It may seem way off target to write a column always focused on ethical dilemmas and personal choices to pen a restaurant review, but really, go with me on this, because it’s completely on the mark.
Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of taking my beautiful older daughter and her darling husband to dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary at Le Pigeon, http://lepigeon.com/, a small restaurant in Portland, OR listed as one of the city’s best. And yes, it certainly is. But it’s also a whole lot more.
The restaurant business is considered to be one of the toughest, most unforgiving businesses in the world, so while the wide-held myth that most new restaurants open and close within one year may not be accurate, http://is.gd/xsYWVl, it is still an unforgiving, highly competitive industry. Staying open, even if the food or ambience is lousy, in an area where there’s little competition, is not the issue. Remaining open and maintaining unthinkably high standards with ridiculous, outside-of-the-box imagination, such as Foie Gras Profiterole with Caramel Sauce; that’s nirvana.
Therefore, one can appreciate how impressive it is when a tiny place like Le Pigeon remains at the top of their game, year after year. And it’s even more so when you consider the effort and value that goes into making anything by hand, over and over, day in and day out.
Making quality goods with machinery is commendable and takes a huge investment of skill and talent, but it still is, at the end of the day, governed by tools that, once designed and set at particular levels and carefully maintained, can produce thousands of like items time after time, year after year, without noticeable variation.
But things made by hand, especially perishable things? Ah, now the kaleidoscope of sabotaging variables enters the equation.
For it requires an entirely different set of blended talents, imagination, skills and diligence. But then, when you add to that mix the infinite and unseen varieties of differences, many that no one can adequately control, from temperature, altitude and humidity shifts to chemical imbalances within something as seemingly insignificant as a tomato or slab of butter; that’s when the mix can really become skewed and inconsistent.
So given all of those seemingly uncontrollable realities, how does a tiny kitchen, open for all to watch in a very small space, do it, dish after dish, night after night?
Last night, I found it an amazing example of dedication, talent, vision, teamwork and most of all, Responsible Power. No magic, no cover up superficial sauces to mask mistakes, we were served dish after dish of perfection. With no sleight of hand or mysterious ingredients or resources hidden in the back behind curtains, this gifted group of chefs, servers and providers offered the three of us a meal we will not forget. And an experience that will keep us coming back again and again.
And along with the astronomically delicious plates, the environment speaks volumes to the attitude and philosophy of creator, Gabriel Rucker, a James Beard and Food & Wine award-winner, http://is.gd/Az7kgy, and the rest of the staff at Le Pigeon. In one small room with two window tables, one long communal table alongside the east wall where we took the three end seats, and a large L-shaped bar that edges the open kitchen or the other side, we watched magic happen.
I’ve dined in many small spaces, and since I’m sensitive to boundaries and my own personal space, I often feel overwhelmed, crammed and uncomfortable. I’ve also experienced that uneasy feeling of being rushed along to get my order in and eat up so the table can be turned for the next seating. We sensed none of that. In fact, it seemed the exact opposite. And that alone is evidence that those with the power use it respectfully and quietly, thus making everyone feel they’ve been invited to stay awhile at leisure, the way a good host makes you feel welcome in their home.
From our delightful and skilled server, Jessica, to everyone else preparing the food and keeping things moving in this circumscribed space, there was a feeling of relaxed welcome and unseen, unstressed teamwork going on that kept the mood relaxed, loose and easy. If there were any tensions or problems last night behind the scenes, we didn’t know about it. And from the expressions of enjoyment, even contentment, on the faces of everyone else, I don’t think they did, either.
While it might not appeal to the crowd who want a discreet, private table for two in a dark corner, the Le Pigeon family ambiance sets the stage for the unpretentious but exquisite presentation of indescribably delicious and refined dishes. I emphasis refined because I have found, on travels here and in Europe, that refinement is the key quality that separates the good from the supreme. From ingredients to quantity, the ability in any art form – fashion, design, music, film – to edit. To not put too many things into the creation. To know when to stop just short of too much.
To know when enough is enough. Something we all need to practice, over and over again, in our life, our choices and our relationships. To know when to stop. When we have something wonderful, and not ruin it by piling on one more thing – one more expectation, demand, wish, question, dream, or opinion.
And most of all, to know when we come face to face with something so complex, so challenging, so hard to maintain, and yet, so utterly perfect, simple, organic, and right, that we know how lucky, how blessed we are, in that moment, to be experiencing it and say a simple, grateful, thank you.
Just like I did last night.
You can submit your questions or book private phone sessions with Olive at theinnerbottomline.com, explore her new blog at whatskeepingyouawakeatnight.com, or call into her blogtalkradio.com show, “The Inner Bottom Line,” at 661-449-1425 with your questions. All letters and calls can be anonymous and confidential.
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