December 22, 2013

Dine Out Maine: At Petite Jacqueline, meals for the (French) food gods

A torchon of foie gras sets the stage for a remarkable meal to follow.

By John Golden

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Petite Jacqueline offers views of the busy passing scene from its State Street vantage point in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

PETITE JACQUELINE

★★★★★

WHERE: 190 State St., Portland. 553-7044; Bistropj.com

HOURS: Lunch and dinner: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Sunday: brunch 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m.

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

PRICE RANGE: Dinner: first courses, $5 to $17; entrees, $14 to $26

VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes (a few choices)

KIDS: Yes, welcome

RESERVATIONS: Yes

BAR: Full bar

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

BOTTOM LINE: For extraordinary bistro fare, every dish is a standout. From the torchon of foie gras to sweetbreads, braised tongue and pork belly to bone marrow and parsley salad, inventive first courses abound from this thoroughly French kitchen. Raw bar includes local oysters, chilled Maine lobster, local clams on the half shell and chilled jumbo shrimp. Masterfully prepared entrees include a special preparation of braised lamb shoulder, fricassee of game hen served in a cast-iron skillet, coq au vin, cassoulet and magret de canard are some of the special dishes served regularly or as plat du jour. A compelling dessert menu includes chocolate mousse, crème brulee, crepes, butterscotch éclair, pears poached in red wine and house-made ice cream. The wine list has many rare or lesser-known bottlings from France and California that are well priced.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: Poor ★★ Fair ★★★ Good ★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

The two main courses were show-stoppers. A special that evening (which can be ordered in advance) was a fricassee of Cornish game hen ($23), which was one of the most remarkable renditions of this classic bistro dish. The chicken was brined and then broken down into small pieces, lightly colored in a sauté pan with shallots and mushrooms, deglazed with Madeira and finished off in the oven in a rich chicken stock. The final sauce was an amalgam of cream, butter and tarragon that coated the chicken and vegetable tableaux of turned potatoes, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts. It was stunningly presented in a black cast-iron skillet.

The incredible epaulet d’agneau (shoulder of lamb, $26), was another highly sophisticated preparation – roasted first to brown then set in a mirepoix of vegetables, reduced red wine and veal stock to braise for three hours. The meat is then pulled off the bone and set in a large flat pan and pressed with weights to set overnight to concentrate the flavors.

For plating it’s cut into a rectangle, set on a puree of local turnips with roasted carrots and broccolini and served with a simple reduction of the pan sauce. For lamb aficionados, it’s an extraordinary moment.

For dessert we relished an outrageously rich butterscotch éclair ($8). It’s filled with a very sweet butterscotch pastry cream, and the choux-pastry case was coated with a glistening butterscotch glaze, a sugary gilding of the lily that called for some well made espresso to accompany. My guest couldn’t finish hers and I happily polished it off as we both enjoyed the remains of a surprisingly stable (from an iffy vintage) Chateau Simard 2003 ($46), an interesting St. Emilion still holding up with nice bottle age.

For a final coda of assessment, we ventured back specifically to have Eliot’s magret de canard (duck breast), a Saturday plat du jour. This was a “true” preparation using the breast from the Moulard species, raised for its exquisite meat and foie gras. The pan-seared breast was cut into perfectly pink (not rare) noisettes and arranged over butternut squash extravagantly steeped in cream and pureed. The dish was further embellished with a medley of Brussels sprouts, turned apples and butternut cubes pan-seared and finished with shallots, chicken stock, butter and a touch of sherry vinegar. The whole dish is sheathed in a sauce aigre douce (sweet-sour), a dark duck stock that is heavily reduced and finished with a gastrique (caramelized sugar shocked with sherry vinegar) and butter emulsion.

To describe this as a dish fit for the gods is understatement. Then again with food like this you won’t get anything less.

John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at:

jdgmaine@gmail.com

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