The sun is setting earlier these days. Last night, as the sky turned that unique shade of twilight, we all sat down to yet another amazing Portland Food Adventures dinner. This time at the new and very intimate SE Clinton French restaurant, St. Jack.
As the votives started glowing, and the soft warmth of incandescent lights filled the room, the sounds of Serge Gainsbourg gently crooned as we milled about the cozy dining space sipping cocktails named, appropriately (if you’re a Hemingway fan, at least), A Moveable Feast.
As a closet Francophile and avid lover of French food and French wine, I have been anticipating this dinner from the moment Chris Angelus mentioned it. If you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, then you are very well aware that I have been beside myself with excitement at the thought of my first bite of Boudin Noir (blood sausage) being from St. Jack.
This post could very easily be about that Boudin Noir, but I’ll restrain myself. Besides, there really is much more to talk about.
What I love about Portland Food Adventures, aside from the fact that I’m served multi-course, perfectly paired, and amazingly delicious dinners at some of the city’s finest restaurants and go home with a stack of gift certificates to restaurants favored by the chef de la nuit, is that there is always a mix of familiar and new faces. Old friends and new friends.
Last night along with PFA devotees, we were graced with the presence the beautiful Heather Jones of Heather Jones Consulting, Jason French of Ned Ludd, Rick Gencarelli of Lardo and the lovely and graceful Kathy Huffman, mother of Kurt Huffman, founder of ChefStable. If you’re from Portland, then you understand that those folks are our version of royalty. We don’t blink an eye at celebrities wandering around town (ok, Johnny Depp is an exception), but chefs? We love ‘em. And with good reason.
I would love to give credit to just one person for our dinner at St. Jack, but it was clearly a team effort. General Manager and Sommelier extraordinaire Joel Gunderson, perfectly and sometimes surprisingly paired drinks with Chef Aaron Barnett’s (also the nicest guy in the world) rustic and hearty Lyonnaise food. The servers answered questions knowledgeably and with passion. At one point, I found myself bonding with one server, Shawn Clark, over our mutual love of offals.
Now to the food. Jesus Christ, it was so good. St. Jack surpassed all of my expectations and you better believe I’ll be going back. Here’s the menu, and in an effort to not be too redundant, I’ll simply identify each dish in the caption with the picture. Expect for, you guessed it, the Boudin Noir.
I have been afraid of blood sausage for as long as I’ve been alive. Texture, the idea of it, you name it, there was no way it would ever pass my lips…until a year or so ago. Something shifted. The more I cook, the more I eat at Portland’s amazing restaurants, the more educated I become, the more I want to eat the crazy food.
The Boudin Noir was served on a bed of puréed potatoes with roasted apples and a grainy mustard. And paired with, get this, a Normandy cider. Not wine. Cider. Who would’ve thunk it? It was crazy perfect. Joel Gunderson is a master.
The sausage was velvety in texture and reminiscent of dark chocolate. It wasn’t squishy, it wasn’t bloody, it wasn’t gross. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. And that was only the 4th course. When I told my geologist chef friend Ryan about last night’s meal he said, ” You dined like royalty.”
The next Portland Food Adventures is at Olympic Provisions. On October 11th. Damn, I’m spoiled.
PS If that wasn’t enough to entice you, take a peek inside the envelope of gift certificates that were picked out personally by Chef Aaron Barnett:
Nong’s Khao Man Gai–Says it’s the best soup ever and when she asks “skin or no skin?” Get it with the skin
Gruner/Kask — Aaron and Chris Israel are friends.
Steven Smith Teas — Portland tea maker and they serve it at St. Jack
Zilla Sake House–Small menu, stellar sushi made by one sushi chef . And an exhaustive selection of sake.
Saraveza — Pasties that remind him of his Canadian heritage. And he loves beer :)