Braised Rabbit with Curry Cream Sauce
My lovely Divas, it's the moment you've all been waiting for, the one where I reveal the name of the restaurant where I had the best meal of the year! As I mentioned, it wasn't in Los Angeles, or even San Francisco for that matter, but rather in Portland, Oregon, the final pit stop on my recent West Coast tour. For months, I'd been hearing about Chef Naomi Pomeroy, one of the recipients of this year's Food and Wine Magazine Best New Chef Awards, and her unusual eatery that specialized in meat. So on my recent trip to Portland last week, I jumped at the chance to eat at her restaurant and made a reservation.
Now, before dining at Beast, there are a few things you should know. First, there are only two communal tables which can seat around 10 - 14 people. It's a tiny restaurant. Second, there's no regular menu - instead, each week a new six course prix fixe menu is debuted, costing only $52. Also, no substitutions or changes may be made to the dishes. The new menu debuts on Wednesday and stays the same through Saturday, which are also the days they are open for dinner. They do brunch on Sunday. Third, they only do two seatings a night, one at 6pm and one at 8:45pm. Whew! If you've made it this far, you're ready to dine!
So this was the conversation I had in the car with my family as we drove into Portland. Quickly, I pulled out my blackberry and summoned up the new weekly menu. As luck would have it, we'd be dining on Chef Pomeroy's Homage a Julia Child, a huge influence on her, considering that she calls her culinary style, "French Ghetto." Quickly, I listed off the menu items, including a charcuterie course and a main dish of Braised Rabbit with a Curry Cream Sauce.
"No substitutions?" The Original Diva asked dubiously.
"Nope," I smirked back. "You're going to have to eat Peter Rabbit."
"Does charcuterie mean liver?" The Wine Lover shuddered.
"It means liver and pate and maybe, if we're super duper lucky, we'll get foie gras!" I said gleefully.
The Wine Lover shuddered again, but thankfully, my Top Chef Brother was quick to reassure me that he was game to eat organ meat any day of the week (no pun intended). Gotta love that!
After arriving in Portland and checking into our anime convention infested hotel, we hopped a cab for our 8:45pm reservation, and as we drove out of downtown Portland, into what appeared to be a remote neighborhood, my family grew even more nervous.
"Are you sure you know where you're taking us?" The Wine Lover asked, eying the strange surroundings.
"Umm, totally!" I gulped, before reminding the cab driver that the restaurant did not in fact have a sign.
This led to more nervous glances from my family. You'd have thought I was leading them deep into a remote jungle, and not a mere suburb of Portland! The cab circled to a side street, and we all strained out the windows to try to pick out our unmarked destination. We passed it once, doubled back, and hopped out to join a crowd of other 8:45pm diners standing in front of the nondescript building, waiting to be let into the restaurant. Peering through the window, past the handful of lingering diners, I noticed one thing immediately. The kitchen was completely visible on one side of the room, and one very important piece of equipment seemed to be conspicuously absent.
"I don't see a stove," I whispered to my Top Chef Bro. "How does she cook without a stove?"
"I have no idea," he answered, joining me in my Where's Waldo search for the stove, taking in the black board adorned walls, two communal tables, and big prep table in the middle of the room. It looked like we were about to eat in Naomi Pomeroy's kitchen - not her restaurant.
After few minutes, the last of the diners filtered out, one even commenting to us that we were in for a treat. Somehow, that seemed to settle everyone's nerves. We were promptly seated at the smaller of the two communal tables, which were quickly set with decanters of water and small, printed menus. Ahh, the joys of not having to order dinner! I love not having to interrupt conversation or the dining experience to choose food. While they do offer wine pairings, we settled on ordering two bottles of wine, beginning with a nice Oregon Riesling - Ransom (Eola Hills Vineyard, Willamette Valley, 2008).
On the prep table, we watched Chef Pomeroy plate our first course, Summer Vegetable Soup Au Pistou, a classic French dish. As the cups of soup were presented in front of us, and the wonderful aroma that smelled like the very essence of summer itself wafted up to us, we all sighed with the pleasure that only great soup can bring. The vegetables, splayed out in the dish, and delightful buttery cracker stuck right into the cup, created a simple, but beautiful presentation. Oh, and did I mention the taste? Perfect. The soup was light, masterfully balanced, and showcased its star produce. My only criticism? That it was gone far too quickly.
My Top Chef Bro downed his soup, pushed his plate away with a happy sigh, and commented, "We're in good hands tonight." Indeed, we were.
The second course came out with a bang. It was the charcuterie course, otherwise known as the Wine Lover's dreaded liver course. Also, a classic French concept, this dish impressed immediately with its finely crafted presentation of small bites, including a Foie-Gras Bon-Bon with Sauternes Gelee, Steak Tartare & Quail Egg Toast, Chicken Liver Mousse (Ahh the dreaded liver!) and a Pork Liver & Sour Cherry Pate (Ahhh! More liver!!). I could practically see The Wine Lover and The Original Diva shuddering as the waiter ticked off the offerings, finishing with a reminder to eat the Foie-Gras Bon-Bon last.
While my parents picked through the dish with reservations, my Top Chef bro didn't need to be told twice. He dug into the dish, heartily popping the bites into his mouth, happily chowing down on delicious delicacies. I followed suit, but at a more leisurely pace. While everything was outstanding, my favorites were the Steak Tartare, perfectly seasoned, on a buttery piece of toast, with a delicate quail egg that burst in my mouth. I also loved the Pork Liver and Sour Cherry Pate, which I smothered on bread. The cherries really gave the dish an unexpected, but delicious component, complimenting the liver perfectly.
However, we all agreed, even my parents, that the Foie-Gras Bon-Bon was the true star of the course. Upon popping the one bite into my mouth, I almost moaned with pleasure as the Sauturnes Gelee and Foie Melted into the Shortbread, a combination of sweet, fat, savory, butter, in short everything you could ever want from one piece of food. Wow!! What more can I say?
In addition to the more flashy components of this course, the micro greens served in the center of the plate deserve mention. The delicate radish sprouts tasted like they'd just been plucked from the ground and provided a most excellent palate cleanser after the rich, dense charcuterie bites. My Top Chef Bro was particularly impressed by Chef Pomeroy's produce, commenting to the waiter that he prided himself on getting the very best, but hers was better. Our waiter noted that the micro greens were grown by two former chefs at their home at Chef Pomeroy's request and delivered promptly to the restaurant.
Next up, our waiter plopped a palate cleanser in front of us: a citrus and campari sorbet. Flavorful, sour, bitter and delicious. While we ate our ice, the aroma of the curry cream hit us full force, causing my mouth to start watering immediately. They were plating our main course, and wow, I simply couldn't wait. I loved the intimate feeling that I was sitting in Chef Pomeroy's kitchen, and I loved being able to see her prep the food, and smell each dish a few minutes before it trickled down to our table. The way this restaurant was set up was truly a revelation.
Quickly, our sorbet cups were whisked way, and the rabbit emerged in front of us, smothered in a brilliantly yellow cream sauce studded with chanterelle mushrooms, and accompanied by Julia Child's famed braised cucumbers with parsley (see top picture). This dish was simply utter perfection. In my experience, rabbit can either go really well or really badly, and well, you can guess which way this dish went. The rabbit was succulent and tender, easily pulled away from the bones, literally some of the most delicious meat I've ever had, especially when eaten with the rich chanterelles and the cream sauce. Oh, and how I loved the braised cucumbers! They were light, cleansing, tender, counterbalancing the richness of the dish perfectly. Wow to both Chef Pomeroy and of course, Julia Child!
For our fourth course, out came a lovely salad of fresh lettuces with a red wine vinaigrette and a lovely tomato and olive tart. This method of eating the salad after the main course is a great French tradition, and something I practice in my own household. It's super cleansing to have fresh greens after a hearty entree, like another sort of palate cleanser. I recommend giving this a try at home.
For our final two courses, we had a cheese plate followed by dessert in the form of a Local Mirabelle Plum Clafouti. The cheese plate, made up of a selection of "Steve's Cheese" which were all local, was fabulous. The cheese was served in the perfect proportion, and accompanied by Fleur De Sel Shortbread, Bittersweet Farms Honey Figs and Candied Hazelnuts. After the cheese, the tart Plum Clafouti was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
As we finished our meal, I noted that while I felt like I'd had plenty to eat, I did not feel too full in any way. I felt, well, perfect. Our server came back one last time to collect our bill, and my bro asked him the burning question we'd been unable to answer all night.
"Where's the stove?" he inquired.
The waiter gave us a knowing look. Clearly he'd been asked this before. "She doesn't have a stove," he said, and then he proceeded to explain that Chef Pomeroy borrows the one in the restaurant next door to make her soups and sauces.
Mystery solved! And what a testament to how much can be done with so little. I've long been an advocate of a minimalist approach to cooking equipment, and Chef Pomeroy certainly takes that to the next level, showing that big flavors can be born out of tiny restaurants with tiny kitchens and no stove. Beast also serves as a fascinating business model. While opening a restaurant can cost tons of money, this sort of establishment, off the beaten path, without a lot of fancy equipment, and serving a small number of diners, clearly carries a lot less overhead, something that frees the chef from having to conform to broad tastes, leaving her unfettered to conduct her culinary experiments and unleash them on her grateful patrons.
If I lived in Portland, I would eat at Beast regularly, and the next time I get up the coast, you'll know where to find me: at a communal table, chowing down on French Ghetto cuisine. Now what could be better than that?
5425 NE 30th Ave
Portland, OR 97211
The brainchild of Chef Naomi Pomeroy, winner of this year's Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef Award, this Portland restaurant features a six course, prix fixe menu that changes weekly priced at a measly $52, a total bargain. Know before you go: no substitutions or changes to the menu (not recommended for vegetarians, etc.). But for the culinary adventurer, this is simply a must try dining experience! Click here to view their website!