Portland doesn't have many "celebrity chef" restaurants. The only one that really comes to mind is Chef Vitaly Paley, winner of the 2005 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Northwest and 2011 Iron Chef America winner against Chef Jose Garces. However, that doesn't mean there isn't world class cuisine to be had in our fair city, cue: Little Bird Bistro.
When Mr. Extravagance himself decided to have his birthday dinner at the upscale French Bistro we were anxious to see how beloved chef Gabriel Rucker's more bargain-oriented bistro would fair. Last year we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at Little Bird's sister restaurant Le Pigeon and was left a bit put off by the extreme flavor profiles of the highly regarded French Restaurant. Over the last year we had heard time and time again Little Bird was preferred to the over-the-top-palate of Le Pigeon, so we were excited to check out what all the hype was about and we are happy to report Little Bird was superb. Little Bird = Happy Belly!
Little Bird's interior reminded me so much of the cafes and bistros I visited in Paris many years ago with a long narrow dining room planked on one side by large mirrors affixed with planters and light sconces tacked directly into the mirrors, the frosted room dividers (much like the divider Amelie was writing the daily specials on when she turns into a puddle of tears after she is unable to talk to her true love), the light teal toned walls, red leather booths and tin tiled ceiling are completely French inspired.
We started with classic French cocktails with fancy European liquors like Chartreuse, Benedictine, Aveze and Verjus.
Seems as if we weren't the only ones anxious to try Little Bird because everyone had already checked out the menu online before arriving and already knew what they wanted for dinner before the delicious bread and salted cold butter hit the table. What a difference superior basics like butter and salt can do to elevate a simple plate of complimentary bread before our appetizers arrived. We asked for more bread and delicious butter several more times throughout the dinner.
Soon the Charcuterie Board ($25) arrived. The charcuterie board was one of the best we have ever had. The portions at first seemed small for all of us to share, but was loaded with incredible precision and superior execution. This was a serious snack plate I would gladly splurge on time and time again!
The pickled items included sweet bread and butter pickles, pickled apples with mustard seeds and a pickled quails egg. These were delicate and cleansed the palate beautifully between bites of the other Charcuterie Board's items.
The chicken liver mousse on a bed of pickled onions was the best bite on the board. Creamy, grainy and just all around satisfying, we asked for a second serving of the delicious bread to happily spread the mousse on.
Other Charcuterie Board items included a pork cheek potato croquette which was insanely delicate, perfectly swiney and deliciously creamy. The fois gras brulee was whipped with butter and covered in a sweet apple butter topped with a crostini used to spread the decadent concoction. Also included was house-fried chicarones or pork rind, a chopped lamb spread and the most delectable coppa ham we have ever had. I can say with confidence that this Charcuterie Board was adored by all, especially since it was nearly impossible to get a photograph once spreading knives and toast points were in play.
The other appetizer we shared with the octopus terraine ($15). This dishes wasn't loved as much as the Charcuterie Board. A bit too smokey and fishy, served cold didn't help the flavor much either, but the rouille, fennel and orange salad was a great cleanser and a bit of earthy flavors to combat the octopus.
Then came the entrees. The Choucroute Garnie: smoked pork loin, pork belly, garlic pork sausage with grilled weisswurst ($26) was a dish inspired by the eastern France region that is close to Germany. You could completely see the influence. This hefty plate contained the most moist piece of pork loin we had ever had, as if it was steamed before hitting the grill just to give it the char marks. Very memorable.
The Pan-Fried Trout with gribiche, fine herbs and radishes ($22) was impressively de-boned, a squirt of the grilled lemon, a lift of the fillet and enjoy the smokey trout meat. Also a really good dish, there's just something about fish and radishes that just can't be beat.
Both Little Bird and Le Pigeon are well known for their burger (which was on the menu this evening) but I opted for the Braised and Grilled Beef Tri-Tip ($28). Tasting like a slice of beef jerky that had been reconstituted in rich beef broth, this dish initially tasted a bit too salty (an issue we had with Le Pigeon) but soon we realized it's just because it's so dang beefy and utterly delicious. Served with potato puree, smoked cipollinis and roasted maitake. I could eat the maitake and cipollinis in the broth alone as a chunky soup. Delicious. But we will be back for that famous burger - oh yes we will.
And finally the piece de resistance was the famous Little Bird Duck Confit ($27). When Mike goes to a new restaurant, he will single out the one dish he wouldn't, couldn't or had no idea the dish even existed. This unbelievably tender duck leg on a bed of lentils and garlic-scallion pistou was awe-inspiring (as in Mike googled to see whether there was a way to make confit easily at home). When this plate was done the only thing left was a bit of the duck leg. The duck skin was insane, how they managed to make it both crisp and melt in your mouth fatty is a wonder.
We ended our dinner with a birthday dessert of Banana Mousseline, cocoa nibs dacquoise and walnut coulis ($8) and a Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee with poppy seed sable and vanilla bean whipped cream ($8). The Banana Mousseline was insane! Packed full of creamy banana flavor coupled with the walnut coulis this dessert completely hit the spot after the high profile flavors of our dinner. The Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee was a bit of a disappointment. Lemon and creme can be a miss, but the somewhat soft texture and bland poppy seed sable didn't help much, but the vanilla bean stiffly whipped cream almost made up for the unexciting dessert.
We love birthday dinners, it gives us reason to splurge on a meal we might not typically think of. European cuisine isn't high on our list of favorite types of food and rarely do we utter the words "I'm craving something French for dinner tonight" but after this delicious meal we're already plotting when we will attack that highly praised burger.
Little Bird Bistro
219 SW 6th Avenue