Monday, March 28, 2011

Portland Part 3 of 3: Beast

There is much that can be said about Beast in terms of acclaim: Chef Naomi Pomeroy, after all, was voted Best New Chef of 2009 Food and Wine Magazine. She’s a recent Iron Chef Contestant, and a forthcoming star on Top Chef Masters 3. Awards and accolades follow Pomeroy’s cuisine. It is almost inevitable to expect anything less than great food from a relatively young chef who was a finalist for a James Beard Award. So I’ll give it all away here, at the beginning: Beast serves wonderful, creative food.
Once that is taken care of, the rest is all a matter of execution.

Nestled in a suburban Portland neighborhood, it is initially difficult to assume whether pretension will be apart of its ambience: From both the inside and the outside, attitude could go either way - it could be rigid and uncomfortable, or it could be punk rock elegant and casual. The small red building features two communal tables, and open kitchen, and chalk scrawled walls proselytizing the food world’s rhetorical morsels of wisdom. Ultimately, Pomeroy and company’s whimsical view of the kitchen is strictly “look but don’t touch.” Here, everything is ritual.

Guests arrive at one of two available reservations: 6:30 or 8:00 p.m. As diners arrive, they are encouraged to take a seat by the door until most everyone arrives. On this evening, a few couples began to gather by the door, waiting patiently. In the meantime, Pomeroy and her staff make final touches in the kitchen and occasionally gather to mutter things to each other in private while looking on at the customers. This behavior is unsettling.

Then the host takes hold of a fine page book of biblical proportions, opening up his reservations to begin seating( I’m pretty sure I made reservations via Opentable - what’s with the book?). He walks towards us from across the room, holding the book flat in the air. What gives?

In a few minutes we are seated and the chefs behind the counter began to plate with a determination not unlike their roller derby and black hair dye aura. It’s a little too much, maybe, but it is surely a sight to see.



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At Beast, there is only one menu - tonight’s menu. And that menu can only be a $75 six course prix fixe offering that “politely” declines all substitutions. No worries: this stuff is good.

Course one included the Leek and pumpkin soup with duck fat fried pumpkin seeds with espelette pepper. The verdict: rich, nutty and complex without flavor oddities.

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As courses ensue, the staff has service down to flawless proportions. Plating and the server’s food biography will have you feeling like you’re on an episode of Top Chef.

Course two was the charcuterie plate: From 12 o’clock, foie gras bon bon, sauternes gelee, steak tartare & quail egg toast, chicken liver mouse and pickled shallot, basque style sausage pastry, Olympic provisions salami. This collection of bites was expectedly fun, well composed, and again quite clean tasting.

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Course three became heartier: the Cattail creek lamb shoulder & belly braised in red wine and porcini broth with hand cut egg noodles, Oregon black truffles and caramelized broccoli raab was a bowl of lovingly composed drapes of pasta, laden with tender pieces of meat and truffles.

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The fourth course served as a light palate cleanser. This salad of winter chicories and beets dressed in bacon and aged sherry vinaigrette with chopped egg and soft croutons was the low point of the evening. Its sherry dressing may as well have come out of a bottle.

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Beast’s fifth course: A cheese plate with three cheeses as well as anise and fleur de sel shortbread, Oregon wildflower honey, and poached plums and Marcona almonds. When is a cheese plate like this not good eating?

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For the final course, foam honey cakes with pistachio praline marscapone and meyer lemon ice cream proved to be a fine closer. While the honey cakes deserved less density, this was a light and clean tasting dessert.

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Excellent food and serving techniques make Beast worthy of repeated mention. Its only detraction comes in the form of its main premise: an open kitchen. The implication of an open kitchen and communal tables is that they symbolize interaction and a shared love of food. While eventually the servers softened up, chef Pomeroy, only 12 feet away, barely made eye contact with any of the customers the entire evening. Her poker face only echoed such ambivalence. I hope she was just having a bad night.

Beast
5425 NE 30th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97211
http://www.beastpdx.com/

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