After eventually giving in to the un-ignorable conviviality of the communal table (you can pretend neighbors seated two inches from you in NYC are invisible—or at least I do) it was surprising to discover that I was the only native Oregonian among the New Yorkers, New Jerseyites and Arizonans seated along the wall. (And in turn, just about anyone you might encounter in Portland who is under 35 and mildly hip is likely to be a transplant.) Is Le Pigeon for food pilgrims or do locals eat there too?
When the restaurant cleared after 10pm, my friend Todd who has been living in San Francisco for the past few years after a decades-long stint in Portland and was back in town for a visit, his last night, my first, the only date we had in common, my real birthday, popped in because he didn’t want to hang out at nearby Douglas Fir Lounge, our planned rendezvous, by himself. (Who would? I just wanted to see what it was like since I consider Doug Fir to be early New Portland, circa 2004, an era I missed by refusing to come back to Oregon for many years. It was a showcase of kind of informal bartending, lumberjack chic—in décor and the young patrons’ style—faux heshers and Japanese tourists with not inexpensive prices for straightforward drinks. It was the only place with a doorman and a required hand stamp—on a Monday night, no less.)
My point is that Todd had never been to Le Pigeon. “Too crowded and they don’t take reservations.” Sounds like me and my relationship to Prime Meats, Buttermilk Channel and Lucali, my neighbors I can never easily visit. Le Pigeon does take reservations now, by the way. And they’ve also removed the passive-aggressive “substitutions politely declined” tagline that vexed me on my 2009 visit (that's not why I didn't go–Le Pigeon was closed for Labor Day that particular week). Beast is still using it.
I was extremely lax about making notes, remembering menu details or taking tons of photos—it was a celebratory meal, after all, and the half-bottles of Riesling and Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, of course) didn’t help boost my memory. The menu changes weekly (I would love to try the quail, peppers, tripe, potato chip I’m currently seeing) and I didn’t have the foresight to save a pdf.
I had wondered if pigeon would be present and it was…both nearly raw and claw-on with edible bones. I hadn’t expected crudo, though technically it had been sous-vided for three minutes. Footed poultry appears to be a quirk not specific to NYC restaurants like Fedora and St. Anselm (they win, using the charred head too). Pickles and blue cheese were also present. Polenta? Even though this wasn’t my dish, from a visual perspective this was a fairly busy plate.
Boar terrine with pistachios and prunes was far more traditional. This was the first of two times that I would encounter sea beans in five days. A Portland trend? I would take sea beans over fiddleheads or nettles, any day.
My duck was also straightforward, at least visually. I know that I wouldn’t order something with tomatoes and pesto, so now I am remembering that cherries were on top and that the chunky, oil-bound greenery surrounding the potatoes had to have been made from pistachios.
Cheeses were not hyper-local, though it remained a western spread. I’m certain Montana was represented. Maybe even Idaho. I’m all for lesser-known regions (Tenpenny has been serving cheese from Utah). Hazelnuts, of course, couldn’t be more Oregonian. I do wonder if anyone calls them filberts anymore or if only old-timers like myself grew up using that name.
Le Pigeon * 738 Burnside St., Portland, OR