Le Pigeon, a tiny little eatery on East Burnside in Portland fills up nightly and packs them in communal style with a presentation kitchen that makes for good entertainment.
Having lived in Portland for nearly eight years, I question why it took me so long to visit this eclectic destination. I probably turned down three invites before finally making the trek for dinner with my friend Lisa and husband Marc in tow. It is one of those places that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, and if you are a local, you’ll soon become a regular.
Chef Gabriel Rucker takes French fare to the next level through classic French technique and eclectic northwest ingredients and transforms them into carefully executed, creative dishes. He is a modest soul, playing down his recent James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year Award.
Rucker, a Napa native has managed to keep the concept interesting and creative six years running. Rabbit pie with Dijon ice cream (a locals favorite with a teaser picture below), beef cheek bourguignon, pork tongue with refried lentils, poblano cream and radish are some of the typical dishes found on his menu.
Another concept that many enjoy is Rucker’s tasting menu: five courses for $65 or seven courses for $85. I wanted to order it because tasting menus are intrinsic, notably displaying the chef’s passion. It’s sort of like pulling the covers back and seeing the soul of a chef. You really get a close and personal understanding of what they are made of as they pull out all of the stops to showcase their skills. I didn’t order the tasting menu this night but expect I will on my next visit. Le Pigeon has a few rules—tasting menus require the participation of your entire party and they are sticklers on substitutions, so you’ve been forewarned!
Appetizers run $10-$18, with entrées at the $20-$30 mark. The wine list frequently changes and glass pours are a bit on the pricey side ($10 on average) but Sommelier Andrew Fortgang has constructed a well thought out wine list to thematically match the food. And when you visit Le Pigeon, try experimenting with new producers and new grapes you haven’t tried before. Andrew has plenty of options and he is more than willing to help you select one.
This month he offers a Brooks Winery Riesling flight of three 2oz. pours for $14. He also has a good selection of apertifs, beer, dry sherry and cider, and probably one of the best selections of glass pours and demi (half-bottles) I’ve seen in a while. I wish more restaurants carried larger selections of half bottles.
To compliment dinner, we ordered a Kir-Yianni Estate Ramnista Vineyard red (Lisa’s selection) at $52 a bottle. The Kir-Yianni is made of 100% Xinomavro, an indigenous grape variety of Greece. Pronouncing the grape sort of sounds like “Sonoma Row”, but you’ll get a better sense of the correct pronunciation here.
The Kir-Yianni Ramnista was quite enticing—bold, rich, complex and intense with a good amount of acidity, balanced tannins, red fruit flavors and hints of olive and spices. It made for a good pairing with beef cheek bourguignon. Any meat dish on the fatty side needs a wine like this to cut through the fatty cut of beef.
As for sweets, go for the Foie gras profiterols with caramel and sea salt, or the honey, bacon, apricot cornbread with maple ice cream. A Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez Sherry would pair well with the later. Andrew’s list changes often, so if you can’t find them on the list, ask him to find you a perfect pairing.
This restaurant is a hit, especially if you enjoy sitting at the counter and enjoying the action unfold in front of you while you sip on a good glass of wine. All of the dishes and wine selections were simply amazing. Hit Rucker’s sister restaurant, Little Bird Bistro too. It is still on my “must visit” list and I am sure many of you have already made the trek. I hear the Le Pigeon Burger and fries rock.