When Petite Jacqueline opened the doors to their new location on Market St. recently, they did so right next door to their Portland Patisserie bakery. I wanted to check out what they had been up to and see if anything had changed since I was last at the old location. There’s no doubt this move provides the restaurant better visibility as it takes up much more length on the street and is very difficult to miss when passing by. When we entered, it was also impossible not to notice that there was a little more space inside. The other location, though beautiful, was a bit tight.
We were meeting another couple and arrived early, so we had a seat at the relatively empty bar and looked at the drink menu for our opener. The drink list included a small selection of French-inspired cocktails and a bunch of French wines along with a handful of beers. I wasted no time in going with the Boulevardier – Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth. My beautiful companion selected Blondeau Sauvignon Blanc. We ordered, noting that we wouldn’t be eating at the bar since we were waiting for others to join us.
After our drink requests were in, I watched the bartender closely as he worked three separate glasses full of ice to make sure mine was properly chilled, used proper turning technique with the bar spoon, and then combined all the ingredients into the martini glass. As he slid the glass my way, I excitedly took a big swig and coughed a little. This wasn’t far off from a Manhattan and my overzealous consumption was a bit much. I dialed it back a notch and took a smaller sip that I could actually enjoy. The red-hued drink was definitely potent, but had a hint of extra sweetness compared to my standard whiskey and vermouth favorite.
A few tips of the glass into my cocktail, our peeps arrived – right on time, ordered drinks at the bar, and immediately after, we were seated. Though there was more elbow room at this incarnation of the restaurant, the tables were small, and a seating for the four of us took two tables pushed together. It didn’t really matter though as we shared the stories of the day – including the tale of the Westbrook python – and peered at the menu. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted, though it was either going to be an app and an entree or just a bunch of small plates.
The host visited our table to give us water and a baguette with herbed butter and let us know that the waitress would be visiting shortly. It wasn’t a big deal as we hadn’t made any decisions yet. When the waitress did come over, she let us know the specials and we asked a few questions about the soup, quiche, and cheese/charcuterie of the day. After she left, I realized it would be an app and entree for me. If I went with the small plates, one was going to be a plate of the cheese and charcuterie, but I would have had to pick what I wanted on it and I didn’t have that kind of energy.
Eventually, after much thought, we all made our final choices. I happily ordered the Escargot with herbed butter and bread crumbs and then the Roasted Chicken with potato puree and jus. Mrs. Portlandeater started with a Traditional Caesar and then went with the Plat Du Jour of Lobster Roll on a croissant with fries. Beef Tartare, French Attitude Burger, and Risotto concluded the requests from our party. The waitress walked away and we exhibited the subtle smiles that resulted from perfect dinner ordering and excellent table companions.
Our starters came out quickly. Escargot, Caesar, and tartare all arrived at the same time. I took one of the snails onto my fork right away and dropped it into my toothy cavity. It was really hot, but a slow chewing produced a bit of a buttery vegetable flavor as there appeared to be some celery in the dish. The slowly slithering seashell sporter was fresh and I could have eaten it virtually plain, but my next one required more of the butter sauce. That bite a minute later was a little cooler and after a simple sauce sweep, I was able to get more of an herb and garlic flavor. The true secret to enjoying the snails was discovered on my third try as I took a slice of baguette, loaded it with the buttery mud at the bottom of the dish, and consumed the soaked bread and snail at the same time. It was the perfect way to douse that sucker in sauce and a technique I highly recommend.
It didn’t take long to finish my app, but my wife still had a little salad left so I scooped up a bite of that. As the menu stated, it was most certainly the very traditional version of a Caesar and it was good – just what you’d expect when ordering that from pretty much anywhere. The tartare seemed to be a hit with our friends too as they nibbled at the rare beef and egg on top of crostini in front of them. Nobody left a single crumb on their plate and we proceeded to patiently waited for our entrees.
Four plates arrived shortly after the apps were done and everything looked really good. My dish was simple with two pieces of chicken on top of mashed potatoes. I went straight into the bird since it was right in my face clucking my name. I cut a man-sized piece with a little bit of skin. It was astoundingly good – spectacular even. The tender, juicy chicken with a slightly herbed, mildly salty coating was infused with more flavor than I thought possible on a chicken. I could hardly get it into my mouth fast enough. After a couple bites, I dipped into the spuds. Like a table saw through a soft stick of butter, I cut through them with my pronged potato poker. The piped-on, smooth, buttery potatoes were the thing of legend as they slid down my food tubes into my expanding belly. Geez…this was really good.
I didn’t hear any complaints from the crowd as everyone plowed into their meals with not a care in the world. The portion sizes proved to be appropriate as two at the table stopped short of eating their entire meal. Fortunately, one of them was my wife and I was able to snag the last small piece of her super-fresh lobster roll. It was what you’d want in the local classic, but the Franco-twist of a croissant instead of the Maine hot dog roll was a delicious change of pace. In addition to that, the fries were thin and crispy and the addition of baby gherkins was a nice compliment.
Though only a couple of us had room for dessert after all the food, we couldn’t resist the plate of goodies from the patisserie and decided to share a carrot cake. At about three inches in both circumference and height with cream cheese frosting and a carrot glaze on top, it was a sight to behold. As we took spoonfuls of the sweet cylinder, it was clear that there was more frosting than actual cake, but I wasn’t complaining. The delicious dessert coating was perfect parts sweet and cheesy and acted as a decadent blanket for the fluffy cake speckled with the occasional pecan. The three thin layers of carrot concoction added a little substance and made me feel like I wasn’t only eating frosting, though in truth, I mostly was. The cake lived a short life and once it was gone, we were all done.
At $100 bucks before tip, I was certainly pleased with Petite Jacqueline. I always am. They really make food the right way – fresh, with hearty portions, intense flavors, and no overcomplication. The service is excellent and the new atmosphere is a little more modern. While not quite as cozy as the last iteration, it’s less cramped and there’s definitely something to be said for that. The menu hasn’t changed much, if at all, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the foods always been top notch and interesting. And now with the bakery next door, there’s a “to die for” combo of sweet and savory awaiting you. The duo of Petite Jacqueline and Portland Patisserie may very well cause you to eat too much, but I doubt you’ll care because it’s just so good.
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