I can't help but stare. Naomi Pomeroy is deftly balancing braised pork cheeks atop spinach-stuffed chickpea crêpes. I'm not being rude just because I'm anxious to eat (though the smooth, earthy mushroom soup we'd had earlier—er, the "wild mushroom velouté"—did bode extremely well for what was to come in the six-course prix fixe meal). I'm staring because this is the woman who had a very public downfall when she and her then-husband's restaurant empire, ripe (which included the original incarnations of clarklewis and the Gotham Building Tavern) crumbled two years ago. And here she is, pouring little ladlefuls of pork demi-glace on each plate, wiping up the errant drip with a towel, as if this is where she was meant to be all along. Damn, what a comeback. I'm in awe—of her skills in the kitchen, and her bravery for opening a new venture in Northeast Portland.
I gawked at our charcuterie plate, too, the second round of the evening (if you don't count the bonus gruyere-laced gougères that appeared soon after we'd ordered wine). House-pickled vegetables competed for attention with things like a bacon-wrapped pork pâté, a foie gras bonbon bejeweled with apple gelee, and a ribbon of duck prosciutto topped with a sliver of kumquat. Though some of the offerings were more adventurous than I'm used to—like a tiny rectangle of toast cradling a quail egg and steak tartare—each bite was a testament to Pomeroy's talent and attention to detail. (Pomeroy changes the broader menu weekly, and makes minor tweaks each day.)
The pork cheeks are next. Roasted baby artichokes and a salsa of green olives, peppadew peppers, anchovies, and capers finish what I'd watched Pomeroy start. The meat is impossibly tender. The rich sauce plays up the nutty crêpe. Once my plate is empty, I consider whether anyone at the communal table will notice if I run my fingers around the plate and lick them clean. I envy the couple sitting next to us as their plates of pork arrive.
The salad course is a bit of a letdown after that pork high. Endive and Miner's lettuce dressed with a Meyer lemon cream are flecked with orange roe and bits of smoked trout. It's a good salad, but it's not the star of the evening. Across the street, framed in the only lit window of a second-floor apartment, a woman showers in silhouette. Our server tells us there are usually two people behind the steamed-up window. Somehow, the peek into the neighboring apartment enhances the intimacy of Beast's candlelit dining room, and plays off the irreverent quotes scrawled on the back wall in chalk.
Dessert arrives. I try to savor my itsy rhubarb tarte Tatin, drizzled in a balsamic caramel sauce, but the perfect scoop of buttermilk ice cream alongside threatens to melt if I dawdle. I oblige, after sneaking a taste of the poached apricot (in champagne and brown sugar, no less) on my partner's cheese plate.
At $45 for five courses, or $52 if you dare to put back the cheese plate and dessert, Beast isn't cheap. But in Pomeroy's skilled hands, and considering the quality of ingredients and breadth of what's placed in front of you—not to mention the show that the staff and neighbors put on—it's a steal.