The new location of St. Jack, the delightful and very French bistro now at 1610 NW 23d in the Northwest/Alphabet District, is quite a bit different from its original location in the South East. It has shed its homey, cozy neighborhood feel for larger and more upscale digs in the Alphabet.
The new place is far bigger than before, thus accommodating significantly more diners and drinkers. The bar is now as big as the restaurant section, but both sides do bustling business. On a rainy Monday night, the new St. Jack was packed solid before 7:00 pm, so they’re certainly not having any difficulty drawing the crowds.
In consequence, it is far louder than the original, with music blaring and people talking over their tablemates and the noise and hum of the room; if you’re looking for an intimate, low key place for a romantic tête-à-tête, this might not be the place for you. However, if you’re out for a convivial night with friends and good bistro food and a little touch of France, St. Jack might be ideal.
Mind you, the cuisine here is not ground-breaking, but then, it’s not intended to be; it is very much traditional French bistro cuisine with a few tweaks, but it is prepared well and makes for rich, satisfying fare.
The bar action is more daring, with creative thought and execution going into some trendy areas, mostly featuring gin, whiskey and tequila drinks. There is one apple brandy drink on the list, the Stolen Dance, and it’s a big, burly thing of fruit and bitters.
Stolen Dance is built on a base of Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge, the rich and rounded apple brandy from Normandy on the northern coast of France, land of fruit orchards. Matured in French oak, Calvados offers both intense apple fruit and the beguiling light vanilla-spice of long wood maturation.
Add the bitter elements of Bonal Gentiane-Quina, the orange-laced Paolucci Cio Ciaro amaro, a splash of walnutty Nocino with a dash of orange bitters all served on the rocks in a big, hefty tumbler and you have an excellent drink to nurse on a chill and damp winter night in Portland.
The dark brooding elements of amari from the Bonal and Cio Ciaro give the cocktail a bitter, complex edge, but the Calvados manages to hold its own quite nicely. Combine the bitters, the apple fruit and spice, and the orange, and you have a glass full of autumnal aromas and flavors.
It may be the season, or it may simply be anecdotal experience, but there seems to be quite a lot of attention paid to Calvados and other apple brandies in the world of creative cocktails. That’s a good thing; apple brandy delivers unique aroma and flavor characteristics while adding silky texture to a drink. And apple, it turns out, plays nicely with the bitter and the sweet of a cocktail.
It’s fortunate for all the Portland bar scene has examples aplenty. You can begin your apple adventure with the Stolen Dance at St. Jack; and its okay if you want to imagine you’re in Paris watching people stroll down the boulevard. That happens all the time.