Le Pigeon: An Exhilirating Experience

I have to admit, for a long time French food kind of scared me a bit. It seemed a little too much to take in, with all these words I didn't understand and the ones I did full of ingredients I wasn't all that sure about. Over the past year that's changed a little bit, probably partly because of our odyssey to eat through Portland, the book and movie Julie and Julia, and then attempting to make some more dishes on our own at home.

We knew about Le Pigeon, a very high quality French restaurant on East Burnside and 7th, but were kind of keeping it on the back burner. We wanted to be sure we were ready, that we would appreciate the food, and after a lot of recommendations (and I mean a lot, from both people in Portland and visitors from out of town), we decided we were ready.

Signage outside the restaurant

Our plan was to get there right as it opened, at 5pm, and take a couple seats at the Chef's Counter. No reservations were needed, plus we get to see owner and chef Gabriel Rucker - he of the three consecutive nominations for James Beard Rising Chef of the Year - work his magic. And at a place named by The Oregonian as the co-Resaurant of the Year in 2008? Yes, please.

A drawing of Mr. Pigeon, hanging in the bathroom

I must confess, we had another reason for getting to Le Pigeon right as it opened to sit at the Chef's Counter: the burger. While it may seem odd to go here and order a burger, it was just named the sixth-best burger in the city and they only make five a night, so we figured what the heck. Plus, I'll be honest - it's the cheapest item on the menu by a longshot so it balanced the bill a little bit, and it provided us with a safe option. Baby steps. We aren't the type to jump in with both feet to something new.

The space is small, holding just a few communal tables in addition to the Chef's Counter, which surrounds a kitchen barely bigger than our own - and has three people working in it. It has a homey feel to it, very friendly.

After being served a plate of fresh bread with salted butter, me made our order: the burger and beef cheek bourguignon.

First, the burger:

The burger comes on a fresh ciabatta roll with a fantastic coleslaw that included cherry tomatoes sliced in half, white cheddar, and grilled onions. And you know what? It was amazing. Really, really amazing - I'd call it better than Gruner, so apparently I don't agree with the list. We requested it medium and it was cooked perfectly, the bun supported the messy toppings...there is zero bad we can say about this.

And the seasoned potatoes that come with it? Perfect. There were toasted onions mixed in as well, plus housemade ketchup for dipping. Perfect. Heck, we'd come back just for these.

Then there was the bourguignon:

The beef cheek literally fell apart under the mildest pressure from the fork and the sauce was rich, dark, and luxurious. And it's not a small chunk of meat either - we brought half of it home. Under the meat were a couple slices of potatoe, some carrots, and some onions. If there was any negative we could come up here, it's that we wanted more veggies (I know, who says that, right?!). This is a last meal type of dish...simply amazing.

We paired the two beef dishes with a shared glass of 2006 Chateau La Caussade Bordeaux at our waitress' suggestion. Great wine - even flavor, a little fruity, perfect pairing.

And hey, as a bonus Rucker cooked both the meats for our meal (and the desserts!). It's not often a star makes me a meal.

Then came dessert. Desserts are written up on a chalkboard across the room from where we sat, and we eyed this board the entire time we were waiting for our meal - and multiple times even while enjoying our meal. We almost ordered the Foie Gras Profiteroles, but in the end decided to save that for next time.

What the heck, we each ordered a dessert. The first was the Honey Bacon Apricot Cornbread with Maple Ice Cream:

Oh. My. If the word "goodness" can become an object, it would be this dessert. Bacon tidbits and apricot pieces were baked into the cornbread, which was light and moist. The ice cream was just as it should be, rich and creamy, and the maple provided the perfect balance of sweetness to the savory bacon. Highly, highly recommend.

The second dessert was an Espresso Pot au Creme and Chocolate Shortbread Cookie

Cookie and Espresso Pot Au Creme in the foreground

The Creme Brulee

The pot au creme was fantastic. Creamy, not too heavy on the espresso, and smooth. For us, the cookie didn't bring anything to the table - it could have not been there and wouldn't have been missed. However, the star here was the creme brulee. Apparently my entire life I have only had creme brulee that was complete crap, because I've never really been a huge fan. This, though, was a revelation. The hard shell tasted like caramel and the cream underneath was pure bliss. Words probably can't adequately describe how good this is.

The Pigeon on an exterior window

So I suppose one could say we had a good time. Or excellent. Or amazingly awesome. All of those are true. And yes, it will be an expensive meal, but in the end two entrees, two desserts, and a glass of wine came to $56 ($10 less if you don't count the wine). Honestly, I feel satisfied with that bill - actually, I think it's a fantastic deal. Usually when I drop that much on a meal - which is not often - even if the food is solid I end up feeling a little bit like I've wasted my money. Not here, not at Le Pigeon - the food was worth every cent. Also, the service was attentive and helpful without being intrusive, which we love.

Go there - it's not possible to regret it.

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