Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beast – Sheer Sophistication in Portlandia

One of my biggest culinary wishes during our Portland trip was to visit Chef Naomi Pomeroy’s restaurant, Beast. Known for her role on Top Chef Masters, I’ve respected Chef Pomeroy from the start – even during her neurotic temper tantrums on the show. The fact that she’s a culinary genius, specializing in cooking with responsibly raised animals such as the almighty pig, is something I can get behind.

Our friends, Moses and Sonya were curious about it as well, so we ventured out for dinner on a Friday night, taking advantage of their later seating.

I was surprised to learn that Beast is located in one of Portland’s neighborhoods, on the outskirts of downtown. As we walked up to it, we noticed a few couples hanging around. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, as the restaurant was empty—only later noticing that the staff was inside, working away at setting everything up. Never experiencing this type of service before, except during special occasions such as New Year’s Eve for example, I realized we were in for a treat and something that would no doubt be a memorable experience.

After we were welcomed into the restaurant, I was yet again surprised—this time because of how intimate the space was. Seating just merely 30 guests, the cozy dining room consisted of a mix of different sized tables, including a bigger communal one (where we sat), as well as a few four tops, and additional bar seating.

The staff looked busy still, preparing things, and I noticed them laying out our first course and plating it right on the spot. Again, this was a non-traditional way of conducting service, but I appreciated the candor and the thoughtfulness with which each plate was composed.

As you’ve probably inferred, our dinner consisted of a tasting menu, and this one was 6 courses rich. While I must admit that Dan felt a bit squeamish about some of the selections, I was truly excited at the prospect of such a complex and sophisticated feast.

Course 1, Chilled Zucchini & Buttermilk Soup - We started with a beautiful little cup of chilled zucchini soup, which was milky white in color, boasting a few colorful accouterments such as house cured salmon, fresh dill and a pretty blue edible flower. The taste was gentle on the palate and really refreshing. While it didn’t make a huge impression on me in terms of flavor, it was Beast’s way of gingerly easing our way into what would be a pretty robust dinner.

Course 2, Charcuterie Plate – What the soup didn’t bring in terms of flavor, the charcuterie certainly did. Consisting of six different bites of cured meats and beautifully smooth pates and mousses, I adored not only the way everything tasted, but how it looked. My personal stand-outs were the steak tartare topped with a gorgeous quail egg and the house foie gras bon bon with a cool sauternes gelee that made everyone comment with curiosity and pleasure. I saved that one for last and adored each bite.

Course 3, Pork Belly – Chef Pomeroy’s specialty is of course the pig, and I can confidently say that we were all looking forward to the pork belly course. Set on a slightly crunchy but still soft on the inside bread, it stood up to the meat’s richness, soaking up its savory juices. Tender, succulent and a little smokey, this dish truly evoked a hefty dose of comfort and indulgence.

Course 4, Tomato Goat Cheese Galette – Even though Dan isn’t crazy about goat cheese (in fact, he hates it); it was awesome that he tried it and appreciated the dish nonetheless. I on the other hand was in heaven, devouring the galette's buttery, flaky crust and savoring each bite of the tangy cheese and the blistery heirloom tomatoes. 

Course 5, Cheese Plate – As if we didn’t get enough cheese in the last course (I didn’t!), there was a whole plate of it now, arranged in a rustic fashion. Three distinct cheeses, a handful of fried almonds, a dollop of armangac poached prune jam, and a puddle of local honey decked the plate. While my dining companions were sadly slowing down, I was totally ready to enjoy these delights and loved pairing each cheese with the honey, a little bit of jam and a crunchy almond on top. Out of the three, I preferred the tomme corse goat, which was of the fragrant, heady variety, evoking visions of the rich earth it came from.

Course 6, Berry Trifle – Dessert is always a beautiful thing in my book, and I was excited to try the intricately arranged cups of mini berry trifles that were coming our way. After skimming the fresh whipped cream on top, I was immediately in heaven, as the airiness was delightful. Further delving into its layers, this trifle was truly out of this world, boasting chunky pieces of raspberries, which then further intermingled with the thick pastry cream in the middle. Holy sweetness – I’d go for this any day!

A Sweet Bonus – Just when we thought the feast was over, there came a sweet little plate of miniature pig sugar cookies—their behinds dipped in exquisite dark chocolate. The attention to detail here was uncanny, as they even attached a little orange zest for the pig's tail. I took one last memorable bite to complete my experience.

Service and Cost:
I’ve already told you a little bit about the interesting service, which is unlike what I usually experience when dining out. Even though it was special and memorable, I must admit that the service felt oddly rigid and a bit snobbish. For an evening that we thought would be really relaxing and laid back (just like Portland itself), we felt the situation was a bit too controlled and we weren’t as at ease as if we’d gone to one of the restaurants in Moses and Sonya’s Mississippi Ave neighborhood.

Costs are on the high side at $75/person but certainly fair for the high quality of food you’re getting, and for the specialized experience.

3 Mmmms

Beast - 5425 NE 30th Avenue, Portland, OR 97211

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