|Spinach and sweet onion soup with lobster cream|
Bravo’s series of Top Chef shows has showcased several chefs who’ve subsequently turned up on the “must” list for The Restaurant Dieter and the TRD Spouse. On a Top Chef Masters, Anita Lo of Annisa performed so consistently week-to-week that, though she did not win, we sought out her exceptional New York restaurant. Annisa’s grapefruit “soup”dessert is unmatched in my hall of fame.
This past season brought us Naomi Pomeroy of Portland’s Beast. She was among the youngest of competitors, disdained the formality of the chef’s jacket, consistently performed well and captivated us. Though she did not win, her French toast in an episode in which the chefs had to cook for contestants from the television show, “The Biggest Loser,” looked great.
On a recent visit to Beast, we found her much as she appeared on television. Her reddish brown hair was pulled back conservatively, but she sported trademark dangly earrings and a lacy black blouse over a black tank. At the bottom of her skinny jeans were chef’s clogs, tapping to the ’80s music as she and her team set up for the latest of her two seatings.
|Mesquite grilled ribeye|
Beast can accommodate 24 seats at two communal tables. We reserved for the 8:45 p.m. seating. Because there’s no place to wait outside, we had a drink at a restaurant down the street. It apparently happens frequently, according to our waiter. We joked that the other restaurant should call itself “Pre-Fix” and offer starters to complement Pomeroy’s weekly changing menu.
Eating at Beast is an act of faith. A diner gets what Pomeroy puts on on her six-course menu. And if there’s any doubt, there’s a note at the bottom that says, “substitutions politely declined.” She wants to cook her food, and you can like it or not. No effort is made to accommodate a dieter.
That raises questions about why The Restaurant Dieter would eat there in the first place. The answer takes the form of a couple of simple questions: What could be learned by eating at the same few restaurants with healthy fare over and over again? And what incentive would restaurateurs have to improve if they received no feedback from dieters?
So on that basis: We had an awfully good meal that I can’t begin to tally nutritionally. Nor would I try. At more than $200 for a couple plus tip — one of us had the wine pairings — this is not something one does every day. And an occasional splurge seems warranted if one eats sensibly most of the time.
The first course was a cold, spinach and sweet onion soup with a velvety base, a dollop of lobster cream and some sake-cured steelhead roe. It was hard to decide whether to stir all the lobster cream into the soup, or hold it in reserve as a splendid finish.
A chartcuterie plate followed with a single bite of several items. The highlights were a well-seasoned steak tartare on toast with a delicate quail’s egg. The foie-gras bon-bon might just as well have been a creamy milk chocolate; it was that good. This from a diner who typically does not like foie-gras.
The main of mesquite-grilled, grass fed Carmen Ranch ribeye sat in a sauce that was too heavily salted, with a bread salad and green beans. It wasn’t inedible, but overbearing. And given the addictive properties of salty food, a potential deal breaker.
|Shaved kohlrabi salad with salmon|
|Tayberry and golden raspberry trifle|
A salad of thinly-shaved kholrabi, lovage-cured salmon and a preserved lemon salsa verde was the most creative I’ve seen in some time. It left me wanting more, though it there was a tad too much oil on the plate. Chastened by the “no substitutes” rule, I did not request any changes. But I imagine that the kitchen might have been willing to put the oil on the side. Next time, I’ll test that.
Courses five and six were a perfectly ordinary cheese tasting and a tayberry and golden raspberry trifle with a rich malt ice cream. In a world where restaurants have abandoned cakes (other than chocolate), it was a welcome relief. The yellow cake was dense and rich, with a nice moist crumb, but light. It was a small enough portion that even a dieter could feel pretty good.
If you behave yourself most of the time and consider Beast an occasional treat, you have my full permission to go.