Wedged between a cabaret club and a tango bar, Le Pigeon is loud, their own light indie music blend supplemented by the competing base beats as well as the sounds emitting from the open kitchen at the center of the small space. Waitresses with tall hair and red lips, their forearms tattooed, marking them as Portlanders, weave between the three long tables, delivering foie gras in multiple forms. Decorated with funky found bits like porcelain owls and old chalkboards, Le Pigeon appears to be a casual neighborhood restaurant, the wood tables left uncovered and the bread plates a mismatched assortment of old saucers. But a look at the menu hints otherwise, and the food itself tells an entirely different story.

Met with the options of duck meatballs, sweetbreads, crab sausage, and foie gras in just the first half of the menu, it’s clear that Le Pigeon is more than just a hip neighborhood spot flinging out bowls of pasta. Unable to resist the slightly politically incorrect delicacy, we ordered the foie gras and the duck meatballs. The foie was beyond perfection, the strange piece of meat atop a tiny crumpet, crowned with orange mushroom marmalade. Done exactly right, the foie had the slightest crust that held up as the rest of the bite dissipated into fatty bliss, countered by the tangy marmalade. The duck meatballs were also good, though felt inevitably lackluster next to the foie despite their wreath of sliced black truffles.

After a completely one-sided discussion of how good the foie was, and a debate as to whether or not to just go ahead and get another, our entrees thankfully arrived, resolving the issue. The two men at the table got hanger steaks; described by the waitress as the cut that the butcher traditionally saved for himself. Hanging from the end of the ribs near the kidney, it gleans some of the rich flavor of the kidney, making it a more complex piece of meat than most. Marinated in soy and fish sauce, the steak had the surprising quality of sushi or carpaccio, the rare meat in the center delightfully flavored and delicately textured within the char of the outside.

Two of us got the lamb, prepared two ways on each plate; two chops cooked sous vide and a cube of lamb shoulder terrine. Cooked in a sealed package in temperature-controlled water, the sous vide method allows the chef to get meat to an exact temperature all the way through. Usually chefs sear sous vide prepared meat to give it the same look and variation of cookedness of traditionally prepared meat, but the men of Le Pigeon left them char-less, something I loved, relishing the intact flavor of the meat, and my mother hated, missing the diversity in texture. The terrine was excellent, less overwhelmingly rich than my previous terrine experiences, and paired with a mint pesto and tiny heirloom carrots in a delicate yogurt sauce. The last dish was a pan-seared snapper sitting atop a butternut puree, pleasing although perhaps less exciting than the other dishes.

The first part of dessert was a cheese plate: a soft simple goat cheese, a bit of Ossau Iraty, a sheep cheese, and a wedge of Bethmale, a delectable sheep and goat combination cheese, alongside persimmon ginger chutney and sesame crackers, devoured with delightful fingers. The second part was a goat’s milk panna cotta (If panna cotta is ever on a menu, I have to get it. Clearly.) aside a pomegranate granita and bee pollen shortbread, topped with a few glittering pomegranate seeds. The panna cotta was just the lightest bit goaty, tangy enough to make it interesting but still simple and milky, as panna cotta should be, perfect with the icy granita and crunchy cookies.

Le Pigeon is a special place. The chefs clearly love food, love their food, making its preparation the centerpiece of the intimate space. The atmosphere is at once cozy and enlivening, as the food is simultaneously un-intimidating and impressive.

(Written for Independent Study Project at NCF, p.s.)

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