Gabriel Rucker, the Portland chef WW called the most talented of his generation, plans to open a third restaurant this year.
And as you might expect by now, he doesn't plan to repeat himself.
Rucker's new restaurant, Canard, will open this spring at 734 E Burnside—right next door to Rucker's 12-year-old landmark East Burnside spot Le Pigeon. The space was previously home by Nu-Goth boutique Wells and Verne.
Don't expect more fancy dining, however. Canard, French for both "duck" and "hoax," will be a much more casual affair than either Pidge or downtown bistro Little Bird. The idea, Rucker says, is to make his cooking more accessible to broader array of diners.
With characteristic understatement, Rucker describes the forthcoming Canard as his idea of "French bar food."
"We'll be open from 8 to midnight," Rucker says. "We'll be a cafe by day, wine restaurant with great cocktails by night."
The wines will be curated by Le Pigeon co-owner and wine director Andy Fortgang, who promises a menu heavy on wines by the glass, with a "large bottle list broad and deep with bottles we've been collecting for years."
All of these wines, he adds, will be sold at "gentle mark-ups."
Over its tenure, Le Pigeon has amassed an estimable collection of bottles, Fortgang notes—but at the always-packed restaurant, it was never easy for wine lovers to dig into the list.
"Le Pigeon is a hard place to just pop in for wine," Fortgang writes, "but we want to share our passion for it at Canard more easily."
Those nostalgic for Le Pigeon's early days will also be happy to hear that brunch is back on the menu for Rucker: He says he plans a "legit" brunch on weekends. On weekdays Canard will offer breakfast and lunch, before transitioning into a booze-and-wine-happy evening spot serving up a menu of approachable small plates.
The extended hours and less costly plates are designed to make Rucker's food available to a lot more people than it had been: Price aside, both Le Pigeon and Little Bird routinely run lines out the door within a half hour of opening.
But nothing Rucker does is ever as simple as it sounds—and there are reasons to expect great things from Canard. Both of Rucker's existing restaurants have changed not just the face but the character of Portland dining. Rucker's restaurants have managed to marry execution and innovation without any signs of flagging, an urgency and consistency unrivaled in town.
Le Pigeon, the punky French Bistro Rucker founded in 2006, has racked up every honor available to it, including a pair of early Beard awards. Along with laborious Julia Child classics like a trademark boeuf bourgoignon, Le Pigeon consistently pushes the boundaries of what Portland food can do with wild-style dishes like a recent avocado-garnished vadouvan curry set off with the unlikely accent of melon-rind raita and honeydew. For the second year in a row in our 2017 restaurant guide, WW named Le Pigeon the finest restaurant in Portland.
Little Bird, meanwhile, set off a chain reaction of restaurants that have modernized a once-moribund downtown dining scene. On its face a more straightforward spot with one of the city's best nuts-and-bolts happy hours, Little Bird likewise kicks out wildly inventive fare like a pig's ear terrine that wobbles the pedestal on the legendary charcuterie board at Paley's Place, the restaurant where Rucker got his start.
Rucker says the menu at Canard is still under development, but he says to expect the food and aesthetic to be "different… but same." He did, however, offer up one dish he knows he'll be serving—one that already signals that the casual spot will be far from conventional.
The "ducketta" planned for Canard is a piece of culinary wit, a birdy version of porchetta that will literally wrap up a pair of Rucker's culinary obsessions—rolling foie gras and duck into a whole deboned duck. Consider it porchetta with the richness turned up to 11. And while it won't be the first ducketta to exist—chef Mark Bittman notably turned out a much more traditional take back in 2008—it'll almost certainly be the first made with foie.
That's the only dish Rucker's willing to divulge at the moment—so for now this picture of the ducketta test batch will have to tide you over.
The restaurant will have one additional feature, Rucker says. He and Fortgang hope that Canard will be able to serve as an overflow valve for always packed Le Pigeon, where waits uniformly top an hour.
"For 12 years we've been sending people all over the neighborhood," Rucker says, "We have so many tourists, so many people coming into town, it'll be nice to have somewhere to send them without them having to do too much detective work."