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Roosevelt is wild culinary romp through forest, field and stream

Bread & Brew


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: LEAH NASH - Kingdom of Roosevelt in Southeast Portland has a diverse menu, including Fallow Deer Heart Tartare with His Marrow. Eric Bechard is a chef, not a frontiersman.Once upon a time, in a kingdom not so far away, there was a forest full of all kinds of woodland creatures. And people ate them.

Rabbits, elk, ducks and deer aren’t unusual foods in the big scheme of things, but as they appear on the menu at Kingdom of Roosevelt, they seem exotic. Partially that’s a commentary on how domesticated our food supply has become. And partially it’s the preparations, which often involve French techniques and startling flavor combinations.

Owner Eric Bechard is an award-winning chef, not a frontiersman. He retains a stake in a previous project, Thistle in McMinnville. Before that, he was known in Portland as the ace chef at the now-closed Alberta Street Oyster Bar.

Oysters are on the menu at Kingdom of Roosevelt, too. They’re from Netarts Bay, and they’re one of the more mainstream appetizers. Both deer heart tartare and elk heart tartare have appeared on the menu; my date and I opted for the pickled elk tongue instead.

The tongue was sliced very thin, with a noticeable vinegar bite and gauzy texture. It served as a piquant garnish for an accompanying beet salad. The sweetness of the tender purple beets was countered by the sour taste of wood sorrel leaves and yogurt, and thrown into relief with fresh shaved horseradish. It was a dish like a mobile sculpture: colorful, balanced, constantly changing, depending on the angle of approach.

Duck breast, given a similarly complex treatment, wasn’t nearly as good. The meat was served raw and pounded, like carpaccio, but it was too chewy and had a vague, slightly muddy flavor. It wasn’t rich enough for a sharp-tongued party of garnishes — buttermilk, fennel, feta and slivers of spring strawberries — which were even less disposed to interact with the duck than I was.

And then — a small work of genius. A custard made with the liver of wood pigeon was light as panna cotta and as lingering as butter. It was served in a glass pâté jar, with the customary sealing layer of gelatinous fat on the surface. In place of a side of berry jam, it was topped with a handful of pickled huckleberries. They provided pop and contrast, with that tart berry flavor that goes so well with pâté, but without any interfering sweetness.

The bread was excellent, too, super-fresh crusty white and nutty brown in thick slices, also featured in an item listed at the bottom of the menu: “Bread and Fat.” Fortunately this isn’t the long winter of 1881, and the fat, although it is thriftily based on scraps from other dishes, is far from simple drippings. For a while there was goose fat at hand, and now it’s rabbit, rendered into warm rillettes, creamy, meaty and luxurious.

In this setting, where the whole animal is considered, eggs form their own course. About halfway through the meal, there are options like radishes with chicken eggs and smoked steelhead roe, or mountain quail meat paired with quail egg.

Other forest items also get their due: nettles, mushrooms, nuts and berries. Acorn dumplings are a signature dish, although not my favorite. The small, pastalike dumplings mingled with roasted sunchokes in a brown butter sauce that was tangy and too acidic.

Morels, now in season, were more deliciously showcased with asparagus and corn pudding. The pudding had a sweet, tender center and a nice chewy edge. Slender asparagus spears were fresh and buttery, as were the morels, which were carefully crisped.

It was a meat-free highlight. Despite the focus on game, a vegetarian could put together a very satisfying meal here. You would have to be a very phlegmatic vegetarian, though, to tolerate the other people in the room, who are sucking marrow from bones and saying things like, “Here, taste this brain.”

The brain is the custard-like nugget at the center of a whole roasted pigeon head, the crowning touch on the hunter’s stew. The stew is a brave, medieval cauldron of venison gravy with bones and skin and the bloody funk of organ meat. Confit rabbit and duck legs nestle together, along with meatballs made of elk muscle and elk kidney.

For me, the concept outpaced the flavor. The meat was well-cooked, except for a few fibrous bites of rabbit, but overall the taste, as with several other dishes here, veered further to the sharp and acidic than I would have liked. But I give it credit for taking the local food movement to its logical conclusion in the wild.

And here, even the beer is wild. All but one of the beer options are served in 750-milliliter bottles, and all are wild ales, meaning beers fermented with wild yeasts. The wines are local, too, and there’s a good selection of local ciders, to compensate for the absence of cocktails.

This isn’t a crowd-pleasing restaurant, but it is stylish and cozy, with a huge elk antler chandelier suspended overhead. It’s the kind of dinner at which you spend the whole time discussing what you’re eating — a meal that has a story to tell.

5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2035 S.E. César E. Chávez Blvd., 503-477-9286, >www.rooseveltpdx.com

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