Portland, Ore., has won the title – for the moment – of “hottest restaurant town in America.” Le Pigeon is widely considered its best restaurant. “Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird” is the book that shows and tells how that came to be.
As such, “Le Pigeon” is meant to be read, savored slowly page by page. Its photographs are gorgeous and you may be mesmerized into flipping pages, before going back to the beginning. The dishes have their own tales behind them, and if you are moved to follow the instructions, the Le Pigeon backstory will add its own depth of flavor.
Le Pigeon is known for its use of local ingredients, game, offal and vegetables in unexpected ways. Many of its dishes have an immediate “you’re kidding me” factor that focuses the lucky diner even more on the unexpected plate they’re been promised.
Rabbit spanakopita, with bunny and goat cheese together inside crispy pastry. Macaroni and cheese enriched with braised lamb neck and chanterelles. Elk filet. Rabbit and eel terrine. Sweetbreads cooked up crispy, Buffalo wing-style.
There’s potato and nettle soup topped with crispy pork. Grilled BBQ celery root. Pork loin with pretzel spaetzle and kraut slaw. Pork chops brined in the whey you get from making the cheese that you’ll serve with the chops (and green beans, and hazelnut pesto). Zucchini doughnuts.
The recipes are clear and compassionate, often offering would-be cooks options if the task of assembling all these very particular ingredients seems too daunting. One of its pleasures is in its sub-recipes, smaller work units – like hazelnut pesto, for instance – that could still be exploited to great effect in a home kitchen.
For dessert, Le Pigeon is renowned for its foie gras profiteroles. There’s goose liver in the pastry puffs, in the caramel they sit on, in the ice cream inside. There’s even foie magicked into the powdered sugar dusted over the dessert.
To its credit, the book’s authors admit this is an ambitious recipe. But given their high standards, and their well-founded belief in their restaurant’s own awesomeness, they offer home cooks little quarter. “If there is one thing that could be left off,” the book says, “it would be the powdered sugar.”
Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird
By Gabriel Rucker and Meredith Erickson, with Lauren and Andrew Fortgang
Ten Speed Press
342 pages, $40