The story: Little Bird Bistro is the cute name to the second restaurant of Gabriel Rucker, who opened the popular Le Pigeon (get it?). Le Pigeon on the eastside of Portland offers fine-dining French food with a tasting menu and hard-to-get reservations. Little Bird, opened in late 2010, is Rucker’s casual, more accessible French bistro in downtown.
Why I went: While in Portland, I got together with a college friend Ann and wanted to try Little Bird because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get last-minute reservations to Le Pigeon. It was easy to get reservations at Little Bird just a week before I arrived in town.
The vibe: A fun, eclectic place with a brightly lit dining room with mirrors that carries a Parisian bistro vibe. The rustic animal paintings of owls and other birds gave it a Pacific Northwest feel.
The menu: An interesting menu with a lot of French touches such as cassoulet or rabbit. But it also has the casual items such as the Little Bird burger ($32) served with goat cheese, pickles, onions, and seared foie gras. There are chalkboard specials such as fresh Pacific oysters and bone marrow, and a $65 four-course bistro set menu that gives a taste of a few items from the main menu.
The booze: Extensive wine and beer menu, with a few specialty cocktails. The beer definitely reflects the local brewing scene, and the wine list is smartly mostly French varieties with a few sprinkling of Northwest wine.
My favorite dish: After a week of dining (including a couple of Feast Portland events), I wanted to have a smaller dinner, so I ordered two appetizers as my main dish for the night. Of the two (rocotta gnocchi for $14 and crispy sweetbread for $16), my favorite was the crispy sweetbread, which was definitely crispy and served with a poached egg that I initially thought was cheese (it looked like burrata).
Insider tip: I read about Little Bird a few years ago in the New York Times, and in that review it highly recommended the charcuterie board ($25) at Little Bird. I wished I had ordered it (but both my friend and I were trying to eat on the light side) because it sounds like you’ll get a nice overview of the kitchen’s approach to the food. Next time.
The last bite: Little Bird lives up to a lively bistro feel with friendly service and food that still attracts a crowd, which makes the place bustling for a Sunday night. But despite the interesting elements of the menu, I found the food’s execution a bit like running on auto-pilot. There lacked a freshness or soul in the dishes, like they’ve been around for awhile.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Little Bird Bistro, 215 SW Sixth St., Portland. PH: 503.688.5952. Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; weekends, 5 p.m. to midnight. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. littlebirdbistro.com
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