Gabe Rucker's week beats your year. Portland's most talented chef—ever, probably—works the petite open kitchen at this nooky Burnside restaurant like LeBron at midcourt, adding a soft but effective touch to every plate crossing the copper-topped chef's counter into the brick-walled dining room.
Le Pigeon is nominally French, though Rucker had never been to France when he opened a decade ago and doesn't exhibit the usual symptoms of Gallophilia. Rather, the Pidgey's small menu is built around a few dishes (beef bourguignon, seared foie gras, actual pigeon) in endless reiteration. That bourguignon might come with latke on one visit and creamed corn seasoned like cacio e pepe the next.
Rucker's singular talent is, believe it or not, even more evident when playing iso.
A September visit found him blending the year's hottest flavor trends, Mediterranean and Korean, to create a salad with the sort of thin-sliced lamb shoulder you typically find in gyros, with sweet chunks of late-season watermelon and kimchi, then topped with toasted sesame seeds and sprigs of flowering cilantro. It was the sort of modernist Mediterranean dish other local chefs have been airballing for a couple years now.
Rucker's perfect finger roll could have became a signature dish at another place, but instead it was a five-week special. Not only does Rucker's week beat your year, his specials beat your concept.
Eat: I always go for either the beef bourguignon ($37, including gratuity) or the justifiably hyped burger ($18 with a butter lettuce salad). Yes, it's just a burger, but it's the best in the city. Hit the dessert menu hard—the creme brulee with a rotating pot de creme ($12) and the foie gras profiteroles ($15) are both obscenely decadent and irresistible.
Drink: If I get the burger, I pair it with Champagne. If I get the beef bourguignon, I pair it with Dolin blanc on the rocks ($10).
Most popular dish: Anything with foie gras.
Noise level: 62/100
Expected wait: You can often slip into the bar right after the doors open. Otherwise plan to kill an hour at nearby rocker dive B-Side.
Who you'll eat with: Scandinavian tourists, Nike executives, service-industry regulars and people with good taste and something to celebrate.
Year opened: 2006