Substance and Style on Longfellow Square
Petite Jacqueline, sitting very pretty indeed on Longfellow Square in Portland, is just what I expected it to be: a modern-day bistro with all the classic accoutrements of the genre.
When Petite Jacqueline opened in March it filled a definite niche. “Finally a Bistro,” I wrote briefly at the time; a place to drop in, have a great meal and a good time without breaking the bank. I went there on opening night for an obligatory and very satisfying bowl of onion soup and a glass of white wine. I didn’t venture further because it’s not fair to assess a kitchen on day one, much less to give too many exclamatory generalities even on its thirtieth day.
Enough time has passed to assess the expected. They’ve hit their stride easily. I had no doubt that the restaurant wouldn’t disappoint—certainly not under the experienced hands of two industry pros like Michelle and Steve Corry, proprietors and chef of the inimitable Five Fifty Five.
At Petite Jacqueline, the menu is classic bistro without being a saccharine facsimile. Offered are such well-made first courses as braised leeks, charcuterie, frisee salad with lardoons, and perfect poached egg; also pork belly with cabbage, pig trotters with lentils, and escargots.
The wine list is concise and moderately priced with the choice of ordering a carafe of decent house wine too.
Of the main courses, I’ve tried the roast chicken, boeuf bourguignon, and fluke meuniere which were all first rate. The braised beef seemed to luxuriate in its deep, rich, dark brown sauce; and the chicken was perfectly delicious—crisp skin, very flavorful ( a local bird), and oozing all the goodness of its natural juices.
The plats du jour are an ad hoc collection of daily specials. If it’s Tuesday, then coq au vin prevails. On other days there is cassoulet (Wednesday), steak tartare (Thursday), bouilliabase (Friday) and blanquette de veau (Saturday).
This is all familiar food, the grand-mere of French fare that is stylish yet substantial when done well, which it is. I only wish that the daily specials would join the nightly line up so they could be enjoyed on any day and instead they could give us a few surprises each night, whatever the chef’s caprice might rouse.
The dining room has a great look, a happily vintage space with wainscoting and period fixtures. Still, I was surprised by the choice of furnishings. Those polished metal tables and chairs would look more cheerful in a garden room rather than in the trendy bustle of a sophisticated bistro, a curious choice for charm.
Hackneyed but appropriate cane-backed chairs, wooden pedestal tables with white tablecloths might have been more fitting.
Yet who am I to criticize? The Corrys probably wanted to keep a simple, low maintenance modern style, which they have achieved through simplicity.
The dessert menu is short and sweet, with comforting, understated choices: fruit tarts, crème brulee, chocolate mousse, housemade ice creams, and a cheese plate.
Bistro cooking is rich and filling, and I appreciate a low-profile dessert menu. Still for those of us who seriously like their sweets, it wouldn’t hurt to bring this list up a notch. A buttery tart tatin, profiteroles bathed in a bittersweet chocolate sauce, flaky puff pastry layers supporting a cream filled Napoleon, or even a simple lemon soufflé can be bistro standards, too. Maybe there’s no dedicated pastry chef yet, with one in the wings. Time will tell and my sweet tooth awaits.
Until then I'm glad it's here.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinion. If you'd like to share yours, email him at email@example.com.