The heart of St. Jack is its skillet boss, Aaron Barnett. He's a Canadian with an affable demeanor and a background in fine dining who has been running his quasi-Lyonnaise bistro in Northwest Portland since 2014, when it moved across the river from its original location that opened in 2010. Barnett tends to keep a low profile, so you're unlikely to see his name pop up on any award nomination lists or cheffy event rosters. He usually sticks to the kitchen, content to let his menu do the talking. And it's a serious slate, full of winners.
The best dishes tend to be hearty, sometimes gutty affairs, that often appear as unwritten specials, so keep an open mind until your server gives the rundown. But a seasonal listed menu item is a good example of Barnett's wheelhouse: bone marrow vierge ($19), two massive shin bone halves filled with custardy marrow, topped with chopped tomato, shallot and capers in sherry vinaigrette that just begins to cut the richness of the main event. It's listed as an hors d'oeuvre, but is perfect to split. Meanwhile, a seasonal entree favorite, whole branzino ($32), might sound light and easy, but it's a lot of fish, accompanied by creamed corn, mushrooms, Padrón peppers and spring onions.
More conservative diners need not fear. Barnett knows his audience isn't all jaded bouchon-aholics. The menu always includes a simple butter lettuce salad with a Dijon vinaigrette ($13), plus another couple seasonal salads in the same price range. And steak frites come in several variations, from an 8-ounce bavette ($31) to a massive 46-ounce bone-in rib-eye ($100). Foie gras ($27) or roasted marrow ($16) can be added, should the urge strike. To finish, grab baked-to-order madeleines ($9) or cobble together a cheese course ($8 each, 3 for $18, 5 for $24) from a list of a dozen.
Pro tip: For extra menu fun, have a seat in the bar where a variation of the Canadian favorite, poutine ($15), is typically offered in addition to a massive, gooey double bacon cheeseburger with fries ($17).