Highly anticipated wine bar Canard is Gabriel Rucker’s playground, and he knows it. He and co-owner Andy Fortgang are keeping things light and casual, from the chef’s version of a White Castle burger to a list of “kitschy, cult-y” wines. Opening is right around the corner — April 16, as Portland Monthly reported earlier today — but Rucker’s ready to get started. On a Tuesday afternoon, as kitchen staff stocked the restaurant’s small plates above the chef’s pass and cardboard still laid on tables, the James Beard winner walked through his new restaurant with two cones of roasted banana toffee soft-serve with a dairy-stand-perfect swirl. Rucker’s having a blast opening Canard — it was the only way he would do it.
Fortgang was set on another restaurant like a parent on another kid — Rucker said they had their hands full with Little Bird and Le Pigeon, two celebrated restaurants, and he didn’t want the extra stress. The space next to Le Pigeon opened up; Fortgang raised his eyebrows, but Rucker was still unsure. It took one shift meal of steamed burgers, served with spicy pickles and American cheese, to get him on board.
“I said, ‘I could serve these burgers at the new restaurant,’” Rucker said. That’s when Fortgang kicked things into gear, nabbing the next-door location. Traveling through France, the wine director and co-owner found inspiration in various wine bars, but not the way most people envision them. “When you say wine bar, you think a few wines by the glass, some charcuterie, a cheese plate,” Fortgang said. “There are plenty of those across the pond... but there are plenty of places that are super casual but very serious about the food.”
But Rucker’s new menu is stocked with playful dishes: Texas toast topped with sea urchin, foie gras dumplings with peanut sauce, and fried chicken wings with truffle ranch. He said his tartare, served with Chinese sausage, beef, and broccoli, is his take on the Chinese-American classic. “I’m staying true to my style of cooking,” Rucker said. “You come and eat my food, of course you’re going to eat foie gras, but here, you might eat it in dumplings.”
The dishes are small plates, with nothing over $20. The most expensive item is the $20 dry-aged petite New York steak, served with a french onion soup sauce and Swiss cheese toast. The steak tartare with lettuce cups is $6.
A similar range of prices appears on the wine list, with a set of 20 glass pours and 250 bottles. Fortgang roughly priced wines by the glass between $8 and $20, which he said is a lower markup than other industry spots.
“It’s all relative, what represents value in wine — you could be a millionaire and see a $20 bottle of wine and call it expensive, or you could be far from that and say, ‘This wine is only $100!’ It’s great value — if you care,” Fortgang said.
Fortgang let himself have fun with this wine list, which he said is meant to stir up conversation. For instance, he includes an entire page of California pinot noir — sacrilege in Willamette Valley country. He also eyed specifically nerdy bottles; “I would rather source out a wine with bottle age than a big name.”
The cocktail menu follows a similar cheekiness to the food menu— Bar manager Aaron Zieske of Little Bird hopped on board Canard’s elaborate cocktail menu and went all out immediately, making a bourbon cocktail with a foie gras fat wash. “It’s a technique that’s been used quite a bit in the last eight years, but I haven’t seen it done with foie gras,” Zieske said. His version of a salty dog runs through an electric juicer, making it particularly fluffy. He calls it a Great Pyrenees — a breed known for its fluffy fur.
Zieske’s willing to play along, but he has limits — he cringed at the prospect of serving mimosas at the restaurant’s brunch, once it opens, but he’s still designing some low-proof cocktails and a long list of fortified wines for early-morning drinking. Also on the menu for day drinkers: boozy milkshakes with that house soft serve, with possible flavor combos like chartreuse and mint or calvados and apple brandy.
Brunch isn’t in the cards yet; as promised, Rucker will open early, from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday, but not until sometime in May. When it opens in April, the restaurant will stick to dinner and late night from 4 p.m. to midnight daily, serving foie gras dumplings and foie gras bourbon, with a soft-serve cone to finish.
• Canard [Official]
• Le Pigeon’s Sister Restaurant, Canard, Opens April 16 [PoMo]
• All Canard coverage [EPDX]