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Joined: 17 Mar 2006
|Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 8:47 pm Post subject: I survived Le Pigeon: a combination book / restaurant review
|I came across a book that sounded intriguing, "Everyday
Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things", by
Laurence Gonzales. I guess I was in the market for a book
in the "big idea" category, having just finished Anderson's
"Free", and "The Long Tail", and re-reading Freakonomics.
To be brief about it, the early chapters had some good
material, about enough to make a fascinating magazine
article, but the book suffered from a kind of bloat as the
author seemed to pad it out with what came across as a
"brain dump", telling everything he knew, and then some,
on various unrelated topics. I've given up trying to figure
out how quantum mechanics fits into the picture.
The best parts were in describing how our society has solved
nearly all the problems that our evolutionary ancestors struggled
with, and how we use pre-conceived stereotypes and a
"vacation" mindset to lull us into not recognizing dangers in
our immediate environment.
It was while mulling these ideas that I took my friend out
to dinner at a fancy restaurant, Le Pigeon, in Portland, Oregon.
I wrangled a certificate for two free "burgers" at Le Pigeon
(henceforth, "LP"), and since I knew that Steven loved
cheeseburgers, I thought he'd appreciate a fancy interpretation
of his favorite food. I hadn't seen Steven in several months,
as he was out of town on a stressful contract job doing technical
design work. Things hadn't gone well, not to mention all that
time alone in a motel one step above crummy, gently nestled
between two freeways. He'd lost a lot of weight, he'd told me,
though when I saw him, he wasn't scrawny.
His first reaction to LP was surprise at the location. If you
hadn't been around much, and you didn't drive in Portland
(check and check), then you wouldn't have known that this
historically seedy and unsavory part of town had recently
become fairly trendy, with boutiques and upscale restaurants.
Crossing Burnside to get to it accentuated whatever anxiety
he had originally, and he pointed out where there"naked ladies"
were (the strip clubs apparently haven't been gentrified).
LP is a small restaurant, not much bigger than a suburban
living room, and that space includes a counter behind which
two chefs work at stoves, their work open to the room and
especially to those at the counter. I'd never been there, but
I knew from research that only a communal table and the
counter were open to those without reservations (as we were,
and I'll spare the pun). I guessed he'd be more comfortable
at the counter so I steered that way and we were soon seated.
He immediately seemed upset, and when I asked him if anything
was wrong, he mumbled something like "how about everything?"
I was having a hard time understanding what was upsetting him
and offered that we could leave but he didn't take me up on my
offer. Finally he said it was the noise. There was conversation,
and there was music, but they didn't seem very loud. The
conversation especially seemed apt for a place that was, by
design, a good place to be seen drinking wine, low and intimate.
It was a white noise generator, he thought, but we soon agreed
that it was from the hood for the stoves that were only a few
feet away from us. When a bit of flame leaped from the nearby
stove as the nearest chef tossed a fish in a pan, I finally got into
the spirit of the thing, and tried to understand the sense of danger
that Steven felt. From that point on, I was sensitized to it, albeit
in an abstract way. The high stools, the proximity to the flaming
stove, the menu's footnote that stated that unpasteurized eggs
were used in the burger, the fact that the waitress told us they
(the burgers) were served rare, the occasional jostle by someone
getting by, all these contributed, to what was to me, a humorous
theme of "danger".
The burgers were excellent (though by now I was weighing the
risks of burgers that were so "rare"). The "fries" too, potatoes
that had been fried and then refried, were excellent, though they
reminded me of the dangers of fried foods. The meal passed
without further incident, though I noticed that Steven didn't
eat quite a lot of the food on his wooden plate. (Won't likely
shatter, but could catch fire.)
When we got out, Steven was hyperventilating and leaning against
a brick wall. I was pretty surprised that he hadn't mostly
been joking, riffing on the theme as I had, but was clearly in
This episode has me wondering. It is easy for me to dismiss
Steven's reaction as out of scale with the situation, but reading
ES: WSMDST, has made me willing to reconsider that perhaps
it was *my* reaction that was out of scale. Until then, LP offers
a very tasty meal, with very good service in a charming, if
somewhat noisy environment. That is, if you don't mind a
little danger with your meal.
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