A dinner at June is intensely floral. By this I mean not only that the petite restaurant, opened last summer by former DOC chef Gregory Perrault on a previously unattractive stretch of East Burnside, has the atmosphere of an indoor meadow—the ceiling lamps look like upside-down lilies, and each table is garnished with a tiny bouquet in a perfume bottle—but also that there are flowers in the food. Among recent entries on the rotating seasonal menu, a morel and foraged greens salad is garlanded with yellow clusters of red mustard petals, a walleye terrine is topped with arugula blossoms and sunflower sprouts, a lamb roast is sprinkled with apple blossoms, and the French yogurt cake blooms with bright purple violas. The experience is like eating from a carefully tended windowsill planter—or a top-shelf dining room.
Even in a city where veganism is approximately as popular as Catholicism, June's approach marks a departure. Portland's dining scene is dominated by fatty foodie gratification; we are besieged by big-ass sandwiches, foie gras ice cream and lakes of béchamel sauce. June operates on a higher degree of difficulty. Perrault's entrees are challenging; they demand your active engagement. You will not like everything you eat here: The entrees include experiments that run counter to the palate, and since the menu rotates, you will risk encountering one of these frustrating meals. It is worth the risk to taste the successes of cooking with such ambition.
The best thing I tried on the spring menu was nothing more complicated than a salad: the morel and foraged greens affair ($15), with a slice of Pluvius cheese laid on top and one soft-boiled egg in the center. Using runny yolk as a salad dressing is not unprecedented—I've seen it done at the late, lamented Belly, among other spots—but as an accent to what amounts to a coastal-range forest floor, with the morel mushrooms just slightly warmed, it is exhilarating. A lamb and nettle ravioli ($12) is also revelatory, with thin slices of Parmesan cheese spiking a rich wheat pasta. Among entrees, seafood is June's forte, prompting inspired decisions: A Dover sole ($18) is wrapped in tart leaves of collard greens, adding a summer snap to the fillet, while a Quinault River steelhead with sweet and sour radishes ($25) was so beautifully seared I put down my book to give the fish my full attention. A cut of smoked sturgeon is also the highlight of an uneven charcuterie plate ($18), which is accompanied by bruschetta slices and a fig preserve that tastes like the world's best Newtons.
June's cuts of meat are a dicier proposition: Perrault serves each one with a preparation that calls attention to its status as flesh. The lamb roast ($27), cooked in a layered porchetta style, is stuffed with slivers of apricots—the contrast of the fruit against the heavy, borderline gamy flavor of the lamb reminded me of that famed photo of a hippie sticking a daisy in the barrel of a gun. It's arresting; it's also hard to finish. Same goes for the ribeye steak ($40), a dinner for two bathed in a red wine truffle sauce that strikes a fatiguing note. Dessert is a welcome return to the garden and orchard: A caramelized apple vol-au-vent with vanilla ice cream ($9) is a standout.
Service is excellent, and willing to offer useful study tips for the menu. The dining room is meticulously designed to look like a pioneer homestead showing off its Sunday crockware. At a candlelit wooden bar, Kelley Swenson continues to hone the cocktail magic that made his name at Ten 01. His specialty drinks are clever sidesteps of expectations: The Bentley ($8), made with Calvados, Dubonnet and a twist, has some of the same notes as an appletini, but is much, much better. Challenge yourself, however, and move straight to a concoction called P.S. I Read Your Diary ($8), which mixes gin, Cocchi Americano, orange bitters and absinthe to create the impression of a high Cascade brook flowing with alcohol.
In Swenson's drinks, as in Perrault's cooking—really, in the entirety of this quietly daring restaurant—the lesson is clear: Unfamiliarity breeds delight.
EAT: June, 2215 E Burnside St., 477-4655, junepdx.com. Dinner 5:30 pm-10:30 pm Tuesday-Thursday and 5:30 pm-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$-$$$$ Expensive-Very Expensive.