it was sunny, but not warm. really, about the best you can hope for at the end of october in the northwest. it was a bit early for me to eat a full meal, but since i’d gotten up at some ungodly hour to take the train here – portland – it felt later than it really was (one pm). i was at beast, for the second brunch seating, one of the better places to be on a cold october morning.
it’s only a room, but it feels like more. the far wall is painted in blackboard paint, covered in quotes, pictures, and culinary conversions, and recently served as the backdrop to chefowner naomi pomeroy’s tough full page shot in gourmet magazine. there are just two tables, but they’re long. most of the space is consumed by the corner that is the kitchen.
the presence of the kitchen lingers with you throughout the meal, even as your back is turned and your attention is on the perfectly poached egg in front of you. with the offer of coffee and juice, it’s hard to avoid the impression of your parents’ kitchen (albeit an upscale version; i never got my juice in a wine glass or my coffee in a personal press).
the rules are strict at beast, but there are rewards for those who chose to abide by them. in fact, they’re not rules so much as guidelines in place to help you have a good time. for both brunch and dinner, there are two seatings offered. the menu is multi-coursed, and set. this means no substitutions, period. it is what it is and it may or may not be for you.
the meal started sweet. brown butter crepes, delicate, edged in brown, bathed in maple bourbon hard sauce. before the sugar can get overwhelming, gently acidic apple butter makes its way from the inside of the crepes. a lazy piece of candied bacon provides the necessary salt, hazenuts the crunch. spreading the dalop of mild whipped cream evenly over the crepes was the way to go, imparting a lovely creaminess to it all.
wine pairings were optional but more than worth it. not only was each wine a flawless match for it’s accompanying dish, but they were intriguing, unique, and left you feeling like you’d learned something. beautifully acidic, flowery and rich barth riesling rebgarten came with the creapes, an amazing palate cleanser and contrast to the food.
i would have been content with a second plate of crepes, but instead we got duck breast. this was okay, too. seared with a rosy center, the meat was simple yet rich, and demonstrated pomeroy’s significant beast cooking skills. basque peppers were mild in heat, potent in flavor, while simple potato hash acted as the quiet backbone of the dish. the fun part came in the toppings – hollandaise and an egg who’s yolk spilled out like water from a balloon.
with this dish we were given les vins contes “poivre et sel”, a light, funky loire red from gamay and pineau d’aunis. it was oddly cloudy in a way that made you skeptical, but upon tongue contact revealed itself to be tart and floral, earthy in a way that made it duck’s best friend.
it seems that most portland cheese courses are from steve’s cheese, a local specialty cheese shop focused on small producers and farms. at beast, we had three simple cheeses with a vanilla flecked poached apricot and lightly vinaigrette-ed mache. as lovely and conclusive as the cheese was, it wasn’t the end.
a slender piece of chocolate truffle cake was triumphant in making us eat one more thing just when we were sure we couldn’t. it was sleek and cool in the mouth, it’s sweetness restrained and tempered by the vanilla bean whipped cream. as if this wasn’t enough, it came with my favorite wine of the meal, a dessert mourvèdre (olivares monastrell dulce). rich and out-and-out sweet, it wasn’t cloying, and did magical things when sloshed around with a mouthful of chocolate.
four courses of (excellent) food was $28. i felt i’d gotten a deal while also knowing the restaurant had made a profit. and isn’t that the ideal economic exchange?