Restaurant of the Week: Le Pigeon
by: , Le Pigeon chef Gabriel Rucker makes the former Colleen’s Bistro kitchen his new domain, and the confidence shows.

Colleen's Bistro was a charming place in spite of itself. The temperature in the narrow restaurant fronting East Burnside Street ranged from too hot to too cold, the larder was sometimes nearly bare, the prices ranged precipitously, and the meal arrived, it seemed, when someone finally got around to making it.

Despite all that, the tempting food drew plenty of (Type B) customers back. It was the pro forma seasonable and sustainable type, but executed nearly without pretension or fuss.

Now the restaurant's namesake, Colleen French, has flown the coop, leaving the re-christened Le Pigeon in her dust. The restaurant looks the same and the (local, organic, etc.) menu won't jar fans of the old spot, but the whole experience has markedly improved.

New chef Gabriel Rucker (formerly sous-chef at Gotham Building Tavern) has the sweet, unjaded friendliness of a popular, successful 24-year-old (which he is). He's invariably behind the open kitchen, welcomes customers sincerely and, if it's desired, encourages actual conversation.

Under the new regime, the pacing is ideal; nothing costs more than $19; the staff is accessible but not oppressive; somehow they've even figured out the comfort level.

It gets better. The food is terrific. The frequently changing dinner menu (there's weekend brunch, too) features a pleasantly brief number of options, described simply.

A generous dish of olives with baguette and an assortment of artisan cheeses was perfect for nibbling with a Westry Pinot Noir (funnily, you can order wine by the liter or the bottle). I'm almost never going to pass over a warm bacon vinaigrette, and this one, served over frisee with nuggets of lardon and dollops of creamy blue cheese, only served to cement its place in my mind as the ideal salad dressing.

An entree of maple-lacquered squab (call it 'pigeon with a college degree') made the most of the humble bird, its sugary meatiness enhanced with duck confit hash, earthy liver pâté on crostini and the sour fruity smack of pickled cherries. Another dinner involves perfectly pink medallions of lamb leg arranged with artichokes over a savory white bean stew.

It's a seductive style of cooking you'd return for even if parts of the experience weren't completely smooth. But, blissfully, that's not the case here. Pigeon could easily become your new favorite bird.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

738 E. Burnside St., 503-546-8796, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, $9-$19

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