Restaurant: Pix Patisserie

Pix Patisserie came doubly recommended. I was sitting at the circ desk in the library during a quiet moment, leafing through the November, 2006 issue of Portland Monthly magazine, the one with the new food editor’s choices for the 15 best restaurants (and assorted food carts) of the year in Portland, Oregon. I’d been looking for options for a café to bring an out-of-town visitor, but in my year here, I’ve gotten to know very little of the city. Besides, always a new place! I’m not much for revisiting food establishments when there are so many untried waters to explore. Not unless by some very happy circumstance, the place in question is somewhere like L’Espalier or Red Bones.

At any rate, Pix was among the lucky 15, and the only primarily dessert place on the list. We would be meeting up after dinner, so that was just the sort of restaurant I wanted. As it says on the tin, a patisserie. As I was busily copying names and addresses onto one of those pieces of scrap paper we leave out by the card catalog for call numbers and other notes, my co-worker glanced at the magazine, open to the page about Pok Pok (apparently a sort of permanent food shack serving Thai street food).

“Have you ever been?” he asked me.

“Nope,” said I. “I was actually looking at Pix for a dessert place.”

“You should go. They’re done the street from each other, so you can get dinner at Pok Pok, and then walk down to Pix for dessert. They just got a dining area at Pok Pok. It used to be just take-out. You should get the…kai yhang?”

I showed him a picture and description of said dish from the article. Roasted cornish hens, yum. But nope, the thing he was thinking of was pork. I showed him another dish. Nope. “It has…not papaya. Something green and shredded. It’s really good.”

I suppose I’ll find out when I go there sometime.

For tonight, it was dessert-only, so Pix Patisserie it was. There are three locations, one on SE Division, one on N Williams, and a new location on Hawthorne where Bar Pastiche used to be. They were having a flight night at the N Williams location, but it was port (and I wasn’t in the mood for port), and much farther out of the way than the two SE restaurants, so I chose Division Street.

As I discovered, it’s one of those streets that’s full of trendy little restaurants, though it’s obvious that like so much of Portland, it’s still shaking off the past in the form of adult theaters (burlesques?) and video rental stores. Up a little stoop, past several unoccupied outdoor tables (it was a dreary, rainy day), and into the bakery.

It’s a good strategy for any food establishment to put food front and center, and Pix’s display case does just that. I’m not sure I looked at much else besides the display case the whole time I was at the counter. For a café so small and in Portland, they have quite a large selection of desserts, mostly tarts, petits fours, and specialties like chocolate bombes and fruit gummies. Pix is a bakery of the small portions, intricate construction persuasion, and in its case even the forks and plates were tiny, delicate things.

At first, all the tables along the wall were occupied, so my friend and I chose one of the very tall bar-stool-type tables in the center of the room. There was also a red-tiled bar on the opposite end of the small room. Though Pix has a display case and a cash register, a server brought water and place settings right away, and we spent some time flipping through the extensive menu, housed in a postcard-sized album. There are as many, if not more, wines, beers and spirits at Pix Patisserie, as it’s customary for even the smallest restaurants around here to serve alcohol. Beer, especially. Pix distinguishes its selection with a long list of dessert wines as well as a number of important beers–essential standards such as Chimay and Pilsner Urquell. On the blackboard were a short selection of savory snacks.

Since I actually hadn’t had dinner, I ordered the goat cheese and onion tart first thing, and my friend, who is vegan, negotiated a decaf soy cappuccino. Both came very soon after we noticed the free table behind us and moved all our stuff over. The friend (who was very impressed with Northwest coffee in general), was pleased with her coffee. I tried the tart while I attempted to converse and finish choosing a dessert and a drink, all at the same time. Finally, I settled on a glass of Andrew Rich 2003 Gewürtztraminer dessert wine and a piece of opera cake.

And though Pix is a patisserie, my favorite part of the meal was the tart. Smooth, smooth yellow filling, a cache of finely julienned pale onion in the middle, and just enough goat cheese flavor that comes through after about the third bite to give the tart complexity. The pastry, though not particularly notable, left no complaints. All in all, a pleasing mixture of rustic and refined.

To tell the truth, I can’t remember much about the opera cake, except that I always love the many many thin, solid layers. Next time, if I do return, I think I’ll try the pear tart with rosemary ganache. I wasn’t really in the mood for fruit tonight.

Lastly, the wine. It was difficult to get any scent off it at all, partly because of all the ambient smells (mostly coffee), and partly because the little glass didn’t leave much room to funnel any smells, even when I stuck my nose in it and sniffed hard. I love the sweet taste of dessert wines, though, especially dessert wines made from German grapes, and this one was nice: not too sweet, not too thick, a clear, pretty amber (light amber), and the winey bitterness balanced the sweet wonderfully.

The staff: young and friendly and chatty (but not too chatty).
The crème brûlée: torched in situ for maximum effect.
The tea: Harney & Sons, to make Zabbers happy. Tea bags, not loose tea, but this is not a tea town.
The hours: Insane. Open 7am to midnight Monday-Thursday (and until a whopping 2am on weekends) at the N Williams address, a more reasonable 10am to midnight on Division.
The takeout: I bought two pastries to bring home and share or eat later, a passionfruit, mango, coconut cake and a hazelnut chocolate mousse bombe.

Pix Patisserie is at 3402 SE Division Street in Portland, Oregon



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