Petite Jacqueline, Portland
Posted on September 14, 2011
by Joe Ricchio
There is something quite comforting about dining out by oneself, sitting at a bar, completely unimpeded by a companion's expectations or preferences. In this situation, there is no compromise. What you want is all that matters.
One of the more obvious problems with this scenario is the inevitable limitation of menu exploration due to stomach capacity. I suppose that a multiple course tasting menu with considerably smaller portions could remedy this, but it could also turn the dinner into somewhat of a production, and is not what I'm looking for on this particular Tuesday evening.
What I would prefer is to order a few courses, drink exactly one bottle of wine, and have paid the bill within one hour's time. Petite Jacqueline, a French bistro and sister restaurant to Five Fifty-Five, seems like a reasonable choice given this list of needs, so I decide to stroll on in and perch myself at the end of the bar.
On previous visits, the server uniform has consisted of white button down shirts under a black vest, a look commonly associated with the "bistro waiter." It appears that the old uniform has been replaced by different variations of the Breton shirt, a style inspired by the French Navy. Though the bartender, Josh, is able to pull the look off effortlessly, I feel that I would slightly resemble the Michelin Tire Man if I were to attempt to do the same.
While quietly celebrating my choice of a vertically striped shirt pattern, I decide on a bottle of 2005 Domaine du Gros´ Noré, a mourvedre blend from Bandol. Though it won't necessarily pair up across the board, it is what I feel like drinking, which is really what's important on a night like this. Petite Jacqueline offers a very fairly priced wine list, with a combination of boutique wineries and larger, better-known producers, topped off with a smattering of safe and familiar choices from California, such as Sonoma Cutrer and Silver Oak.
The aromas of the Domaine du Gros´ Noré are rife with leather, black pepper, and barnyard. This is a perfect segue to the flavors of blackberry, earth, and currant, all of which, in relation to terroir, are textbook attributes of red wine from Bandol.
To start I am presented with a warm, housemade baguette, sheathed in a brown paper bag bearing a fleur-de-lis and served with a ramekin of soft tarragon butter. Kitchen towels have been substituted in favor of traditional linen napkins, setting the stage for a relaxed and casual dining experience.
My first course is a sweet corn soup, topped with a few dashes of extra virgin olive oil. The intensity of flavor is remarkable, as is the velvety, silky smooth texture. Prominently showcasing the quality of August corn, it is truly one of the more memorable soups that I have enjoyed in recent times.
The light around the bar begins to dim slightly, and Josh puts his experience as a photographer to good use by holding a lamp over each of my plates, greatly enhancing the quality of the shots.
When told that the foie gras terrine was stuffed with veal sweetbreads, I had trouble imagining what the texture would be like. I decided to take a chance. The foie gras terrine is joined on the plate by local honey, black garlic puree, fresh pluots, and brioche toast. Though I appreciate the effort here, the sweetbreads seemed to loosen up the block of terrine, causing it to crumble apart and start to melt, which I found to be a bit challenging with the ripe and juicy pluots.
I continue my parade of meat spreads with the far more successful duck liver mousse, encased in cognac gelée. The vivid duck flavor of the mousse makes a delightful companion to the tangy, pickled red onions and cornichons provided to assemble atop toast points with a dab of grain mustard. After running out of toast points I employ the leftover baguette in an effort to not miss a single bite.
My final course is the roasted chicken, served with baby carrots cooked in tarragon and a traditional pan sauce. Many cooks agree that you can judge the quality of a restaurant by the way it treats the bird, as it is a very simple yet often botched procedure. Tonight they have been quite successful, with perfectly crispy skin covering tender and juicy meat, floating in a pool of juices flavored with pan drippings and herbs.
As the meal comes to an end, I have achieved each of the goals set prior to arrival. I have worked my way around the menu, consumed a delicious bottle of wine (though I did leave a little bit for Josh), and completed my meal in about an hour. This of course frees me up to engage in what logically follows the experience of dining by oneself at a bar: drinking several glasses of bourbon at another bar.
190 State St. | Portland | 207.553.7044 | bistropj.com