We’re in that unique niche of
suburbia Portland (ed: thanks for the correction, irate Portland dweller!), in a neighbourhood where even mini-malls have yet to venture, trapped in a stretch of 1970s tract housing more in need of upheaval than revival. There are few landmarks to find one’s bearings, and yet here we are, in an intersection with at least five or six restaurants, an odd blip on an otherwise blank canvas. When people say that Portland is a food town, they weren’t kidding.
It’s Beast that has brought us here, an ongoing dinner party hosted by chef Naomi Pomeroy, and for which she was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2009. The restaurant is more akin to an apartment; even ‘bistro’ would understate its coziness. Guests are ushered in for two seatings daily, and find a place at the two communal tables flanking the featured kitchen. Curtains made by Pomeroy’s mother hang from the window, and the room’s darkness is further exaggerated by its chalkboard-painted walls, decorated with quotes, recipes and notes taken by the staff. A selection of current indie rock plays over the din; you’ve got to force yourself to remember that you’re not in someone’s living room but in a place of business.
A six course menu changes daily (USD$60 per person; add USD$35 for wine pairings). Each, however, pays unrelenting attention to all things meat, an interesting choice considering that Pomeroy has done years as a vegetarian. This, perhaps, reflects Beat’s refined treatment: there are no Flintstone brontosaurus ribs to be had here.
Soup often plays the opening act, one last breath of lightness before heading deep into heavy waters. On our visit, we were treated to a chilled zucchini and yogurt soup topped with a mint salsa verde and lemon oil, an act of mercy given the plus 30C/90F Portland heat.
This marches right into the charcuterie platter, which, by all accounts, is what brings Beast its accolades. The plate is filled with little treasures, each to be consumed in one bite. Chicken liver mousse is topped with pickled shallot. A slice of blood sausage is paired with chantrelles. A Seville marmalade brings brightness to a pork shoulder rilette. Steak tartare and a raw quail egg sit atop a tiny sliver of toast, a bite so concentrated in richness that it necessitates a short breath of air immediately afterward just to contemplate what has happened. The best of them all, though, is the foie-gras ‘bon bon,’ which is nestled on a shortbread cookie, its fattiness cut with a square of sauternes gelee like a flash of light through a velvet fog.
It’s almost a mistake to start the evening off that strong, particularly if the main entrée doesn’t quite deliver on that promise. We were served braised beef cheeks with a veal demiglace, a salty dish made even saltier, served with a horseradish cream that weighed the dish down further, with sautéed cucumbers and baby onions on the side doing their best to provide some sense of counterbalance, like a slight tap in response to a heavy blow. This was followed by a forgettable garden salad of “early girl” tomatoes and oak leaf, a shrug of indifference to the earlier portion of the evening.
A cheese course is a must when in Oregon, and they hopefully come in larger portions than what Beast offers. Three tiny slices are offered alongside a fennel pollen and fleur de sel shortbread, a dollop of wildflower honey, five or six candied hazelnuts and one – yes, one – cherry. Things, thankfully, ended on a higher and more well-portioned note. A peach leaf crème caramel came with a warmed slice of peach, with a delicate almond tuille to give a bit of crispness.
At the end, it’s hard to be too disappointed with Beast, though perhaps it’s more for novelty than for the complete meal. The concept has legs, and with a menu changing daily, there's bound to be some bumps along the way, much like any dinner party. Pomeroy is a gracious host, and it's only courteous to be a grateful guest.
5425 NE 30th Avenue
(There are only two seatings daily: 6pm or 8:45pm)