I can't help but have a huge crush on Gabriel Rucker and his cooking. It started when my friend Jen and I entered the candlelit haven of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon. I knew I'd found my new favorite restaurant—the dining environment is friendly, romantic, and rustic, with only bar stools and communal tables. You can observe what your fellow diners are ordering and ask for suggestions without feeling intrusive. Though our hour and a half wait didn't yield a coveted up-close-and-personal bar stool to gaze at Gabe, his tattoos, and his burners, home base for the evening was a front corner table with a perfect view of the kitchen intensity.
Since my budget couldn't afford both wine and dessert, I skipped the wine list—as I pined for a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir—and studied my savory options. My mouth desired a starter I could never recreate at home—pork cheek on a savory blini and sprinkled with sweet and sour shallots ($14).
As I broke my pork cheek virginity, I knew I was partaking in something special. My picky eater companion even paused after her first bite to lock eyes with me in agreement. In less than two minutes, the plate was completely empty, haunting us with memories of sage, parsley, and the moist, tender, and flavorful cut of pork.
I proclaimed my undying love to sweetness and pork cheek as our waitress enthusiastically delivered our entrees, two cornbread-stuffed caramelized onions, topped with frisée, and drizzled with butternut squash sauce and chopped pear ($20). While my onion looked substantially less charred than my friend's, both were cooked perfectly in their own way; visually, it provided variety to our lack of experimental entr&eaecute;e ordering. After the last scrape of my plate, I eyed the leftovers on Jen's dish and glanced towards the kitchen as the sous chef caught my eye. Did he wink at me? Either I was hallucinating, or he sensed my state of bliss.
We finished with creme brulée alongside espresso pot de crème, topped with a chocolate shortbread cookie ($10). My favorite course created a creamy and sugary ending to the evening's love story, bordering on infatuation. We departed, and Gabe and his sous chef thanked us for our visit. Thank you, Le Pigeon, for a filling and priceless dinner for under $50 per person. Next time, I'll order the Strawberry Mountain Farms Burger, an affordable option in fine dining ($9).
When visiting, keep in mind that Le Pigeon's menu changes often. The aforementioned pork cheek enjoyed a brief stay and was replaced by pork belly the next week—after that, it's anyone's guess. Remember, in order to keep any relationship healthy, you'll always need surprises.
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