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Thursday
Sep152011

Beast, Portland

Chef Naomi Pomeroy was featured on Top Chef Masters, Season 3 and is obviously a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. I have a beef with Beast with regard to the delivery and logistics, not Chef’s execution.  Additionally, the manner in which each plate it is served, immediately reminded me of a high-end catered party for 24 people or a private wedding reception. Finally, the indifferent service of the front-of-house staff simply rubbed me the wrong way, especially with all the hype surrounding this restaurant.

Execution vs. Delivery

Chef shows wonderful execution with regard to ingredients. A main course of lamb that was evenly seared and served right-on medium-rare. A lobster bisque that was wonderfully smooth, full of flavor and comforting as a first course. An obvious expertise with charcuterie and the tour of her skills in our second course.

"But all of this culinary execution falls short due to poor delivery."

The charcuterie was well executed, served at room temperature, and assembled while I was drinking my soup. And as a result, the various breads, crackers, and pastries underneath each were soggy. Additionally, the steak tartare had oxidized to a brownish color and awfully warm.

A scoop of palate cleansing sorbet was half its size when it reached my guest and me, simply because we were the last ones served.  Our poor, lonely sorbet languished in the heat of the service area, melting away. Too bad, it tasted good.

The main course of lamb was served on cold plates, with a room temperature veal and duck demi-glace. The potato, mushroom, and cardoon gratinee that accompanied the lamb was nowhere close to oven hot. Why? All 24 plates in the restaurant were set up for the entire restaurant to see, like an assembly line in a manufacturing plant. No way any course is going to be hot when it reaches me . While I can’t be specific because I wasn’t using a timer, dishes were being assembled in the delivery area ahead of time, and not 2 minutes ahead for sure. Literally impossible for a dish to be hot.

Our salads had already begun to wilt under the heat of the kitchen and the room in general.

Service vs. Order Taking

Indifference. Complete indifference with regard to our presence at the communal table is how my guest and I interpreted the staff’s attention toward us. Another way to put it, the service I receive on an airplane in First Class is akin to the service at Beast. Food is served, quickly explained and the server is off to place dishes in front of someone else. And when expediting is over, go hide behind the bulk head. At least in First Class, my ration of wine isn’t measured to the milliliter.

In the positive category, the wine pairing supplement was well chosen. Not since Menton in Boston or DOC in Portland, have I had such a well thought out pairing. However, I thought I may have participated in a university experiment complete with scientific measuring instruments to demonstrate the affect that pouring small, precise quantities of wine have on the dining experience. They claim a 3 ounce pour per course, but I think even the Swiss pour more liberally. Wine is an up-sell, an additional revenue source. I actually asked for more wine for the lamb course. And considering they had to open up another bottle of the wine, proper wine service was not observed. The wine was not sampled by me prior to service.

To complete my service indifference and wine rationing argument, not a single server asked if we would like an additional half-glass or full pour of wine. Not once. It was finally clear mid-way through dinner the staff were expeditors, not servers. They didn’t do much more than bring us our meal, with only a brief explanation of the dish, no more than I could have read myself from the menu provided. Never once was I asked how the meal was. It’s as though they never really wanted us to settle in, get comfortable and have a full glass of wine.

"Why? Next Course is coming and don’t get too relaxed, the Second Seating happens in 29 minutes."

When the last course was served and finally removed, the indication became very clear that it was time to leave and indifference turned to overt dismissal. Insert the most blatant “Get the F$%! Out” message I have ever received at a restaurant, really loud Rap music gets played until the last customer leaves, which of course was me. Two full songs were played, so give it 6 minutes for people to clear out, before song 3 came on. I waited until the entire table was cleared before I paid. No chance I was leaving, just to see how long the music was played. The arrogance as my bill was flicked in front of me without so much as a “Thank You”.

Final Analysis

Beast in PDX has garnered the attention of many across the country. A limited menu that offers no substitutions and dinner is served only Wednesday through Saturday is at the height of cool in Portlandia. The two tables are communal, unless you’re lucky enough to sit at the service counter where only two seats are available.

I felt somewhat taken advantage of. Somewhat duped into believing like so many others that because of the Chef Pomeroy’s reputation, set menu, the difficulty obtaining a seat, the limited hours of operation, “substitutions politely declined” attitude of Beast that somehow Beast was the best in Portland.

"With all of the strict adherence to rules, precise execution, limitations on portions, and indifferent service, Beast becomes nothing more that expensive, individual plated airline or wedding food experience, in an atmosphere that while communal isn’t neighborly or relaxed, but rather unemotionally looking toward their second seating at 8:45pm. I would have felt that a countdown timer above the kitchen hood would have been appropriate indicating we only had 6 minutes and 13 seconds before Round Two of Diners."

Queue Rap Music...

It’s time for you to pay up and get the F%&! Out, Suckers!

Chef Pomeroy, I appreciate your attention to detail in the kitchen, I can see it and taste it. But I walked away disappointed, perhaps with expectations that don’t fit the venue. Simply put, I’d rather eat at Ad Hoc in Yountville and sit at a table as long as I want with a staff that seems to actually care.

Beast on Urbanspoon

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