I dine out a lot. But in all honesty, I tend to go to some of the same restaurants over and over again. Call me a creature of habit. But last weekend I finally had the opportunity to go to one of Portland’s most talked about restaurants, Beast. Beast is certainly a restaurant all of my foodie friends have discussed on numerous occasions and ever since Naomi Pomeroy was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Ten Best New Chefs of 2009 the hype hasn’t stopped. So it was time for me to see for myself what all the buzz was about!
I guess I should preface what I am about to write by saying too much buzz around a restaurant can make or break one's overall experience! Case in point, my visit to Beast.
The set up for Beast is very unique and very cool. A very small restaurant, with only 2 long tables set up for communal dining, they can seat up to 25 people per dinner. They do only 2 dinners a night as well as a brunch on Sunday. They offer a set six-course prix-fixe menu with the option for wine parings with each course. One of the things I love is their blatant honesty surrounding their substitution policy (i.e. they do not do substitutions) and even go so far to post on their website, “Pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans would find it a challenge to enjoy our six-course dinners.” Awesome! Reminded me of the movie Last Holiday when the chef, played by actor Gérard Depardieu, hated having to do substitutions! At least these ladies have the guts to refuse substitutions ;)
The food and presentation were great, the ambiance was quaint and comfortable and overall I had a lovely experience. One of the disappointing things I found was in the actual wine pairings. They have an incredibly limited wine list, and a $30 corkage fee, which ultimately encourages patrons to do the suggested wine pairing, which is always exciting to me! But in this case there were only two courses that I believe were truly good pairings, the other three were okay, and one was an almost unpalatable pairing. Having been trained through The Court of Master Sommeliers I get excited about an establishment that prides themselves on a food and wine pairing experience (or even goes so far to even offer a food and wine pairing option) so I, of course, had high expectations. Besides, to me, that is the ultimate food experience; when you get to indulge in the perfect marriage of a beautiful course paired with the perfect wine. But I just don’t think Beast came through for that portion of the experience... at least on this given day.
As for the actual food, that part was, in itself, wonderful. I loved the presentation, balance and flavor of each course. Check it out:
1) Curried Carrot Veloute, Summer Herb Salsa Verde, Fried Shallots
Paired with Syncline Underwood Mountain Vineyard Grüner Veltliner, 2008
Okay so I know the picture doesn't do it justice (it was the only picture I took of this particular dish) but it was fantastic! Spicy, flavorful, and rich. Somewhat clashed with the Grüner, but wonderful on its own.
2) Charcuterie Plate: Foie-Gras Bon-Bon, Sauternes Gelee, Steak Tartare & Quail Egg Toast, Pork Liver, Sour Cherry & Pistachio Pâté, Chicken Liver Mousse, Pickled Shallot
Paired with COR Cellars Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2008
I was really looking forward to this dish, especially since they are almost famous for the Foie-Gras Bon-Bon, but the wine killed it. Of all the dishes this wine pairing was the least complimentary to the food. And I have had the wine before on numerous occasions. It is a good wine, but the strong acidity and citrus flavors did not pair well with the richness of the pâtés or the intense flavor of the bon bon. This was a wine and food pairing fail to me.
The pork was delicious! The wine was light and somewhat earthy. I just wish they would have paired a somewhat bigger, or at least more fruit forward Pinot to pair with the pork with sweet demi-glace.
4) Strawberry & Arugula, Banyuls Vinaigrette, Margona Almonds & Shaved Sheep’s Milk Cheese
Paired with Strohmeier Schilcher Sekt, NV (sparkling rosé)
This was by far my favorite pairing of the evening... and it was the salad course! The strawberry spritziness of the wine complimented everything on the salad, and on the flip side the salad was super refreshing, bright, and delicious. To me, this is what a food and wine pairing is about.
I have always loved Steve's Cheese, and this selection did not disappoint and the candied hazelnuts I could eat every day of the week. I do, again, wish there was a better wine to compliment the selection. But with a variety of cheeses that can be hard to do.
6) Currant Brown Butter Tarts, Lemon Verbena Scented Whipped Cream, Cassis Caramel
Paired with Texier O Pale Viogner, 2007
I guess I forgot I wanted to take a picture of the dessert before digging in. Guess that goes to show you what I thought about this one... Delicious! It was light, yet rich and decadent at the same time. Viogner paired with the sweetness of the dessert, not so much. The wine was good, but too dry for the pairing. The good thing was that the dessert was so good I pretty much ate it in a 2 bites and almost forgot there was wine waiting for me.
The final bonus...
Chocolate Dipped Bacon!
Yes, bacon! It looked like they drizzled the bacon in maple syrup then dipped it in milk chocolate. Too cool, and way too easy to eat! Dangerously delicious I must say.
Overall, I did have a wonderful time at Beast and a great meal. My somewhat disappointment came in the “wow” factor. As in I was just not “wowed” by this place as I hoped I would have been after all the press and hype! I think if I hadn’t had my hopes up so high there may have been a different outcome, or perhaps if the wine pairings had been different, and complimented each other better, it would have created a better food/wine experience. Or maybe my own bar is too high. Who knows. I just firmly believe if you are going to do a menu with wine pairings there are two options: 1. You carefully select the best possible wines to compliment the already decided upon dish. 2. You create a meal around a wine you want to feature. That way both the food and the wine both shine! In this particular meal that did not happen for me.
Will I go back to Beast? Absolutely! I do love the concept and the place and the food was wonderful. I just hope next time the wine courses will be better thought out.
Or perhaps, with no hype I may have had no expectations therefore pleasantly surprised? We will never know.