The measure of any real food city isn't the hyped destination spots. It's the neighborhood bistros serving solid, considered food to people who maybe didn't drive to get there. The brand-new, Continental-inspired Quaintrelle may not pull in Beavertonians, but it should be a godsend for those near North Mississippi Avenue—aside from Lovely's Fifty Fifty and Interurban, the street is best known for tourist taco lines, Moonie sushi joints and a revolving door of brunch klatches.
Under chefs Bill Wallender (Little Bird, Ava Gene's) and Matt Hensel (who worked with Spanish celebrity chef Jose Andres), the onetime haute mac-and-cheese parlor has been overhauled into a farm-to-table restaurant with an industrial feminine chic vibe: roll-up garage doors, soft candlelight, and photo-art prints of heirloom pigs along the back hallway.
The real test of an ingredient-driven restaurant like Quaintrelle—the sort with long lists of farms on the menu—is whether the chefs can transcend the raw beauty of the ingredients to make something unique. The half roast chicken entree ($22)—all fresh vibrancy and summer teeth—passes this test handily with electric green wax beans, wonderful radishes, and tarragon aioli like some long-lost earth element. The chicken was perfectly cooked in juicy suspension with a crisp, deeply herbal skin. It's the most avowedly French dish on the menu and my favorite entree by a comfortable margin. I can't wait to see how it changes with the seasons.
The pork confit plate ($24) was less successful, however. The pork was brined and massaged but still essentially a steak—a little sweet, smothered in mostarda and served with acidic grilled peaches. But the bushel of radishes that came with it were utterly fresh, sautéed with the heads on to create varied textures in a single bite. I was lukewarm on the pork but would eat an entire plate of those radishes.
Small plates, appetizers and veggie plates likewise veered between interesting and inconsistent. The best was the weirdest: a Mediterranean-influenced mélange of cucumbers, purslane, squid, jalapeños and pistachio ($12) cut through with a beautifully simple oil-and-vinegar dressing. Individual bites of the dish's components vied with composed forkfuls, but I relished the squid alongside the crunch of pistachios and the totally different crunch of cucumber.
Two other great appetizers nod to Wallender's time at Italian spot Ava Gene's: a fritto misto variation pairing fried squash blossoms with pepper honey ($12), and a goat-cheese-and-sweet-pepper toast ($10). Both tasted great with a glass of sparkling Blanquette de Limoux ($9).
But a charred-corn, walnut and chanterelle dish was like a really complicated creamed corn. A plate of duck ham was generously portioned, but unfortunately greasy, and the restaurant's veggie entree—delicate sheep's cheese dumplings in sauté of cherry tomatoes, zucchini and basil—felt out of place in the August heat.
The cocktails were hit and miss. A housemade ginger soda was way too sweet, and a cocktail with amaro, scotch and lemon lacked balance and was dominated by the citrus. By contrast, the bar's daily Prohibition Punch ($6 at happy hour, 5-6:30 pm Tuesday-Friday) comes garnished with fresh produce—the Campari-and-gin version on offer was delightful.
The wine list, chosen by noted Portland sommelier and winemaker James Rahn, is better than one expects from a neighborhood spot, including a by-the-glass Beaujolais gamay from Clos de la Roilette that pairs nicely with pretty much all the food, and interesting local whites like Fausse Piste's gewürztraminer-grüner veltliner blend. There's some gems lurking on Rahn's bottle list as well, including wine-geek whites from California natural-wine wizards like Wind Gap, Donkey & Goat and Forlorn Hope. But despite the rarity of some wines, only one bottle cracks $100.
While there was some inconsistency a month into the restaurant's tenure, I look forward to fall; the menu should work well with autumn vegetables and proteins. Sadly, Quaintrelle was the least-busy restaurant on the block during each of my visits. This is the bistro Mississippi needs, but judging by the dudes chugalugging in tank tops outside Crow Bar, I'm not sure it's the bistro Mississippi deserves.
EAT: Quaintrelle, 3936 N Mississippi Ave., 503-200-5787, quaintrelle.co. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday.
Order this: Half roast chicken ($22), cucumber and squid salad ($12), fried squash blossoms ($12).
I'll pass: Charred-corn and duck ham appetizers.