The beloved French bistro finds a new home in the Old Port.
Owners Steve and Michelle Corry, along with partner Liz Koenigsberg, had been searching for a new space in Portland, but without success. Then they realized it was right under their noses. The team had opened the Portland Patisserie on the corner of Market and Milk streets in June 2015, serving freshly baked croissants and French pastries, along with crepes, salads, and sandwiches. Breakfast and lunch at the cafe were very busy, but the evenings were quiet. By combining concepts, the patisserie/cafe with the bistro, they could make the most of the great location in the heart of the Old Port. Renovations got underway, and soon a chalkboard-covered wall divided the space, so that the patisserie could still serve treats and coffee to go in the mornings. Red leather booths were installed along one side of the dining room, with floor-length black and ivory striped curtains softening the large windows. An attractive L-shaped bar was lined with red stools. Bistro tables were covered with white butcher paper and set with simple cotton napkins tucked into water glasses, to lend a Parisian feel. Servers tied on long gray linen aprons to bustle about with wine bottles, white bistro plates, and silver trays with the day’s pastry offerings. Thus Petite Jacqueline was reborn, a year to the day after Portland Patisserie opened.
The new bar is an inviting way to start your visit. Of course French wines are available by the glass, bottle, or carafe, but bartender Matt Smith is also available to mix you a fine cocktail with a French accent, such as Monet’s Muse or La Vie en Rose. The daily happy hour offers generous deals on nearly everything.
The Corrys have years of experience in high-end establishments, including the famed French Laundry in California and the White Barn Inn, closer to home. They also own Five Fifty-Five, one of Portland’s most innovative fine-dining restaurants. But Steve gives credit to Michelle’s French grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named, for exposing him to the traditional country dishes served at the bistro. Now 94 years old, and truly petite at just four feet eight inches, Jacqueline Derasse would cook alongside Steve when they visited with her. “She introduced me to rillettes and confit. We made cassoulet and choucroute together,” he says. It’s classics like these that make up much of the dinner menu at Petite Jacqueline.
A charcuterie board features silky chicken liver mousse with a hint of brandy, presented in a small crock, alongside savory duck rillettes. Escargots are served in the traditional dish, with indentations for each buttery snail. The unctuous sauce is irresistible, and we ask for more of the freshly baked baguette to get every last drop. I adore the salade Lyonnaise, with its perfectly cooked egg to mix in with the frisee and smoky bacon lardons. Foie gras terrine is more popular than ever, an ideal accompaniment to a glass of Champagne.
Steve Corry cooks several nights a week alongside head chef Alex Morgan. They worked out the menu together, holding onto many of the old favorites, like the tender roasted chicken and French Attitude burger with gruyere and caramelized onions. Meuniére is a classic French preparation that includes fish cooked in butter, lemon, and parsley. At Petite Jacqueline, local white fish is
instead baked en papillote with fingerling potatoes and green beans, a twist on the original. The delicate sauce is offered in a small pitcher to pour at the table. Local fish stew is a stunner, piled high with scallops, shrimp, mussels, and more, all fresh and flavorful in a tomato- saffron broth. “It’s really a traditional bouillabaisse,” says Steve, “but it wasn’t selling well when we called
it that. People were afraid they’d pronounce it wrong.” Plats du jour, or daily specials, round out the menu and include a French twist on the lobster roll: lightly seasoned lobster is tucked into the bakery’s excellent croissant.
Lunch at Petite Jacqueline has been well received and continues to grow in popularity. Old Port office workers and visitors gather for quiche and salads, sandwiches and crepes. On the weekends, a crepe brunch is a delightful way to kick off the day. At the end of every meal, your server will offer a tempting selection of French pastries. It’s hard to resist pastry chef Michelle Bass’s gorgeous sweets. The choices change often, but you can always expect petit gateau, many flavors of macarons (plus a macaron ice cream sandwich!), and a decadent chocolate creation.
It’s a joy to have Petite Jacqueline back and better than ever. It’s cozy, delicious, and so very, very French.