will the yogis think? Hell, who cares.

The Ranger ordered the skate which hugged a mash of potatoes, fennel and pork belly. Quite tasty, but no match for the huge blob of blackened meat. We've been arguing over who ordered the better dish all morning so that's a good sign.

For starters, we ordered the scallops with crab, radish, pickles and a sprinkling of pretty pink salmon eggs we enjoyed popping between our fingers (how very country bumpkin of us). A nice but forgettable dish, not unlike most blind dates. See, living in Fish Town, the Ranger and I have become shameless seafood snobs so if we don't know the captain that caught it or at the very least, the name of the boat, well then it's just not authentic. See what happens when you teach someone to fish. They bitch for a day. Everyday.

At Le Pigeon, the food is the experience, because the room is as loud as a hockey game -- not the place to romance someone or share a super secret like about, say, a rash -- and the service is just okay. When we arrived 10 minutes early (like eager puppies) we were politely told to take a walk and return at the appointed time. In other words, "Beat it, you no-name first timers with cheap haircuts and dog-hair covered fleece. You are not fit to decorate the premises." Ah, shucks.

This is just to say, that in life, as in's all about dessert.

1 comment:

Flutephobia said...

I, despite my foodlust, did not make it to le pigeon on my worst-portland-trip-ever trip. I did, however, stay at the ace hotel and eat at clyde common. Also ate at toro bravo, as per your suggestion, 2me. Maybe we passed each other on the street this week! xoxo