That’s Beast, a blood-red doll-house of a restaurant, snuggled between two much larger buildings in northeast Portland.
Getting a reservation at Beast can be murder, as one would expect at a restaurant whose chef just landed a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef 2009 award.
Pomeroy took some heat recently in cyberspace from a food writer (who defies her self-written “all around nice girl” bio by brutally lambasting Pomeroy), about a quote she made in the Food & Wine article. Pomeroy said she doesn’t eat the meat in her favorite $5 bowl of pho because she doubted it was raised “sustainably.” I’ll admit the statement was a gaffe, but I’m not sure the punishment equaled the crime.
I have no idea how Food & Wine actually selects their 10 best new chefs every year. They say that it’s bestowed, after much searching and vetting, to up-and-coming chefs who’ve manned their kitchens for 5 years or less. How they skipped over Chef Kevin Binkley of Cave Creek’s Binkley’s Restaurant is beyond me (and any other rationale person who’s ever eaten there), but that’s another post.
This is about Beast, or more specifically, brunch at Beast because we couldn’t get a dinner reservation on short notice. In fact, the next dinner opening was two months from when we called.
Communal seating is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind sitting next to complete strangers (most likely kindred spirits in love with food as much as you are), Beast provides an added bonus of meeting interesting people. Like the young couple we met, who are contemplating a move to either Portland or Phoenix, and the quality of the restaurants might be the deciding factor.
Of course I attempted to make a persuasive case for Phoenix. Portland may well be known as a “foodie” town, but Phoenix has equally compelling, chef-driven independent restaurants that keep my heart palpitating throughout the year. In fact, the valley has several Food & Wine Best New Chefs, including a female chef, Deborah Knight of Mosaic (2002), not to mention several James Beard winners.
But back to Beast. Or Beast’s brunch. Once everyone is seated, French pressed coffee is offered (included in the $28, four-course brunch), or for an additional $5, a mimosa, or $12, a glass of sparkling rosé.
The first course might be a folded crepe, crispy on the edges, covered with bourbon caramel sauce, a dollop of whipped cream, and accented with fresh figs, toasted hazelnuts and sugared bacon thin enough to see through.
The second course may look diminutive, but it’s filling. Slivers of duck, cubes of roasted potatoes and onions and fresh garden peas co-mingle to become a heavenly hash, topped with an elegantly poached egg and buttery hollandaise that would be equally divine if served straight up in a glass.
Cleansing the palate of the last traces of the mouth-coating hash is a sprite sherry and balsamic dressed mound of frisee, with three bites of artisan cheeses from a local cheesemonger. I notice I’m the only one at our table who also devours the nasturtium. It was almost too pretty to eat, but since the bottom of the flower was splattered with the lovely dressing, it didn’t stand a chance of getting left behind.
For the finale, a petite blueberry and fromage blanc tart with a teensy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Of the four courses, this was the weakest link, with too few blueberries and too little fromage blanc. Was it really even in there? Still, the pastry was buttery and darkly caramelized on the bottom, so it did have redeeming value.
Chef Pomeroy and her all-girl staff plate all the courses on top of a large butcher block in front of the tiny, open kitchen, moving like well-choreographed dancers. Watching them is part of the experience. But the real joy is tasting the carefully crafted flavors on the plate, sitting with like-minded folks, and soaking up the glow from a newly-anointed rising star.
5425 NE 30th Avenue