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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Sat 5:00pm–10:00pm
Sun 5:00pm–9:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential


East Burnside
738 E. Burnside St.
Portland, OR
(503) 546-8796
Le Pigeon
Yes, it’s as good as you’ve heard

For most of the country, the frequent references to Le Pigeon were the first indications of Portland’s up-and-coming status as a dining city. For a few years now, gastrotourists and locals have streamed in to see what all the fuss is about. And a lot of them have been turned away; years after its emergence, this remains perhaps the toughest reservation in town.

It’s fitting then that the restaurant is set up, almost theatrically, around an open kitchen; a handful of farmhouse-style tables and a chef’s counter are equally good places from which to ooh and ahh (not that that’s the intention here). On nice days, there are a couple of tables outside. Some old chandeliers provide plenty of light and, with vintage-looking chairs, make for a quaint, charming spot. It’s a place you’ll be equally comfortable taking a few friends or a romantic date.

Everything is local, organic, and free-range. The wine list is excellent, loaded with food-loving, lighter-bodied, exciting wines from lesser-known regions; Belgian and local beers on draft change frequently. And the markups for wine and beer are as humble as the atmosphere.

The menu changes weekly, but it frequently dallies with chef candy like marrow, organ meats, and face. Ears, cheeks, tongue, you name it. Preparations are innovative and astute: ideally crispy-creamy sweetbreads with pickled strawberries; refreshing, summery cucumber gazpacho with a single, revelatory grilled prawn in the middle; gently cooked squab with duck-fat-poached potatoes and marrow crostini.

Even a seemingly boring main like fennel chicken with carrots is a work of art, with masterfully crisp skin and a breathtaking balance of sweet onion confit and carrots. Or a quotidian flatiron steak that is canonized with its spot-on cooking and bed of truffled greens, and a topping of the most addictive semolina-crusted onion rings you’ll ever have.

But you’re here, so why not go whole hog? It’s hard to argue with delicious lamb’s tongue potato salad, or surprisingly tender calf hearts, even if you’re squeamish. A much-publicized dessert of sweet cornbread with apricots, topped with crispy bacon, honey, and maple ice cream is every bit the gustatory nirvana it is cracked up to be.

Le Pigeon is not perfect. Some dishes are ill conceived, like a “foie pb&j” that winds up as a messy mélee of strong flavors, or a dish of salty pork belly with a so-so onion aïoli and some average tempura-fried beans. But we’ll take this over passionless, cynical menus full of time-tested safe bets. Besides, everyone knows: to make a really damned good omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs.

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