When people say Portland is one of the most European of American cities, they're usually talking about bicycles and public art, but the city's multiplying Euro-style bakeries and cafes make that label apply more literally. Chef Tucker's Pâtisserie and Petite Provence are two of the latest, which opened in October and August, respectively.
The light-filled Victorian that vegan restaurant Calendula once called home now showcases pastry chef/co-owner Tucker Mortensen's creations. The menu is promisingly streamlined: Often a limited offering is a sign of a attention to detail and quality. Here, this is sometimes the case.
A handful of morning items include a breakfast croissant ($9.50) with eggs, bacon and lettuce, and lemon-cream cheese crêpes ($8.50) topped, confusingly, with syrupy, previously frozen strawberries. Both dishes are served with perfectly crusted roasted potatoes and a cup of melon on the edge of turning. Lunch is more successful; a highlight is the tangy, succulent chicken piccata ($12.50), accompanied by a yeasty roll, almond-laced saffron rice and green beans sautéed with big chunks of bacon and sweet roasted pearl onions.
The pastries are all variations on classic themes: several flavors of tartes, mousse cakes, éclairs, macaroons and quiches, as well as croissants and chaussons pommes. The Plaisir cake ($5.50) tops chocolate and vanilla mousse with meringue and burnt sugar that evokes campfire marshmallows. A neon-hued blood-orange éclair ($3.25) is a fresh take on the original.
A more relaxed interpretation of the French cafe exists at the quaint, rustic Petite Provence, whose Americanized French offers a healthy dose of stateside excess. The offerings here are more sprawling than at Chef Tucker's: the bakery counter overflows with frog fare like a pain aux raisins ($1.75) loaded with juicy raisins, or American favorites like Frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies ($1.30). Artisanal bread includes a garlic-mushroom loaf ($3) so garlicky it's nearly toxic. For breakfast, nibble pesto-lathered, tomato-mozzarella eggs ($7.95). Come noon, fill up on sandwiches served on massive wedges of fresh-baked crusty bread, like an enormous, almost pornographic croque monsieur ($6.75) oozing with Gruyère, butter and creamy béchamel.
Each of these cafes explore a different element of French culture. Chef Tucker focuses on detail-oriented rigor, while Petite Provence revels in the laid-back charm of southern France. Neither is perfect, but both offer a taste of European escapism while retaining an unpretentious charm that is purely Portland.
Chef Tucker's Pâtisserie, 3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-2600. 7 am-3 pm Wednesday-Sunday. Petite Provence, 4834 SE Division St., 233-1121. 7 am-6 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.