Jacqueline is currently the best answer to an age-old visitors' question: "Where should I go in Portland for a really good seafood dinner that's not sushi?"
Portland has always been more a river town than a coastal one, but until recently you'd have to send your guests to one of the mid-tier fish halls downtown. Now, head down to the year-old Jacqueline on Southeast Clinton Street, which has evolved into Portland's best home for seafood.
Helmed by former Broder Nord chef Derek Hanson, the cozy bistro has shed a lot of its early Nordic influence in favor of creative accents like the true-to-its-name wasabi arugula alongside fresh, savory Jimmy Nardello peppers in a charred octopus starter. That arugula is a startling plant, a rarely seen green that packs the same heat and sinus-tingling punch of its namesake bulb. Also surprising are the $1-oyster dozens available during the restaurant's happy hour.
The restaurant has regained a bit of its theme, however. Named after Bill Murray's submarine in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the painting of Murray that graced the bar in the sunny main seating area tragically disappeared last year; it's now back on the wall, joining the subtly Andersonian sky-blue wall of decorative painted fish in the more intimate rear dining room.
But wherever you end up, the menu focuses on the bounty of the sea. Scaling a meal is simple, with menu divisions for small plates, entrée-sized portions and "family style" offerings suitable for a pair and possibly a third. Among the long list of starters, a pair of grease-free, batter-fried squash blossoms plumped full of Dungeness crab showed a kitchen firing on all cylinders. Both an Oregon albacore entrée, accompanied by marinated cherry tomatoes bursting with summer, and Alaskan halibut also sided by a seasonal ensemble, were right on point.
Cocktails are equally creative, with a diverse slate including an El Borrachito (literally, "the little drunk") cocktail mixing mezcal with amaro and apple and orange spirits, and a quaff called Calgon, Take Me Away, frothing up egg white with tequila and hibiscus. A top-notch wine list is strong on bubbles, rosé and white to pair with your sea creatures. Though you're probably fine to walk in as a party of two, larger groups may want to score a reservation: Despite its diminutive size, Jacqueline burbles with joyful noise even on an early weeknight.
Pro tip: Can't decide? Jacqueline offers a $55-per-person chef's tasting menu.