In a city that becomes increasingly more popular for its bars and restaurants by the day, there are two reasons Petite Jacqueline stands out in Portland. The first is that this traditional French bistro is exactly that – traditional. Many of Portland’s newest dining additions feature trendy small plate menus, or experimental New American cuisine. Petite’s steadfast and classic French menu actually makes the restaurant more unique among an otherwise adventurous gastronomic town.
The second is Petite’s location in Longfellow Square, one of the city’s culinary hubs, which allows for French-style patio dining (and people gazing) starting as soon as April, or whenever there’s more than a two-day stretch of warm weather.
On a recent Sunday night, Petite was packed. Restaurant Week may have had a hand in that, but managing partner Liz Kayo says most nights, other than Tuesdays, are busy. Two single diners who were seated at the L-shaped bar – one woman, one man – chatted with the staff on a first name basis as they sipped glasses of red wine and nibbled on the night’s plat du jour (steak au poivre), and read the current issue of The New Yorker.
Petite could very convincingly be a café on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (for better or worse) and while subtle, there’s something unmistakably haughty about this bistro that appears to attract an older, perhaps more socially conservative clientele.
The bar is not the focal point of the restaurant, but seats 10 and there’s an additional back bar for standing. Unless you’re sitting in the corner portion of the bar (where the solo man and woman were situated), the longer section of the bar is not as comfortable. On busy nights, servers are brushing by you constantly, as the kitchen is toward one end of the bar and the dining room is toward the other.
The best advice is to look both ways before you get up to use the restroom or fetch your jacket. The red bar stools (no backs) match nicely with the French bistro décor, but aren’t great if you intend to sit for long.
With the help of her staff, Kayo has created a fun, seasonal list of six cocktails ranging in price from $9 to $14. The Monets Muse (Hendricks, St. Germaine, Sauvignon blanc and lime) is a house favorite and will likely remain on the menu even through seasonal changes. Last fall, the Ginger Pear Margarita was created partly by mistake, but has become another favorite among customers. Kayo wanted to include one tequila drink that could still be categorized as French, so she made a ginger-pear puree and mixed it with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, and fresh to order sour mix. Sweet and slightly spicy, this is one of the best margaritas in town.
The five beer drafts include three European beers (Czechvar, Weihenstephaner and Rodenbach) and two local brews: Maine Mead Works Cider Maker and Allagash Curiuex. Expect to always see an Allagash beer on tap at Petite. There are several French blonde ales available by bottle, as well as a few domestic bottles.
Petite’s wines are almost exclusively French and available by the glass ($4-11), by the carafe ($20), by the bottle ($23-40), and by the half bottle ($25-$35). The bar staff is extremely knowledgeable of the wines and happy to offer a taste of any open bottles, as well as suggest wine pairings for your meal.
The drink menus at Petite are all reasonably priced, especially the wine selection, but the best deal for a drink is during happy hour, which luckily runs 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Wines by the glass and draft pours are all half off.
Kayo says she, along with her business partners, Michelle and Steve Corry, are planning to open a second location at 46 Market St. as early as May. The new venture will be a French patisserie featuring Petite’s pastry chef, Catherine Eliot’s desserts, as well as sandwiches and other cold plates.
Since its start in 2011, Petite has been recognized nationally for its exquisite cuisine, even garnering a James Beard Award nomination. Expect nothing less than great service and outstanding quality.
190 State St., Portland | 207-553-7044 | bistropj.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday
AMENITIES: Spotless bathrooms, plenty of coat hooks, nice lighting,
PARKING: On street
BOTTOM LINE: Petite Jacqueline opened in 2011 in Portland’s Longfellow Square and is known for their traditional French bistro cuisine and neighborhood atmosphere. Happy hour runs six days a week (11:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) and from 5-6 p.m. on Sundays. The best time of year to visit Petite is when their patio opens. They’re aiming for April this year.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes