Of all of Portland's French restaurants, St. Jack best captures the devious luxury of the cuisine.
Here at the new outpost on Northwest 23rd, you get chicken liver mousse ($8) denser, deeper and liverier than any you've had served with potent Dijon, an albacore crudo ($14) with a huge schmear of tuna-infused mayonnaise (homemade, of course), and duck neck ($28) with the still-beaked head roasted whole and stuffed with sausage and studded with emerald-sized pistachios.
Two years after moving across the river and a year after St. Jack was named our runner-up Restaurant of the Year, chef Aaron Barnett has clearly made himself comfortable among the plate-glass windows and many flickering candles at this bistro. Barnett's impeccable attention to classic French technique means that sauces are made from scratch, often over the course of days, which is why the demi-glace served with that duck neck tastes like a pure abstraction of savoriness. And yet, he's not too stuck in the ways of Escoffier—your pillowy veal sweetbreads ($28) sit atop a mountain of pommes puree and an ocean of madeira jus but they're still artfully composed. St. Jack makes the old new again, which is always a worthy of a fete.
Eat: Absolutely don't skip a fruits de mer course, and for the plats principaux, you'll want to head for whatever looks the most intense. You'll be justly rewarded for your adventurism with the duck neck or sweetbreads (both $28).
Drink: Unsurprisingly, there's a wine menu that's dozens of bottles deep. The French Pearl cocktail ($12) makes boozy Pernod sweet, tangy and herbaceous with gin, lime and mint, like a Gatorade flavor called Alsatian Thunder.
Most popular dish: St. Jack's menu changes rapidly, but the steak frites ($27 for an 8-ounce filet, $42 for a 12-ounce rib-eye) is a staple, especially in the more casual bar area.
Noise level: 66/100
Expected wait: As you might expect in Slabtown, St. Jack is busy on weekends and less busy on weeknights. Reservations are strongly recommended. However, the spacious bar usually has seats available for a more casual meal—think burgers ($12) and poutine ($16) for mains, served alongside seafood, hors d'oeuvres and other non-main menu items.
Who you'll eat with: Moneyed West Hillsfolk, suburbanites with good taste.
Year opened: St. Jack opened in 2010, but it has been in its current space since 2014.