The Heathman Restaurant & Bar in Portland, Oregon, has launched its second six-course, pre fixe menu, “Celebrating the Bounty of Lyon,” and it’s a decadent journey through this fascinating region of France.
RFT Editor Anne Weaver and I previously enjoyed the Heathman’s first in this French food celebration, “Bounty of Bourdeaux,” and we were impressed. This Lyon dinner, the second of four menus using classical French techniques with Northwest ingredients, focused on foods and wines cultivated in the Lyon and Rhone river valley. (The restaurant will also highlight cuisine from Burgundy and the Loire Valley in upcoming menus). The Lyon menu, which costs $60 per person ($90 paired with wine) is available through June 2014.
The creative force behind this Franchophile culinary journey is the Heathman’s Executive Chef Michael Stanton. The recipient of the prestigious four-star Forbes Travel Guide award (2014), Stanton took over the reins of this iconic restaurant in 2012 and has been using his very French culinary background to shape the daily menus and develop these special regional French offerings, including this Lyon menu paired with Lyon wines.
“The Lyon appellation is extremely diverse,” said Stanton, “and we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some less common choices. These versatile, food-friendly selections all enhance simple, flavorful dishes rather than overpowering them.”
We started our experience with a salmon tartare with onion and shitake amuse bouche paired with a crisp 2012 Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher Côtes-du-Rhône. The salmon was super-fresh and this little morsel had just the right amount of acid to offset the seafood. The wine both softened the saltiness and acidity and brightened the salmon flavor. Interestingly, we later found out this amuse bouche was delivered with the regular dinner menu and wasn’t really intended for the Lyon menu. However, we weren’t complaining as it was delicious and paired just fine with the white wine.
Our first Lyon dish was Quenelle de Brochet aux Crevisses or quenelles made with pike and scallops with a rich crawfish sauce studded with tiny pieces of the crustacean (see photo above). The three quenelles were silky and super-rich with the clean flavor of pike and the depth of scallop. The sauce—and we know from our Bourdeaux meal here that Chef Stanton is a sauce master—was decadent and slipped effortlessly and satisfyingly over the tongue. My dining companion, who is particularly sensitive to textures, felt the tiny crawfish in the sauce interfered with the silky texture. However, I liked the salty, chewiness of these little crustaceans.
The 2012 Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher Côtes-du-Rhône, which had softened and brightened the amuse bouche, had a similar gentling effect on the intense crawfish sauce which had notes of both salt and pepper.
Second course, Salade Lyonnaise, came as a small disk of toasted bread on a pool of chive crème, frisée, house pickled shallot, and bits of smoky, crisp bacon all topped with a perfectly poached egg. The effect was creamy, crispy, and chewy with the shallots adding interesting vinegary notes that balanced out the creaminess and richness of the dish. The wine, 2011 Eric Texier Brézème Côtes-du-Rhône, was a bit drier and sharper than the first white, and went well with these full complex flavors.
Next came a crispy sweet bread (Ris de Veau Croustillants), accompanied by candied red beets, roasted spring onion, spring garlic, and veal jus. This was a really beautiful dish, a celebration of spring, with reds and greens (spring onion pesto) offsetting the two-inch square of sweetbread. While the sweetbread was flavorful, I’d have liked it a bit crispier. The real star of this dish was the candied beets, which was sweet without overpowering the vegetable’s natural earthiness.
The 2011 Georges Descombes Morgon, a biodynamic red wine, was a surprise. With its deep, dark color, we expected a hearty, dry elixir. It was a happily understated wine, not overly dry, and it cleansed the palate after the rich sweetbreads.
Tender, Rich Beef..and Then Dessert
Beef was our fourth course, a fall-apart tender cheek marinated for 7-10 days in red wine and braised for hours and hours, giving it a rich taste and a beautiful sheen. While the beef was complex with deep flavors, it came under salted. However, quick toss of the shaker resolved this and the beef was a deeply satisfying dish. It came paired with a silky parsnip puree that nicely off-set the richness of this dish. There were also chewy fava beans, shreds of snap peas, and a baby carrot.
The 2011 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape paired with this dish had been double decanted for 24 hours before our arrival and it rounded out the flavors of this red. This kind of care and thoughtfulness with all the red, white and rosé wines hand selected by Heathman’s talented sommelier, James Rahn, was evident throughout the evening. This red wine was gorgeous in color, slightly dry and robust enough to stand up to the intensity of the beef.
The braised beef cheek was definitely one of my favorite dishes from this Lyon menu, but neither of us could finish it. (It made amazing tacos the next day!) Part of this was because the piece of beef was generous as were most of the courses. While American diners are always looking for value and big portions, I’d have appreciated smaller servings. For instance, instead of three silky quenelles, one would suffice. The other reason is that the Lyon menu is rich, unrelentingly rich. Our palates would have appreciated a bit less intensity or at least an occasional break. Instead of an entire poached egg on the Salade Lyonnaise, how about a quail egg? Or, better yet, no egg, but just fresh, crispy greens to give the palate a respite from all the rich, silky, intense flavors.
Fortunately, the cheese course was right-sized and not overly rich. It included a small wedge of creamy goat cheese with a smear of organic honey, a thin slice of crisp grilled bread, and a few chewy candied walnuts. It was also served with three of the most amazing peeled grapes confied (basted) in duck fat. Only the French would use duck fat in such an unusual and delicious manner! The grapes exploded with juiciness with background notes of salty, duckiness.
On its own, the paired 2011 La Ligière Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, tasted quite sweet. But when enjoyed with the cheese, the floral notes of the wine emerged beautifully.
Our sixth and final course was Abricots Grillés, a tiny grilled apricot tart with a savory camembert panna cotta, and a crispy almond praline. The tart had a delicate, airy crust that was a perfect match for the tiny, earthy, not-too-sweet apricots. The uber-satiny panna cotta was silky on the tongue and, when eaten with the crispy, sweet praline, deliciously satisfying.
This dessert plate was perfectly paired with a 2011 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, one of our favorite wines of the evening. While the first muscat was floral, this one offered the flavor and aroma of a Peace Rose. The sweetness of this wine was genius when matched with the savory panna cotta and the grilled apricots.
Real Bottom Line: If you’re interested in the diverse and complex cuisine of the Lyon region of France, the Heathman Restaurant & Bar’s “Celebrating the Bounty of Lyon” six-course, pre fixe menu is a terrific introduction. The flavors are deep and rich and the textures varied— crisp, chewy, smooth and silky. Be forewarned: don’t eat all day before you indulge in this delicious menu. And stay away from the Heathman’s excellent, chewy bread or you’ll never get through all the intense and satisfying tastes of this Lyon menu—and you want to eat it all, you really do. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos by Anne Weaver, RFT Editor
Want to read about the Heathman’s first entry in this regional French series? Check out our review “Heathman Restaurant: Creative French Pre fixe Menus.”