By Mattie John Bamman @ravenoustravelr
Canard is the third restaurant by Gabriel Rucker, the Portland chef WW has called the most talented of his generation. At his other two restaurants, Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro, Rucker's innovative menus are equally inspired by Americana junk food and French fine dining. Canard's is no less shocking.
There's foie gras-infused bourbon ($15), foie gras dumplings ($18) and the Duck Stack—fluffy pancakes with Tabasco onions, duck gravy and a fried duck egg—with optional foie gras for $15. Most dishes take equally bold chances: steak tartare ($16) with Chinese sausage and cashews, uni "Texas toast" ($14), dry-aged petite New York steak with French onion soup sauce ($20).
With these near-absurd flavors, I imagined a night of gastronomic Russian roulette.
Canard opened inside a former nu-goth vintage clothing store on East Burnside Street in April. Almost a mirror image of adjacent Le Pigeon, the 45-seat bar has tables and counter seating in front, the rear filled with bar seating, intimate tables and an open kitchen. The décor is pure Parisian bohemian.
On my first visit, Rucker seemed to be having all the fun, dashing between Le Pigeon and Canard in between filling peanut butter-dipped cones with roasted banana toffee soft-serve. But after three visits, I realized it was me. I was feasting on the world's most prized ingredients—truffles, foie gras, uni, ranch dressing—fused together in ways both astonishing and personal.
The prices at Canard are generally inexpensive, with nothing over $20, and the nightly dinner menu is loaded with ingredients usually hidden within exclusive fine-dining experiences.
The lack of pretension seems thoroughly Portland. It's matched by the buzzy atmosphere, especially during late-night happy hour on weekends, when bumping bass from the upstairs Bossanova Ballroom can strum stacks of sauté pans like a washboard. Wines and cocktails begin at $8, and the bottle list is stuffed with interesting and well-priced finds.
Right now, the perfect meal at Canard begins with the menu's most unassuming dish: roasted carrots with English pea hummus ($8). The circles of waffle-cut carrots and radishes jump out of the bright pea-green background and, topped with mint leaves, resemble a garden in bloom. The riveting mix of radish honey, tahini and spicy Urfa chili-infused vinaigrette had me prodding the plate like a med student on her first surgery rotation.
Next, order the steak tartare, uni Texas toast, and foie gras dumplings. Leave it to Rucker to elongate delicate uni with white bread: Grilled Texas toast is the perfect conduit for sea urchin, the huge flavor fusing with the bread, extended without adulteration.
Along with Chinese sausage and cashews, the tartare features diced raw beef, fried broccoli florets and an egg yolk. Bound with umami-rich tamari and Parmesan, it tasted addictively like Chinese beef and broccoli.
Bite into the dumplings the moment they hit the table to unleash a truffly vapor of pure foie gras—and because they lose their supple texture with each second that passes. The dish is an exercise in tension: Three dumplings sit in peanut sauce beneath cubed green apple and crunchy miso-roasted shallots, and if just one ingredient were out of balance, it'd crush the rest.
For something more substantial, dive into the Duck Stack and the battered and deep-fried chicken wings ($18). The former is a powerful sweet-and-savory dish, like fancy-pants biscuits and gravy, while the latter presents the holy trifecta of fried bird, truffled honey and truffled ranch dressing.
Because it's strawberry season, the perfect ending is the seasonal Paris brest ($10). Rings of pâte à choux pastry—the same dough used for Le Pigeon's iconic foie gras profiteroles—sandwich coconut cream with freeze-dried strawberries. The pastry crackles, sending up a dust of heady coconut before softening with the fresh strawberry juice. An overwhelming creaminess takes over, then melts away.
A few Canard dishes missed the mark. The mushroom salad ($11) with blue cheese and a vinegar-based dressing lacked harmony. The oeufs en mayonnaise ($7) were jolting, combining smoky maple syrup and a medium-boiled egg.
Canard rolls out lunch and brunch at the end of May. Rucker remains tight-lipped but hints it will include French toast sticks that may or may not have soft serve as a base.
In the meantime, at least stop in for the $3 happy-hour Steam Burger that inspired Canard. Seasoned with housemade French onion soup mix, a little griddled patty comes with caramelized onions, American cheese and sweet-and-spicy relish on a Hawaiian roll. Whether you indulge in Rucker's complete vision is up to you—that burger paired with one of Canard's many $100-plus bottles of Champagne.
In a neighborhood where the garishness of New Portland architecture meets the brutality of Old Portland street life, Canard and Le Pigeon make me proud. If I were a teenager instead of a quickly widening 35-year-old, my first visit to Canard would probably be as revelatory as my first punk show, or my first time reading Henry Miller.