When I try a new restaurant, I hear things. Like if the meal is lackluster, I might hear the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, or if it’s grand, I might hear wind chimes or the Happy Days theme song, or if it’s just somewhere in the middle I might hear the flat thud a cupcake makes when it falls from your hand onto the ground, frosting-down. At St. Jack, I hear The Price Is Right theme song.
You could take this literally, the prices are reasonable and quite a good value, although St. Jack isn’t a cheap eat. But beyond that, you know when you’re watching The Price is Right, and they’re playing that happy little song and ringing bells, and the studio audience is clapping maniacally, and people are running willy-nilly down the aisles towards dreams of a new jet ski and a Corvette and a hug from Bob Barker? It’s all very exciting!
And considering that St. Jack meets all hopeful expectations conceived when peering in the windows at its beautiful innards and surveying its ooo-la-la menu, this pretty little bistro is a comparably exhilarating addition to Portland’s elegant-casual dining ranks.
Starters include a rather decadent Salad Lyonnaise spotted with savory baby finger-sized lardons of bacon, bacon fat croutons, and topped with a skillfully-poached egg, all tumbling around in a big, deep glass bowl that you won’t have any trouble licking the bottom of, unless you have a particularly rotund noggin.
The intimate corner eatery is beautifully designed, beckoning to passerby with a cheerfully-formidable front door painted the color of a tarte au citron, brick-rimmed wood floors, a convivial mirror-backed zinc bar (so you can see yourself hearing things), perfect lighting, and cozy bistro tables adorned with fresh tulips.
At the north end, a double doorway joins St. Jack Restaurant with St. Jack Patisserie, which opens daily at 8am to provide locals with some of the most ethereal freshly-baked madeleines ever to melt in your mouth, flaky ham and cheese croissants, chocolate-glazed eclairs, Stumptown coffee, and a simple but satisfying lunch menu of salads, soups and tartines.
The dinner menu, written through the lens of executive chef Aaron Barnett’s fascination with the bouchons of Lyon, begins with a few “Petit Plats,” and you’ll hardly be able to resist the Cervelle de Canut, an oversized quenelle of creamy goat cheese and fromage blanc mixed with shallots and garlic and served with a thinly-sliced length of baguette from nearby Little T American Baker. In case you’re interested in the history of Lyon, you might like to know that literally translated, cervelle de canuts means “silk worker’s brain,” signifying the low opinion Lyon’s bourgeouis class held of the canuts, or 19th century silk workers. Fascinating, if slightly appetite-dampening. Sorry.
Starters include a rather decadent Salad Lyonnaise spotted with savory baby finger-sized lardons of bacon, bacon fat croutons, and topped with a skillfully-poached egg, all tumbling around in a big, deep glass bowl that you won’t have any trouble licking the bottom of, unless you have a particularly rotund noggin. The escargot is a particularly popular dish–-all night long the kitchen disgorges small white tureens bearing little black snails with country sausage and wild mushrooms, capped by a flaky golden slab of puff pastry. And the fisherman’s stew will move ardent fans of seafood and symmetry alike–three juicy mussels in their shells alternate with three plump poached oysters, all pivoting around a fat scallop whose cracked, deep gold surface looks like a cooking guide’s illustration for seared scallop, in a rich trout roe-laden broth.
Moving onwards to the “Plats Principaux,” agonize over bistro favorites like mushrooms in puff pastry with tarragon and cognac, steak frites, a half chicken braised in ale with pearl onions, wild mushrooms and bacon, or the whole roasted trout–the fillet stretches the length of the plate, crisp skin artfully raised to expose the tender pink fish flesh beneath, blanketing a salad of delicate French lentils, frisée and chervil in a brown butter vinaigrette.
Finished the meal with pastry chef Alissa Rozos‘ Baba au Rhum, a moist yeast cake accompanied by a mandarin sorbet, or a tarte au chocolat topped with hazelnuts and glossy Chantilly cream, then waddle home, humming The Price Is Right theme song.
Executive Chef: Aaron Barnett
Pastry Chef: Alissa Rozos
Atmosphere: Lovely and lively
Best Seat: A window table, facing the dining room
Noise Level: Boisterous when full
Dress Code: Casual
Bring the Kids: Yes
Bathrooms: Down the hallway to the right of the bar
Parking: Street parking is free and generally easy to find within a few blocks of the restaurant
Cocktails: Bar manager Kyle Webster's cocktails are excellent and inventive, $8-$11
Beer: Two beers on tap
Wine: Lovely list of French & Oregon wines assembled by general manager/wine whisperer Joel Gunderson
Tea: Steven Smith
Ideal Meal: Fisherman's stew, escargot, salad Lyonnaise, whole trout, steak frites, cooked-to-order madeleines
Vegetarian Friendly: You won't have a ton of choices, but there are a few meat-free salads and perhaps a soup, a vegetarian entree, and of course, dessert
Vegan Friendly: No
Good for the following occasions: Date Night, Family Supper, Dining Out With Francophiles
Reservations: Yes, call or go on OpenTable