I got an email from my Dad about a week before our trip to Portland asking where we were planning on eating on Saturday night (our one opportunity to eat dinner in Portland while visiting my brother, Ryan, at Reed College) and offering a few recommendations based on places he’d been when visiting my brother and places he’d heard good things about. On the top of the list was Beast, a small (24 seat), meat centric place that serves a reasonably priced, $55, 6 course fixed menu (‘substitutions politely declined’) in 2 seatings a night. I quickly checked their website,the Chowhound boards, and yelp to find good reviews. I called and was able to nab the last 3 spots for the late seating on Saturday night. I was having trouble containing my excitement.
We arrived to find a group of people standing outside waiting for the first seating to finish up. I would guess that we waited about 15 minutes or so before diners from the first seating filed out singing Beast’s praises. We walked in to find a tiny square shaped restaurant that was basically a huge kitchen with 2 long communal tables making an L-shape. Beast doesn’t have an open kitchen, it is the kitchen. Everyone took their seats and then each party was greeted by a server who explained that we’d be having a 6 course menu, and then handed us a card with the menu on it, as well as a card with a short wine list (maybe 20 wines or so), and explained that the optional wine pairing was $36 and included a half glass with each course. Since we had just come from our hotel bar’s happy hour, Ryan, Rachel, and I decided to split a wine pairing, which worked out perfectly. I really could not have wanted more wine than we got and can’t imagine getting a whole pairing to myself.
After a few minutes they started plating dishes on the prep table in the center of the restaurant and the 6 courses came out over the course of about 3 hours. Here’s what we had (each dish is followed with the wine pairing in parenthesis):
Cream of celery root soup, shaved Oregon black truffle (DOMAINE DE SOUSA NV BRUT TRADITION) – This soup was ungodly good and a great start to the meal. It was thick but had a really smooth, creamy texture, finished with a touch of truffle oil. The truffle and the celery root combined to give it a deliciously earthy flavor. I heard several people remark that they could have gone for a gallon jug of the stuff to take home. I concur. I’m not a huge fan of brut/champagne, but the pairing worked well with the wine contrasting with the heavy, earthy soup.
Charcuterie Plate (HIEDLER RIESLING LOISER BERG-2005): I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in the Bay Area people seem to be going nuts on charcuterie. Though i’m renown for my willingness to eat damn near anything, charcuterie doesn’t wet my whistle like some things. Don’t get me wrong, i don’t dislike it, but i don’t count myself among the converted going crazy for the stuff. That being said, this was a very solid charcuterie plate that i really enjoyed. With so many different things going on on a single plate, doing a wine pairing for this course is admittedly very difficult. I thought the Austrian riesling chosen worked particularly well with the foie gras bon bon and the chicken liver mousse with candied bacon. Here’s what the plate included:
- Foie-gras bob-bon, sauternes gelee – This is one of the more famous items at Beast. Being a 24 year old who is only a couple of years removed from being a poor struggling college student, my experiences with foie gras can be counted on one hand, so i’m still trying to figure out how i feel about it. I dig the richness of it and how it can be paired with so many things. As many of you know, i love to strut my stuff on the line between sweet and savory, and foie gras is an all star when it comes to that. This may sound funny, but you know those ritz-bitz sandwiches? If you popped a peanut butter and a cheese one in your mouth at the same time, that’s kind of the flavor you get here (though for much cheaper). I brought this up while we were eating. Rachel laughed at me, Ryan heartily agreed. The sauternes gelee came in the form of a small cube placed on top of the foie gras ball. Though i wasn’t crazy about the texture, it helped to brighten up the flavor of this one-bite dish.
- Steak tartare and quail egg on toast – Another great, one bite dish. The quail egg unexpectedly exploded in my mouth as soon as i bit down on it, coating everything else is delicious, gooey, eggy goodness (like what happens when you cut into a poached egg and it runs all over your toast). The toast added a bit of crunchy texture (but not so crunchy as to be annoying) and was conveniently sized so that it easily fit in my mouth in a single bite.
- Pork, pork liver, sour cherry, and pistachio pate – I’m not a big pate fan, so my enthusiasm for this is a little muted. The bit that i had on my plate didn’t have any sour cherry going on, but Rachel passed hers to me and it did have some cherry, turning this otherwise plain pate into something rather interesting.
- Chicken liver mousse, maple candied bacon – This was easily my favorite item on the plate. The chicken liver mouse came on a cracker and tasted unapologetically like salty, rich, creamy chicken liver. It came topped with a piece of slightly sweet bacon for one bite of awesome. Once again, sweet and savory team up to kick ass!
Cattail creek lamb loin roulade, braised spring fennel, 7 minute pheasant egg, beet chutney and lamb glace (ROSTAING LES LEZARDES SYRAH-2005) – For this dish the lamb breast was butterflied, flattened, and wrapped around the loin for cooking (if i had paid attention in my high school french class i would have known that. My apologies, Madame Lesieux), then served in slices like a typical loin presentation. It was paired on the plate with some braised fennel, and boiled pheasant egg, and a beet chutney with lamb glace. The lamb was cooked perfectly and was just beautiful. My piece had a little bit of fat on it that i gobbled up. It was one of those dishes that just worked. The bright, acidic, slightly sweet flavor of the beet chutney worked with the ‘lambiness’ of the meat and the braised fennel to bring everything together. Lesson learned: i need to cook more fennel. That stuff is delicious. The wine seemed a little bit heavy, but the dish kind of called for that. Not my favorite pairing, but good.
Lemon rhubarb sorbet – At this point we were given an off-the-menu sorbet. It was bright red/orange in color, so i was expecting an orange or blood orange sorbet and was surprised to hear it was rhubarb lemon. Though we only got a small scoop, Ryan and Rachel both picked up on just a little bit of heat on the finish, like the smallest amount of cayenne pepper had been added.
Wild gathered greens with morel, bacon, and ramp turnover, late harvest sauvignon blanc vinaigrette (DOMAINE LAMY ST. AUBIN BLANC ‘LA PRINCE’-2006) – The turnover with morel, ricotta, bacon, and ramp was really the star of this show. It was just a small, two bite thing on the side of the salad, but was absolutely fantastic. To be honest, i can’t remember all that much about the salad, other than the vinaigrette being delicious.
Selection of ‘Steve’s cheese’, black pepper and fleur de sel shortbread, poached fruit, candied hazelnuts (DOMAINE BOULAY SANCERRE CHAVIGNOL-2007) – I love cheese, but i have yet to run into a cheese course that transcends being a cheese course. This included a mild belgian style cheese made with cow’s milk, a more aggressive tasting cheese with both cow’s and goat’s milk, and a bleu cheese made with goat’s milk. All three were good, but in my opinion were destined to be eclipsed by the salt and pepper shortbreads and poached fruit. Pairing the different cheeses with everything else on the plate was a fun game though. I got so into mixing and matching flavors that i can’t remember much about the wine.
Cardamom Almond Parfait, orange scented chocolate sauce and candied citrus (RARE WINE CO. HISTORIC SERIES BOSTON BUAL MADEIRA NV) – This dish was like a cardamom and almond semifreddo sitting on orange chocolate sauce with candied oranges. The ‘parfait’ was like a slice of bread cut from a loaf, but instead of having a heavy texture like ice cream, it was light and airy. I didn’t taste the cardamom in the first few bites, but after closing my eyes and really focusing on what i was tasting in my best food porn impression i picked up on it. Very subtle, but really good. I go back and forth on desert wines. It seems like when they don’t work, they fail miserably. I found this one to be a little on the cough syrup side, but we still finished it.
Though i’m here for the food, i couldn’t help but notice how great the waitstaff was. They were young and hip, casually dressed, tattooed and pierced, but also remarkably professional. It was clear they knew a ton about the food being served (i hate it when the servers have no idea what’s going on in the kitchen). Anytime i had a question about something our server was not only happy to answer, but seemed excited that we were taking such an interest in what we were eating.
I also can’t help but mention the mix tape. Every time it got a little quiet i would notice they were playing Al Green, Otis Redding, James Brown, Stevie Wonder or some other soul artist. It was awesome, i just wish they had the volume turned up a little higher.
My only complaint about the experience has nothing to do with Beast, but put a damper on our night anyway. I’ve been to a few restaurants that do the communal seating thing and really enjoy it. Especially when you get a restaurant like this that is going to attract interesting people that are interested in food. Knowing this, and how cool the city of Portland is, i was excited about meeting some characters. Unfortunately we got put at the end of the table sitting next to a party of six that included 3 couples of 30 year old former frat boys and sorority girls. Their conversation seemed to be limited to telling stories about partying with their friends, planning their weddings, and how cool their new houses, cars, TVs, stereos, golf clubs, etc were. At one point, one of the women asked what a 7 minute quail egg was and then went on and on about how she didn’t know you could over cook a boiled egg. Another one seemed thoroughly grossed out by the charcuterie plate. At no point did they acknowledge that we were sitting next to them, although we probably would have had a difficult time interacting with them anyway. It was luck of the draw, it was just unfortunate that we didn’t get to talk to like minded people who were there for the food.
I had a great time at Beast and thoroughly enjoyed the food. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as i am willing to eat damn near anything and can usually find something to like about any place that cooks with some character and soul. Believe me, Beast has both of those in droves. But i think the real indication of how great Beast is is through my brother’s reaction. Ryan is famously averse to fine dining. He loves food, but thinks that a bunch of well to do people getting all dressed up and paying a bunch of money for tiny portions of food that can be hit or miss is the downfall of our society. He’s much happier searching for smaller, less expensive, unpretentious places cranking out great food because that’s what they love to do, not because they want to pad their ego. He loves taquerias, barbecue joints, and hole in the wall places that serve up great food at a low price. I was a little bit worried that Ryan wasn’t going to enjoy Beast. I was sure i’d see him take a bite of something, shrug, say it was just okay, and be ready to move onto the next thing, only to freak out about what a waste it was when the bill showed up. Instead, from the soup that started the meal to the desert that finished it, he displayed a level of enthusiasm for the food that i rarely see out of him. At one point i thought he was going to start crying. He just wouldn’t shut up about how this is what a great dining experience is all about: premium ingredients, great execution, creative (and sometimes playfull) ideas, a casual and comfortable setting, a knowledgeable wait staff, great music, reasonably priced. I haven’t seen the guy so happy in a while.
As the meal came to a close, people paid their bills and filed out, we sat there drinking our Stumptown coffee, soaking the place up, happy the frat guys and their trophy wives-to-be had headed back home. We could here the music now, loud and clear. There was only one other party left. It was getting late and the waitstaff had been working hard all night, it was time to give them a break. We got up, made our way over to the prep table in the middle of the restaurant where the staff was hanging out, nursing glasses of wine, we thanked them for a great experience and made our way out the door.
On the way out, walking back to the car around midnight, Ryan proudly proclaimed that this was the best dining experience of his life, as if we needed some sort of confirmation.
Beast 5425 NE 30th Ave, Portland, OR 97211 503.841.6968 www.beastpdx.com