Saturday, April 19, 2014
Will the parade of Portland’s finest chefs ever cease to amaze and impress? Certainly not in the case of Chef Frederic Eliot who is now at the helm of the ever popular Petite Jacqueine Bistro.
Here is a sneak peek of the newly evolving menu from the bistro’s new chef de cuisine.
The dining room at Petite Jacqueline overlooking Longfellow Square
In the last couple of weeks since Elliot started revamping the kitchen in early November I’ve enjoyed a few of the new dishes from his menu in progress. The first of these was a classic pot au feu, which I wrote about here earlier this month ("Delicious Dishing and Dining").
Chef Eliot's pot au feu
What’s significant about Eliot is he is the only Frenchman cooking French cuisine in Portland. He grew up in Paris and his family was from Normandy; he brings a great wealth of skill to any kitchen in which he is cooking. I wrote about him last August in a blog post describing his cooking featured at his former post, Spread.
For Petite Jacqueline, this is quite the coup. At best, this very popular restaurant only skimmed the surface of delivering French bistro fare to the dining public. A token dish of cassoulet or coq au vin does not make a restaurant so blithely French.
For Michelle and Steve Corry, proprietor and proprietor-chef respectively, their superb Five-Fifty Five is certainly one of the best restaurants in Portland; and their second restaurant, Petite Jacqueline, co-owned with Liz Koenigsberg, deserved to be on equal footing with the parent establishment. Now it will be.
A chef friend joined me there for dinner Wednesday night, and we proceeded to have an exciting meal of classic preparations. We started off with a torchon of foie gras, one of the greatest preparations in French cookery. It’s a complicated process of shaping, cooking, curing and seasoning duck or good livers, which are ultimately wrapped in a towel (torchon) and then put through a complicated cooking and curing process.
Torchon of foie gras
What emerges is a beautifully coddled log of foie gras in all its glory. From Eliot’s kitchen it was served with an apricot jam and spread on grilled brioche toasts. What a perfect start to a meal.
We then enjoyed two first-course dishes--sweetbreads and a luxurioiusly silken carrot soup. The sweetbreads were coated in flour, deep fried and served with clams in a composed pan sauce of clam liquor, capers, butter and shallots. The sweetbreads were stunningly velvety within under a crackling outer skin and accompanied by clams in the shell and that delicious sauce.
Sweetbreads with clams and potatoes
The soup was just as fine, exhibiting an intensity of flavor that highlighted the sweetness of fresh local carrots. These were cooked in a leek-based vegetable stock, enriched with aromatics and pureed to a creamy golden color. It was one of the finest examples of potage de crecy that could be had in our parts.
As an intermediate course (why not gild the lily completely?) we relished the complex flavors of braised tongue that was cooked in veal stock and further enriched by a concentrated stock-based tomato sauce. The fine savoriness of the meat prepared our appetites for more to come.
The next two sensational main dishes were: a remarkable coq au vin served over house-made fettuccine and a pot au feu poisson (monkfish).
Coq au vin
This classic chicken dish benefited from being slowly braised in red wine and aromatics until it emerged gorgeously burnished and richly flavored.
As Eliot said to us after our dinner, “So much of what we prepare here is based on having the proper stock on hand at all times.”
That means on a daily basis the kitchen has large pots of slowly simmered veal, beef, lamb and chicken stocks ready for use.
The pot au feu poisson was made with monkfish and was an incredible rendition that allowed the assertiveness of the fish to be tempered by the sweetness of carrots, leeks and turned potatoes.
Pot au feu poisson
For dessert we had pears poached in red wine set over house-made vanilla ice cream followed by a classic chocolate mousse done, as Eliot said, “in the style of Julia Child.” I think she would have liked it, too.
Pear poached in red wine
Chocolate mousse a la Julia Child
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.