Maurice, named after chef-owner Kristen D. Murray's pet rabbit, is bright white as an art gallery, with signage on reams of butcher paper in the front window. The sunnily domestic train-car bistro is alternately a small-batch baker of spelt bread, a pastry case serving hefty $3 scones with tomato-anise marmalade, a luncheonette and brunchery, and a highfalutin evening hall of wine and constructed desserts.
Though Murray is a veteran of now-closed swanky spots Lucier and Fenouil—alongside mainstay Paley's Place—Maurice is more cozy old-Portland twee than new-Portland slick. The service on each visit was excitable, attentive and charmingly idiosyncratic. Your oysters ($3 apiece) might arrive with a skeptical aside about how the French will use any excuse to eat bread and butter, plus a surprise taster of sparkling wine. "Bubbly," says the server, "because oysters!" The menu is handwritten and changes almost daily, although if they didn't remember to write it new that day, they'll tell you what's different. Listen carefully; the stacked-up ingredients go by fast.
The food, however, is always precise. At brunch one Saturday, we received perhaps the most well-executed poached egg I've heretofore seen, atop a dish of oiled croutons resembling a Spanish migas, pungent with brutally spicy harissa. The simple plate of fresh greens ($6) and nothing but, lightly dusted with lemon and oil, almost smelled of the field. The lefse ($8) was likewise airily fresh, topped with strips of fennel, pickled pygmy onions, iridescent roe and sweetly acidic pickled sole; although, I'd prefer Murray charge $2 extra and add more fish.
Maurice will likely stake its claim, however, on its evening dessert menu, available after 4 pm. For example, a lady apple ($7)—nature's SweeTart—was cored, baked and stuffed with farro risotto and paired with brown-butter ice cream that tasted like the essence of caramel. It's an unexpected, savory twist on the old-school candied apple, both complex and approachable.
A two-story pagoda stack of blood-orange sorbet and candied corn tuiles ($10) rested on a sweet coffee mousse that was adorned with blood orange segments. The sorbet was perhaps a bit sticky-sweet, but when the dessert was broken down to its fundamentals, the bitter coffee essence opened up the flavor like a swinging barn door. The oh-so-basic bowl of warm Meyer lemon pudding cake ($6) was more impressive for its simplicity: It was a marvel of texture and balance, yielding gently to the spoon without losing its coherence, overpowering neither with sweetness, tartness nor hints of bitter zest. Just watch out for the hot metal handle on the dish, because it'll burn the dook out of your finger.
Each meal ends with little macarons flavored with local hops whose bite rattles around crazily on the underside of the tongue. It's like any literary romance: first sweet, then bitter. But still, what you remember is the sweetness.
EAT: Maurice, 921 SW Oak Street, 224-9921, mauricepdx.com. 10 am-6pm Monday-Wednesday, 10 am-10 pm Thursday-Saturday. "Postre" desserts after 4 pm.