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Primal-ish in Portland Part 2

December 18, 2012

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Le Pigeon

It should not come as a shock that I visited a French restaurant. Le Pigeon and its little sister Little Bird came highly recommended via all internet sources. It was a toss-up between the two, but we chose Le Pigeon simply based on the current menu.

Le Pigeon is quite tiny – I counted just over 30 seats, including those at the bar, overlooking the prep area. The main seating area is one long communal table. Personally, I love communal tables. My only advice is the sooner you make friends with your neighbours the less awkward the meal will be.

The service was welcoming and helpful from the start. When I inquired about gluten free options, our server went to the kitchen to check, and then came back with a marked up menu indicating exactly what’s gluten-free. Impressive.

My friend and I split the burger as an appetizer. It was cooked perfectly medium rare – thick, flavorful, juicy. Surprisingly, the butter lettuce that accompanied it almost stole the show. I know that sounds silly, especially coming from me. But I just couldn’t shut up about that butter lettuce. It was so vibrant and fresh. And the creamy dressing was delicious, and just the right amount. The bun was toasted nicely, or so I was told (I didn’t ask for bunless so that my friend could enjoy it).

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For the main, we each had the beef cheek bourguignon. I was elated it was gluten free as the last time I tried to order beef bourguignon elsewhere, it wasn’t. I must admit I was slightly hesitant to order the beef bourguignon because I have a thing about pot roast / braised dishes, perhaps because I order cows by the half. Unless done exquisitely well, pot roasts/braised meat have a tendency to all taste the same in the end. Luckily, that wasn’t the case here. The beef was very rich and flavorful, and certainly not one dimensional. The cheeks were incredibly tender. But this is what I loved about this
restaurant – the side wish again almost stole the show. It’s not that the main part of the dish lacked anything. It’s just that its sidekick was uncharacteristically good. The beef bourguignon was sort of deconstructed in that it was served on top of potatoes with a side of carrots.

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The carrots were served cold, which was odd, but kind of refreshing considering everything else was piping hot. But wow, those were the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. There was layered onion underneath – hard to explain, but absolutely delicious. And the potatoes were very creamy and had his unexpected underlying smokiness. They blew me away. Comfort food at its finest – I loved this dish.

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The wine we had was a blagny. Very tasty and paired nicely with the beef. For dessert, my friend had some foie gras profiteroles (caramel sauce, sea salt). Yes, you read that right. I tried some of the foie gras filling. It’s quite fitting that my first time ever having foie gras was in a dessert. I have no idea what it’s supposed to taste like. Obviously this was a sweeter take on it, but I quite liked the fatty goodness. Then again, I love all fats (fat is flavor), so that’s no surprise. Oh and at end of the meal, the bill comes with a dark foie Gras filled chocolate. The foie gras in the profiteroles is almost ice cream cold, which worked really well with the profiteroles dessert. But it was room temperature in the chocolate, so it melts and oozes out of the chocolate as you bite into it. Again, bursting with flavor. The other part of that dessert was some sort of hickory smoked cheesecake. Unfortunately it contained flour so I didn’t have any, resisting my friend’s exclamations of “you have to try this”. Apparently it was phenomenal. The profiteroles though were the best dessert my friend has ever had, by a longshot. I could see why.

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I ordered the Chocolat-Sarsaparilla Croquant (poached pear, caramel). The star ingredient was the sarsaparilla which is the plant from which root beer is traditionally made. The dessert really did taste like root beer – which was a unique treat. I appreciate it when when dishes have some unexpected element, and this one nailed that aspect. I wouldn’t say I loved it bough. It didn’t have enough going on other than that. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good, just not fantastic.

Overall, I had an awesome time. Restaurants like Le Pigeon are why I dine out. Friendly, warm service. Incredibly well executed food that goes beyond the textbook. Meaning it goes above and beyond being done “correctly”. It piques your interest and is memorable.

Highly recommended. It’ll be a challenge to find a restaurant in Portland that I’ll like more – and that’s saying something considering Portland’s food forward reputation. But that’s a challenge I’m up for… Although next time I might just start with Le Pigeon’s little sister, Little Bird.

Le-Pigeon-Interior_thumb1Le Pigeon on Urbanspoon


Mother’s Bistro

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Couldn’t leave Portland without doing brunch, right? Since it was a sunny day, we actually headed over to Veritable Quandary first, thinking it might be pretty, but for some reason they were closed. Mother’s Bistro was our rainy day fallback. Our plan C was Tasty n Sons. (What can I say, I travel prepared).

Mother’s is known for their brunches. But I was especially drawn to their claim of quality ingredients:

“We make everything from scratch, using the best possible ingredients Pacific Northwest wild salmon, Carlton Farms pork, Painted Hills beef and the finest European-style butter in everything we cook and bake.”

The restaurant is massive – I counted 4 rooms. It has an airy feel, is adorned with pretty chandeliers, and seems like a lovely place to bring your mother. Their mugs even remind you to “call your mother” on the back.

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Speaking with the server confirmed that Mother’s is know for the breakfast/brunch, so I stuck to that menu. It was refreshing how frank and opinionated the server was – and very helpful in helping me hone in on what to order.

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To start, we shared some chopped liver (“like pâté—my mother’s recipe—made with slowly sautéed chicken livers & onions, served with assorted crackers”). Forget the crackers, I just dove in by the spoonful. Good stuff, not amazing, but I’m not one to turn down liver.

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I then had the grilled portabella mushroom scramble (“grilled portabellas marinated in garlic, olive oil & balsamic vinegar, scrambled with eggs, fresh sautéed spinach & asiago cheese”), which came with a side of potatoes. That’s about as vegetarian as I get. It was good. Not mind blowing or anything, but enjoyable.

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My friend had the “Painted Hills” beef burger (grilled all-natural 1/3 pound burger on a potato bun, with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato & red onion, served with French fries). It was also tasty – the burger was nice and juicy.

None of the food that we had was very special. But again, good ingredients, and nothing to really complain about. What did blow me away was the Stumptown French press coffee. I am not a coffee drinker – I almost never have coffee. I’ll go through short-lived iced coffee phases in the summer, or will resort to some if I’m travelling and need a pick-me-up. But realistically, I almost never drink it. And then I saw this on the menu:

“Columbia El Jordan (Direct Trade): warm aromatics of nutmeg and cinnamon segue into mouth-watering flavors of black cherry, bergamot & ripe blackberry, which finish with notes of honey and fig.”

Uhm. How amazing does that sound? I was totally sucked in. We shared one large French press. It was a revelation. First of all, it was the first time I’ve ever been able to drink coffee black. I didn’t even put cream in it. The coffee was neither bitter nor harsh. In fact, it was smooth. And flavorful. It reminded me of tea, and that’s meant as a compliment. I added cream to the last little bit just to see what it’d taste like, and it was good but it masked the interesting coffee flavor. Did I love it? No. I didn’t want to gulp it up and ask for a refill. But I was thoroughly intrigued by the complex flavors. And no, I wasn’t able to pick up the black cherry, blackberries, etc. But I did enjoy drinking it. And interestingly enough, I didn’t feel super caffeinated after. No jolt of energy. Just felt a tad more awake. It’s not like I’m going to start drinking coffee now. But it’s nice to have been able to experience some what I presume is high quality coffee.

I’d say Mother’s is a fun place for brunch. Nothing fancy, but decent home style cooking in a nice setting. I wouldn’t mind going back, but there are a few other brunch spots I’m keen on trying first.

Mother's-Bistro-Interior_thumb[2]Mother's Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon


Have you been to these restaurants? What did you think? Were there any places that I should’ve gone? Please share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments.

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