In Portland, Oregon, you can travel to various regions of France—without ever leaving the city. Michael Stanton, Executive Chef at The Heathman Restaurant & Bar, is creating a series of pre fixe menus that focus on different French regions – and it has foodies cheering.
The Heathman Hotel and its restaurant have long been a fixture on the Portland hospitality scene. For two decades, very French Master Chef Philippe Boulot led the restaurant’s culinary direction. When Boulot left in 2012 to head up food services for the tony MAC club, he handpicked Michael Stanton to take his place. It’s not a surprise because Stanton, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, has worked alongside Francophile chefs at Les Celerities and Lespinasse in New York City and served as sous chef at La Chachette in Los Angeles under the tutelage of Jean-Francois Meteinger, Maitre Cuisinier de France. At The Heathman Restaurant’s helm, Stanton is incorporating classic French techniques with uber-fresh, seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients in ways that are creatively delicious.
Stanton’s regular lunch and dinner menus change daily, depending on what’s market fresh and the chef’s inclination. Sometimes just a few dishes change; other times the entire dinner menu is altered. The night we visited, the ala carte dinner entrees ($25-30) included classical choices such as risotto, rib eye, duck, lamb shoulder, rabbit, pork chop and scallop, salmon, bouillabaisse, and sweet breads.
Bounty of Bordeaux
While the regular dinner menu looked delicious, we were here to enjoy Chef Stanton’s pre fixe Bounty of Bordeaux menu paired with wines from the restaurant’s extensive French collection. We began our French gastronomic adventure with a refreshing amuse bouche of bay scallops and cauliflower in a light cream sauce.
Les Fruits de Mer came next. It was a delightfully light herb salad of steamed mussel, house smoked scallop, cured cod sliced paper thin, and green onion and celery slightly dressed in a delicately briny caviar crème. This was a clear signal that we were in for a special meal.
This lovely fish salad was paired with 2012 Entre Deux Mers, Chateau Terte de Launay, a delightfully crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc that sliced right through the smoky fish.
Our second course, Escargot a la Bordelaise, confirmed our first impressions. The chef showed off both his culinary expertise and his sense of humor with this dish that used a hollowed out circle of potato to represent a marrow bone, and topped it with a tiny piece of succulent bone marrow and several super rich snails marinated in a decadent bordelaise sauce. Magnifique!
The escargot dish came with a 2011 Bordeaux from Chateau Lamothe de Haux. This wine, a bit heartier than the Sauvignon Blanc, had a bit of sharpness that paired just right with the rich bordelaise sauce.
The fish course, Esturgeon au Cèpes, was much lighter, giving our palates a needed break from the decadence of the escargot. The sturgeon came as a two by three inch filet, crisp on the outside and delightfully moist on the inside with roast cepes (a type of mushroom) and an unusual smoked cipollini marmalade that gave the dish a smoky sweetness. My dining companion said of the tiny onions, “I could eat these all day.”
We were surprised that the wine chosen for this course was a red, a blend of Merlot and Sauvignon, from Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tours. However, it was a thoughtful choice because this was not a heavy red, but rather a soft flirtatious libation. It proved a perfect match for the meatiness and robust flavor of the sturgeon. This wine also signaled a transition to a heartier portion of the menu.
Deep Flavors, Smoke, Silky Sauces
By this phase of our meal, we’d gotten a good idea of Chef Stanton’s culinary signature: rich, deep, earthy flavors, balanced with lighter fresh flavors. He loves to smoke foods and puts the restaurant’s basement smoker to good use with both proteins and vegetables. He’s also a master at sauces, especially creamy, silky sauces that aren’t overly heavy yet still possess a satisfying complexity.
The chef’s next offering was a cassoulet that reminded us of both hearty peasant food and more sophisticated fare. It was made with asturian beans, a dried bean similar to a small lima. It was topped with several slices of crispy duck confit that had been painted with salty soy butter and sprinkled with fresh herbs to freshen this rich dish. The beans offered the perfect foil for the intensely-flavored duck; their chewy goodness balancing out its lush flavor.
A 2005 Margauz from Brio de Cantecnac was the wine selection. This Merlot/Cabernet Savignon with its hints of herbs, tobacco, and black current was everything a bordeaux should be. This red was able to hold the rich duck and briny soy butter like a perfect picture frame.
Our cheese course, boucherondin de chèvre, came with a thin slice of baguette grilled crisp, a sweet-tart golden raising marmalade, and a slab of creamy goat cheese. It was paired with a Semillion, 2009 Loupiac from Chateau Loupiac Gaudiet, that served to lighten the goat cheese.
Our attentive waiter, Dave, told us, “Goat cheese and sauvignon blanc naturally go together,” and brought my dining companion another glass of the Chateau Lamothe. After trying this wine with the goat cheese, she grinned and said, “He’s absolutely right.”
Dessert was Canelé de Bordeaux with chocolate mousse and caramel ice cream. The two inch high canele had just the right soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust and was topped with a small scoop of decadent caramel ice cream.
The chocolate mousse was ultra-silky with a deep chocolate flavor. It sat on a bed of chocolate cookie crumbs that gave it a toothy contrast. It was served with a 2009 Sauternes from Chateau Castelnau de Sauduirant that was playful and sweet without being syrupy and it both enhanced and lightened the dessert course.
The night we dined was the last for Chef Stanton’s tour of the Bordeaux region of France (though it was so popular, I suspect Bounty of Bordeaux will return). In the meantime, you can taste a different part of France with chef’s next pre fixe culinary journey. For those of us who love food and well-paired wine, it’s worth the trip. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos Anne Weaver, RFT Editor