May 15, 2011

Petite Jacqueline Review

I'm sensing an upheaval.

As you may know, Local 188 has been my go-to restaurant in town for a spur of the moment, quality, moderately priced dinner. I know their white fish special will always be good, they have great small plate starts, their cocktails and wine list are great, and the ambiance can fit most any occasion.

But Petite Jacqueline is sneaking up into those categories. Its name has started to spring to my tongue faster than Local's in response to the question, where should we eat tonight?

While this may be a short-lived phenomenon, as I've only been to Bistro PJ twice, whereas Local has stood the test of time, I believe the restaurant has the makings of a 'short list' restaurant. That is, one I'll recommend to out-of-towners, one for friends looking to entertain, and one that I can count on to deliver a reasonably priced, great meal whether it be a Wednesday or a Saturday. 

Petite Jacqueline focuses on French classics- without a twist, just straight-up. I heard someone describe the menu as entry level culinary school 'French Cooking 101,' which, to me, is not a detraction. In Portland, there are very few 'classics' in the new restaurant category- everyone is reaching for something new.  But Steve and Michelle Correy (of Five-Fifty Five) are turning out classics that are simple and good, and can be unexpected if you (like me) are not too familiar with well-executed French classics.

The menu is heavy on the meat- rich preparations of charcuterie, from the trotters ($8) you see above to the charcuterie plate ($9), on this night including pork pate and chicken liver, bacon-wrapped terrine.

The trotters were not my favorite, served cold, and a little too 'springy' (ie. too cartilaginous), but the country-style pork pate was silky smooth and creamy.

Entrees are reasonably priced, from $12 to $26, with $18 being the average.  M. returned to his favorite, the Tartare Frites, a blue plate special on Thursday nights. The mound of steak tartare is gently seasoned (not too much truffle oil, like some) and served with a sous vide egg that creates a richness within this dish.  

And the frites are pretty spot on (my ultimate test being whether I still want to eat them once they've grown cold). 

On this particular night, I tried the Steak Frites, but found it did not surpass the Fluke Meuniere as my favorite entree to date. The steak is a hangar steak, and while it was cooked and seasoned well, the cut of meat just wasn't to my liking. This is not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it's memory didn't follow me around the way the fluke's did.

This meal was enjoyed with a carafe of their house white (C'est La Vie, $11) and finished off with a scoop of espresso ice cream.  I've also had their banana Nutella hazelnut crepes (delicious) and would expect that they make a stellar creme brulee.

Only after dining at Bistro PJ twice, did I realize that this restaurant is doing what few other new restaurants in Portland have done.  While many restaurants open with buzz, as this one did, few deliver on expectations.  Petite Jacqueline seems as though it will appear regularly in the places I visit when I feel I've earned a nice meal out and don't want to risk disappointment.