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March 12th, 2008 Mike Thelin | Food Reviews & Stories
 

The Beauty and Beast

Naomi Pomeroy gets to the meat of the matter.

     
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Beast Chef Naomi Pomeroy Gets Cookin’.
IMAGE: matt wong

To name a restaurant Beast is to bring attention to dinner’s vulgar cycle: the sex, birth and death that must occur for a perfect slab of braised pig or cow to land on one’s plate. But at Naomi Pomeroy’s new jewel-box restaurant, which she opened with business partner Micah Camden last September, that disconnect is played out with beautiful irony: Your meaty, masculine cuisine is prepared by two ladies, Pomeroy and sous chef Mika Paredes, in what the chef terms a “feminine space” that’s more doll house than diner. The walls are pink, the color of both doll houses and pig entrails.

From 2001 to 2006, Pomeroy and ex-husband Michael Hebb’s now-defunct catering and restaurant company, ripe, wowed the PDX palate with their rebellious Family Supper. Beast isn’t Supper 2.0, but I can tell you it feels like no place you’ve ever been. Bookended by restaurants Grolla and Yakuza in the Northeast Killingsworth ’hood, the space is darling: Two giant tables form an L-shape under dangling pendant lamps that softly illuminate antique mirrors hung on Beast’s dusty pink walls. You will eat wonderful things at Beast’s two nightly seatings (6 and 8:30 pm). It takes an entire evening here to enjoy a six-course prix fixe meal of intensely seasonal fare ($52), prepared in a lo-fi open kitchen that consists of two gas burners, an oven and a prep table. Pomeroy could work magic on a camp stove.

Recent meals commenced with an earthy sweet carrot purée gently hit with cream and a blob of tarragon-tinged crème fraîche; or a dense white bean soup sporting a mirepoix of winter veggies and tiny chunks of country bread—all happily bobbing together in a pork-spiked tomato brine.

Next up, an offal-happy charcuterie plate: rich pâtés of smooth goose and duck liver served chilled with tiny toasts, squishy morsels of foie gras “bon bons,” tart dry sausages crafted from pig’s blood, and the centerpiece, a shockingly good steak tartare anointed with a raw quail egg.

Rotating main dishes are all livestock, from duck and lamb to pork and beef. Served alongside Pommes Anna, a stack of thinly sliced and amply buttered and baked Yukon Golds, Beast’s rendition of beef bourguignon is the best I’ve ever tried. Few carnivores could find disagreement with a forkful of tender cow permeated with an intense burgundy wine reduction and the more subtle notes of sweet carrot and onion. To be fair, Beast is both delightful and a waste of the vegetarian’s dollar. There are no menu substitutions, but that may be due to its small kitchen staff rather than a desire to assert evangelical carnivorism.

Salads are straightforward, simple and seasonal: leaves of butter lettuce spruced up with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or a mélange of tart grapefruit, bitter endives and sweet earthy beets. Salad is followed by an optional cheese course featuring a trio of sheep, goat and cow’s milk delights from Steve’s Cheese.

For dessert, Beast has nailed the dense yet airy chocolate soufflé. If there’s any problem with this place, it’s that there’s barely any room for sweets after the first five courses. Portions may be tiny, but tiny can add up to a full stomach.

Sunday brunch costs $28. But you’ll forget the sticker shock once Beast’s attentive servers swoop in with a glass pitcher of fresh OJ the moment a diner’s glass nears half-empty. And then there’s the brown butter crepes sweetly kissed with strawberry preserves, or a tender pork-cheek hash and a poached egg swathed with vibrant yet viscous mustard grain hollandaise. Tiny cheese puffs called gougeres appear on both Beast’s brunch and dinner rosters. In the morning, they’re hit with shot of slightly spicy pork sausage gravy. Not a soul leaves hungry.

When ripe unraveled, many of its former employees moved on to debut or reinvent their own restaurants, including Le Pigeon, Clyde Common and the rehabbed Meriwether’s. Pomeroy’s Beast is equal among its peers. Family Supper sparked something that made food-obsessed Portlanders feel pretty darn good about where they lived—even for those who never went. Lower-key and buried in Northeast, Beast seems less concerned with making a statement on behalf of Portland than with crafting a memorable dinner. And that’s something we can all agree on.


EAT: Beast, 5425 NE 30th Ave., 841-6968. Reserved seatings at 6 and 8:30 pm; space for walk ins available 5:30-9:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday. Six course prix fixe dinner $52, five course prix fixe dinner with cheese or dessert $45. Brunch 11 am-2 pm Sundays, $28. Mike Thelin recently retired his WW food column, “Eat Me,” to become executive director of the Portland Indie Wine Festival.
 
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