Le Pigeon Is The Chosen One

Not only does Rucker’s week beat your year, his specials beat your concept.

burger copy Le Pigeon Burger (NashCo)

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.

Related: The Le Pigeon Burger Is One of the 12 Wonders of Portland Food

(Matt Wong) (Matt Wong)

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).

Related: Portland's Famed Le Pigeon Restaurant Will No Longer Accept Tips

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.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

Who you'll eat with: Scandinavian tourists, Nike executives, service-industry regulars and people with good taste and something to celebrate.

Year opened: 2006

738 E Burnside St., 503-546-8796, lepigeon.com, 5-10 pm nightly. $$$.


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