Last summer, La Moule laid down the great outside picnic for the moments: chilly rosé, hand sanitizer, and scruffy, socially distanced sidewalk tables on SE Clinton. All of it appeared weirdly normal. Apart from the meat loaf.
Ignore ground beef and ketchup. This was the Jean-Paul Belmondo of meat loaf—outsize, jeweled with pork belly, pistachios, and prunes and bound in handsome puff pastry. That this legendary French dish, regarded as pâté en croûte, surfaced in Portland, midpandemic, was a single far more explanation to endure doomsday.
Meanwhile, other dishes not commonly located outdoors of France popped up on the restaurant’s Instagram account, tagged with the tackle @cultured_pig. Poached meringues. Peach melbas. Even pithiviers—elaborate stuffed puff pastry domes straight out of the 17th century.
Who was this @cultured_pig, and what was he doing at La Moule, a neighborhood magnet recognized for mussels and frites? A ringer, a cruel joke to quickly disappear when we emerged from our caves?
Turns out chef John Denison was when a line prepare dinner at La Moule’s significant brother, St. Jack. In 2016 a butchery course impressed him to stick to a aspiration, doing work at a farmhouse cooking faculty in Southwest France. Later on, opportunity led him to Verjus, an insider’s gem in Paris operate by an American pair hugely experienced in French ways and identified for unpretentious, create-centric tasting menus.
But Verjus’s status soared on a cult dish at its wine bar—fried rooster, pickles, and buttermilk ranch. Mon dieu. “Environment-course fried hen is hiding in Paris,” wailed Meals & Wine. The proprietors launched a further spot, the relaxed-major Ellsworth, in section to property it. They tapped Denison as head chef, a occupation he held for just about two years right up until the pandemic reared its head.
With virus fears soaring and his visa renewal looming, Denison hopped a flight to Portland in March 2020, sans task or potential clients. His previous manager, Aaron Barnett, welcomed him again. Now, as Barnett turns his notice to St Jack’s new Lake Oswego department, Denison has been slice free to set his stamp on the menu at the Northwest Portland mother ship (1610 NW 23rd Ave).
The upshot: At age 11, St. Jack, which relocated to Northwest Portland in 2014, suddenly feels new—a real flavor of Paris in Portland. He’s still relatively not known in these elements, but make no mistake: Denison’s cooking is dialed. Meats are virtually shockingly juicy, vegetables flavor new, and these puff pastry dishes are pretty interesting. The method is neo-bistro—rooted in classics but free of charge of starch and prosperous sauces. “My private purpose,” he claims, “is to keep particularly French, but retain things mild, approachable, and lighthearted.”
With Denison driving the wheel, I are not able to quit speaking about St. Jack. No fried chicken is coming (I questioned). But here are five dishes that capture the Denison vibe.
Five FAB DISHES AT ST. JACK
PATE EN CROUTE and PITHIVIER Buy at minimum one—or the two if you are dwelling dangerously. The pâté is a should for a table of meatheads. You could obtain a mosaic of ham, parsley, and white wine gelée or a blend of lardons, prunes, pistachios, and foie gras. But all versions consist of the vital components: meat, aspic (feel pork jello), pastry, pleasure. The savory pithiviers, like lots of items in Portland, are minimal editions—maybe 5 a night time. Every single is an elaborate dome clad in buttery, bronzed puff pastry, $45 a pop (ample for two). You have been warned.
MUSHROOM VOL-AU-VENT Aged-college French: puff pastry shells laden with rich rooster or seafood sauce. New school, à la St. Jack: a yard of seasonal leaves and flowers exploding, volcano-like, out of crispy, buttery vessels. Hiding inside of: sensitive mushroom duxelles, sheep’s cheese, and a soft-cooked egg.
HARICOTS VERTS Visual, tasty, astonishing. In quick, the ideal inexperienced beans in memory. Denison presents them like a bird’s up coming, with a hanging pool of triple-product Brillat-Savarin dead heart, to be stirred in for an ethereal, bloomy cheese sauce. I was skeptical about the phrases “cherry oat granola,” but the bits of toasted oats and cherries (refreshing and dried) added a thing sly and texturally fascinating.
BEEF TARTARE A refreshing get on a acquainted vintage, pretty much. Denison in essence turns the tartare into a remaining-discipline salad, what he phone calls “somewhere involving my type and neo-bistro.” Translation: a mass of abundant beef crumbles, tomato, basil, fried shallots, what tastes like a thousand shards of potato chips, and the crisp-crunch of puffed wild rice. And who would not really like scooping fantastic food into a lettuce wrap? All in.
UPSIDE DOWN CHOCOLATE TART Denison will make his possess desserts, between them a chocolate tart assembled to purchase on a sea of brown butter chocolate crumbles. Then comes a thick fluff of crème anglaise, spiked with cognac and coffee, and a scoop of chocolate mousse. On leading: North African brik pastry, slim and shiny with a candy-like crackle, presented upside down like a monkey hat. It can be the cookies and cream we require appropriate now.