What is food to one, is to others bitter poison.
Lucretius (96 BC - 55 BC), De Rerum Natura
For nose to tail eating in Portland there seems to be two places, there may well be more. Beast is one and Le Pigeon is the other. Beast is within walking distance of Clea and Tom's new house but we could not get a reservation. We did manage to get a reservation at Le Pigeon, the restaurant run by the young chef Gabriel Rucker. We ate there on a Sunday evening and Rucker was not at the stove. There is a counter around the cook area and it is possible to eat there on a walk-in basis. Other seating is at communal tables. Some find this annoying, we shared our table with a another couple and, other than the fact that many remark on it I found the arrangement unremarkable. The table settings are quaintly eclectic with mismatched antique flatware, I especially like the long thin tines more common on older forks. I learned this practice from Cecilia when I was in Scotland and we do at home. Plates were also a mishmosh of random patterns and styles but the wine glasses were of high quality.
Tom ordered the Duck, crepes, chestnuts and Swiss chard. Penelope and Clea had an Endive, goat cheese, boquerones (anchovies) and radish starter and shared an order of the Halibut. My grandson Jasper had a Hamburger, of which they only make five a night. The waitress explained that Rucker does not want Le Pigeon become known as the best burger joint in Portland so they limit their nightly output. We were there reasonably early and so were able to get one, Jasper enthusiastically claimed it was the best hamburger he'd ever eaten.
Having recently made them at home myself I had to have the Pig's feet starter. The Orecchietti, venison heart, rapini and pecorino was very tempting. I also planned to have the sweetbreads. Regarding wine: for Tom and I the hostess suggested and we shared a bottle of Domaine Courbis '05 from Saint Joseph in the Rhône valley. It turned out to be rather unexceptional and really was the only disappointment of the evening. Clea and Penelope shared a demi-bottle of Willamette valley Chardonnay which they enjoyed but which I did not taste.
Pigs Feet, foie gras, cipollini and egg. The basis of the dish was not unlike the pig trotters I made a few weeks ago, a patty of tender meat from the foot. On top of the patty of pig foot was the thinly sliced cipollini (onion). This was topped with a vinaigrette. On top sat a perfectly poached egg. The foie gras was shredded over the top and although there was not much of it it did give distinctive flavor to the entire dish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As a main course I had the Sweetbreads, scallop, salsify and citrus. I had never eaten sweetbreads before, though Jim Harrison has raved about them. Come to think about I don't know that I've ever eaten salify before either. Sweetbreads are harvested from lamb and veal cattle and come in two varieties; they are the thymus gland (throat sweetbreads) or the pancreas (stomach sweetbreads.) I assume I had veal , the ones I had were the oval shaped, and larger, the pancreas. To prepare them they are soaked in water for a day and then cleaned and sometimes blanched. Mine sautéed. Salsify is a root vegetable whose tender greens can be used in salads in the spring . The salsify greens were delicately piled on top with some small pieces of orange topped with a citrus sauce from the deglazed pan. The scallop sat to the side. The texture of the sweetbread is firm yet giving. It was excellent, the delicate flavors and textures of the sweetbread and scallop complimented on another beautifully. If I can find them locally I will try cooking them at home.
From the online reviews it seems that people either love or hate the place; the lovers are roughly in a two to one ratio to the haters. Some of the bad reviews obviously came from halfhearted omnivores or even misguided vegetarians not happy with the menu's emphasis on meat and offal. Most complained of the service which, for us, was very good. The hostess was perhaps a bit over enthusiastic but our waitress was there when you wanted her and otherwise left us alone, perfect.
As for me, I think Le Pigeon is great. I like the communal tables, the chefs cooking in the small but open space, the hip young wait staff, the creative menu and well prepared food all add up to something quite special.
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I cooked two other nights while we were in Portland in Clea and Tom's beautiful new kitchen. What a pleasure to cook on a high BTU gas stove, where we live now I cook on a broken electric stove that is only fit for the dump, you could not give it away. One night I made Pork with dates and dried apricots served on some fresh noodles and a salad. The recipe is from Reynaud's book Pork and Sons. I've made this twice now and this recipe alone has made the book worth its cost. The other night I cooked prepared Short ribs in coffee with chilies which we served with french fries and a salad.