Upon announcing I was going to Portland, several people told me to eat at Beast, a (wait for it) meat-worshipping eatery on a northeastern residential side street. Beast unapologetically offers a 6-course prix fixe dinner with two seatings per night at two communal tables, with “substitutions politely declined.” Vegetarians, you’re obviously out of luck. (Though someone at my table said Beast offers a vegetarian menu on certain days. Straying from its brand or giving the people what they want?) Overall, our menu—which changes weekly—was not overwhelmingly carnivorous and utilized an array of vegetables (though the charcuterie plate doesn’t mess around).
As we arrived for our 8:45pm seating, the young staff was turning up music and attending to the last few people from the early group. The couple who had arrived before us sat on a bench, respectively scrolling through their BlackBerrys without speaking. Luckily, a more lively crowd started to grow at the door.
We ended up at the smaller of the two communal tables with the sullen BlackBerry couple, a can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you couple, and a “first date” couple. Ironically, one member of the last two couples had just flown in from Los Angeles to meet their Portland-based dates. Unlike other communal tables I’d been eating at lately, nobody felt the need to chat as a group. Maybe this was because the newly-arrived date, or in one case BlackBerry, needed full attention, but I liked that one could be social or not; a communal dinner but also a dinner for two. Bread was brought separately for each reservation at the table; not thrown in the middle for a grab-a-thon. Despite the prix fixe, orders were taken for each party one at a time (this consisted of water selection and whether or not you wanted the wine pairings. Answer: yes.).
The wait staff was perfunctory without being rude—like being at a friend’s house who’s juggling several courses and has underestimated her time to chat with the guests. The open kitchen added to the feeling that you’d been invited to a family meal, and even though you may not know many of the chatting cousins, you still felt welcomed (the music didn’t hurt either, though they definitely had Michael Jackson on repeat for much too long). The décor, a moody blackboard wall scribbled with chalk food quotes (“If it has four legs, and is not a table, then eat it”) also went against the grain of a typical “beige” restaurant atmosphere. I was liking it.
Onto the food! (Sadly, the photos suffered a bit from poor lighting.)
Sweet corn velouté with summer chanterelles paired with a Benoit Droin AOC Chablis 2008 from Burgundy, France. The soup was a little thin for my taste but the mushrooms were pungent and oiled with flavor.
Charcuterie merry-go-round: Okay, from the top! a) chicken liver mousse and pickled shallot (nice), b) pickled beets and carrots with cornichon, c) steak tartare and quail egg toast (bit bland), d) Tails and Trotters pork shoulder rillettes with coarse mustard, e) blood sausage and porcini mushroom (I am no longer a blood sausage virgin!), f) foie gras peanut butter bon-bon with sauternes gelée and sea salt (this could have been dessert!), and, center, a parsley/fennel salad; paired with a Stein Riesling Domwein trocken 2008 from Mosel, Germany
(Not pictured) Palate cleanser: Citrus-apricot champagne sorbet
Washington pasture-finished Thundering Hooves ribeye roast in a veal demi-glace with creamed kale, ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, and marinated toy-box tomatoes paired with a Château Pradeaux Bandol Rouge 2004 from Provence, France. Meat was flavorful but quite fatty, I could have done without the cream in the kale after that rich charcuterie plate, but the tomatoes were refreshing.
Creative Growers red freckle lettuce with red wine vinaigrette and baguette croutons, padron peppers, and shaved pecorino romano paired with a Domaine de la Petite Mairie Bourgueil Rosé 2009 from Loire Valley, France. The padron peppers were in season and tasted great, the Rosé was delicious, but I wish they hadn’t deep-fried the croutons.
Selection of Steve’s Cheeses: cabriolet (goat), fresh pecorino (sheep), and–my favorite–raw Caldwell Crick (goat) with cracked black pepper and fleur de sel shortbread, Oregon wildflower honey, poached apricots and candied hazelnuts; paired with a François Pinon Vouvray Tradition 2008 from Loire Valley, France
Baird Family Orchard suncrest peaches in puff pastry with Bittersweet Farms honey ice cream and almond praline, paired with Cru d’Arche Pugneau Sauternes 2001 from Bordeaux, France