A confession: I’ve been putting off writing about my last meal in Portland for some time now. Not because it left a bad taste in my mouth—on the contrary, it was an amazing, memorable, late-night dinner. Just the thought of it makes me wish I could hop a West Coast-bound flight that would get me to Oregon in time for a repeat performance. No, friends. I’ve kept this meal to myself for one reason, and one reason only: vanity. I was afraid that my photographs wouldn’t do it justice, that my descriptions would sound clichéd or overwrought, that I wouldn’t be able to nail down my experience in terms that would convey how truly great the food was. And here I am, off to the start I feared.
It took some arm-twisting to persuade Matt that we should stop at Le Pigeon for our final supper; its price point was higher than anywhere else on our list, and he was convinced that we’d get more bang for our buck elsewhere. Be that as it may, I was dying to try it, and as you may have heard, I can be kind of stubborn. I promised not to go overboard with the ordering (one appetizer each, and an entrée to share), but he’s known me too long to believe that line; it wasn’t until I played the “I’m the Guest!” card and admitted that I planned to treat to thank him for being such a great host that I got him to cave.
I had to be at the airport by 11:00 p.m. to catch the red-eye back to New York, and Le Pigeon’s kitchen closes at 10:00; we got there around 9:30 and expected to be met with annoyance, at the very least, for hoping to be served half an hour before closing time, but our server was nothing but gracious. Though we were seated as the only other diners in the place lingered over coffee and dessert, she invited us to take our time as we—fine, I—agonized over what to choose. Two appetizers only? What was I thinking when I agreed to that deal??
The first selection was the easiest. I’m a huge fan of gnocchi, and ricotta gnocchi in particular, so I pushed hard for the inclusion of Le Pigeon’s version in our order; served with a roasted-goat ragù, a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of cheese, these were light, fluffy, and possibly the best rendition of the little Italian dumpling I’ve ever had.
I can’t remember which one of us suggested the chanterelle soup, but when it appeared, accompanied by a tiny foie-gras-and-candy-cap sandwich, I was instantly charmed. The fanciest soup-and-sandwich combination I’ve seen in quite some time, the serving size underwhelmed at first glance; after a few bites, however, I understood. This was the pure essence of mushroom, rich and velvety in texture, tempered only by a generous amount of cream and probably butter, as well. If the cup had been any bigger, it probably would’ve killed us. As for the sandwich, I was hoping for more foie gras, but it’s a bit unfair to judge based on that statement: It’s never untrue.
By the time our main course arrived, we were both feeling the effects of our heavy starters. We’d eventually decided on the venison, which neither of us had had before, with celery root, cippolini onions, and shaved truffles. I was briefly disappointed: I’m not sure what I had in mind, but I was taken aback that the meat tasted so much like beef (albeit slightly gamier, perfectly cooked, much prettier than the above picture would have you believe, beef). After adjusting my expectations a bit, though, I couldn’t complain: The dish was beautifully balanced, and even this avowed celery-hater loved every bite.
As meals go, this one was stellar, the best I had during my visit. As last meals go, it made me consider, once again, returning to Portland and never leaving. Le Pigeon’s menu changes all the time, and, as it is, I only got to try three dishes. Someone has to make sure the rest of the offerings are up to par; why couldn’t it be me? I’m fairly certain there’s a seat at the end of that bar with my name on it.
738 East Burnside Street