Downtown Portland's "Little Bird"

by Nate Rafn

My wife and I recently found ourselves in downtown Portland, hungry for lunch. We decided to try Little Bird, the highly-anticipated new venture from chef Gabriel Rucker.

Rucker's first restaurant, Le Pigeon, was named 2008 Co-Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian.

I've heard good things about Le Pigeon, so we entered Little Bird with high expectations.

Little Bird's interior has a simplified, early 20th century decor with twists of weirdness, such as deer antlers hanging above the kitchen door. The tables are covered with white linens and large sheets of paper for easier clean-up.

We were greeted, then given a table in the main dining area. As is common in a bistro setting, the tables are very close to each other. Close quarters are fine for a casual lunch, but if privacy is concern, I'd dine somewhere else. For lunch, it’s no big deal.

The menu is comprised of French inspired dishes, including Steak Tartare, Crab and Celery Root Remoulade, and Coq au Vin.

I decided to try the 'Le Pigeon Burger ($12), while my wife ordered the Steak Tartare ($12).

As we waited for our food to arrive, the server delivered a portion of sliced baguette with butter, along with an orange-flavored sparkling water made by San Pellegrino ($3).

The burger was served on a rectangular plate, with salad on one side and the burger on the other. The salad was a heaping portion of butter lettuce (whole leaves), tossed in a Roquefort cheese dressing. Together, the greens and dressing were delicious but somewhat difficult to eat, as I had to cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces.

The burger itself was served on a toasted ciabatta roll with pickled onions and a tangy dressing--- very satisfying.

My wife's Steak Tartare was also served on a rectangular plate; grilled baguette on one side, beef on the other. The raw egg yolk was placed gently on top of the beef. She was very pleased with this dish.

My wife and I prefer to dine at restaurants that serve grass-fed beef. Having never eaten at Little Bird before, we asked our server where the chef buys his beef products. She walked back to kitchen, consulted the chef, and returned to our table. "Painted Hills," she replied.

Painted Hills Natural Beef is produced in Oregon's Wheeler County. It's not grass-fed, but it's much better than a comparable beef product from the Midwest.

We decided to order the Chocolate Pot de Creme ($7) for dessert--- essentially a baked chocolate custard, served chilled. This simple dessert was accompanied by brandy-soaked cherries and little shortbread cookies.

The chocolate custard was very rich, with deep flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and cream. The cherries provided a bit of acidity, while the cookies gave a little crunch. This was a very well-executed dessert.

Our bill came to $34. We left a generous tip, as our server was prompt, informative, and friendly.

Next time you're in Portland, I recommend giving Little Bird a try. You won't be disappointed.

Little Bird
219 Southwest 6th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 688-5952

Nate Rafn produces a local television program about food and farming, entitled Living Culture. Visit for more information.


Anonymous said...

good review.

steak tartar - very brave!!

Portland has so many great restaurants!

Other favorites: Cafe Mingo (great date night fri/sat spot), Nostrana, Genoa, Apizza Schools, Isabelle's (best breakfast I've eaten anywhere on the planet),...I could go on and on and would take five pages.

We are lucky that Salem is slowly stepping up it's game.

gstatty said...

I've been to Le Pigeon, and their food is stellar. I had the sweetbreads as an appetizer (melted in my mouth), the boeuf bourguignon for dinner and espresso pots du creme and creme brulee for dessert all paired with some red wine I can't remember (it was definitely merlot or cab, is there any better?). The bourguignon was unlike any I've ever had. I make a pretty damn good bourguignon and this was a swift kick in its ass. They had this burgundy bourguignon reduction and I have a feeling they used veal stock or something cause it was damn tasty. But the kicker was that they used beef cheeks. We also got baguette slices with soft butter sprinkled with sea or kosher salt and even that was awesome. To say the least the Espresso pots du creme was amazing, silky smooth, with a strong espresso flavor and the perfect sweetness. Its spendy though so its definitely only a place you want to go if you are rich or for special occasions.

I'm going to the Timbers game this Thursday and I'm thinking it might be a Little Bird night, thanks for the tip.