St. Jack is a miracle on 23rd Avenue, a restaurant and bar where you can somehow get both the city's finest and most adventurous French-bouchon fare and also dollar Hama Hama oysters and a killer $12 burger at happy hour. It's a place that devotes equal effort to lowbrow food and extravagant highbrow, with the patience to spend three days fat-skimming, boiling and drying its $5 Espelette-pepper pork rinds into fluffy and decadent sheets.
There's no way of doing St. Jack wrong, and even a simple-seeming, delicious steak-frites ($31-$110) is made with luscious béarnaise and a red-wine demi-glace reduced for three days into flavorful richness. But St. Jack's best dishes highlight not simplicity but rich complexity, especially a pastured Oregon lamb brought in whole and butchered in-house, made with luxuriantly tender shoulder, cured overnight and sunk into a bath of pork fat in a three-day process. It's brined and charred beautifully and served with a salad of tiny tomatoes, mint, fennel turnip, peppers, pluots and ancient grain freekeh.
And while the wine list is 10 pages deep, allowing you to plumb the depths of the Loire should you desire, the cocktail list is both fun and surprisingly democratic. You can, of course, feel fancy with a Perfectly Pink vodka, lime and hibiscus cocktail. But depending on the season, you can also get a blackberry and vodka slushie.
Treat yourself to the oysters with a fantastic pickled shallot mignonette, and definitely order at least three unpasteurized cheese wedges, almost all of which are unavailable elsewhere in the city. They're served with an apricot jam, pluots and a quarter of a French baguette that reappears on your table just as fast as it's gone. Sink your teeth into chicken liver mousse or seared foie gras with tobacco-aged maple syrup.
St. Jack was also the first Portland restaurant to gain access to Oregon river trout many restaurants don't have. On a recent visit, a seared salmon dish, which takes two entire days to create, came steeped in an octopus vinaigrette with basil aioli, intensifying the often-subtle fish with deep umami notes alongside a white-bean ragu, roasted cherry tomatoes, fennel and heirloom onions. St. Jack is simultaneously the most traditional and most adventurous dedicated French spot in town. Yet the reward waiting for you at the end of each meal is wonderfully simple: a delicate, beautiful stained-glass crème brûlée.
Pro Tip: Though the full experience happens in the restaurant, happy hour at the St. Jack bar remains an overlooked and opulent pleasure: If you're able to show up by 5 pm, select oysters are a buck and might be Blue Pool, an extravagant bowl of mussels are available at $14 instead of $31, and you can score the city's best chicken-liver mousse for a cool $6.