I'VE BEEN TRYING to avoid referring to things in Portland as Wes Andersonesque—at this point in this twee town, it’s a crutch to substitute for actual descriptive writing.
So of course, here comes Jacqueline, which is a deep-dive cultural reference to the original name of the submarine in Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I’ve seen that movie at least 10 times, and even I had to look it up. Fine, I will speak to my (and everyone else’s) proto-hipster love for Bill Murray, since his portrait is hanging over the bar and all. Just this once.
It would be easy to play this SE Clinton restaurant like the men-children Anderson so loves—make it a monument to oddball obsessions and Futura font—but chef/co-owner Derek Hanson (formerly of Broder Nord) pumps the brakes on gimmicks, offering instead cursive writing and control.
Naturally, this is a fish-focused spot. Things that used to swim (or cling, as it were) are celebrated in all their various forms: on the half shell, raw, cured, fried, steamed, and baked. Daily from 5-7 pm, oysters on the half shell are an incredible $1, along with cocktail and drink specials. The oysters rotate on the menu based on availability, with small, dense Washington Shigokus as the anchor. Sauces are made in-house and include salsas, mig-nonette, and horseradish vinegar, and arrive in a caddy of eyedroppers for accurate application.
The cioppino ($30) rightfully steals the show—a pile of smoked oysters, Dungeness crab, mussels, and clams rising from the tomato broth like an island volcano, with a Little T baguette as its twin peak. Right now, I’m not sure there’s a better version anywhere in town. The diver scallops ($24) may be even more showy: Served with various ingredients like maitake mushrooms and fried kale or black futsu squash and leeks, the smoky bacon dashi poured tableside over the waiting bowl is all dining flair.
Avoid the over-salted salt cod fritters (yes, they can be too salty, I promise) and too-basic Oregon sea bass ($24). Also incongruous was a massive serving of roasted pork shoulder bo ssam ($36), a giant hunk of meat intended to bask in the Korean cooking trend. While it was tasty enough, with lettuce wraps, pickled daikon, herbs, hoisin, and other treats, it just didn’t make sense here—and almost killed my dining partner and me when it arrived after oysters and three or four other plates.
Head instead to the vegetables, where Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and crispy shallots ($8) join rotating seasonal offerings like a decadent blend of wild chanterelles with bottarga, a Mediterranean treat of cured salted roe, and a slow poached egg ($13); salads; and crispy fried potatoes ($6) with a creamy béarnaise and Mama Lil’s Peppers tossed in to avoid richness overload.
Cocktails were reworked shortly before deadline by former Expatriate bartender Eric Nelson, ditching martinis and Boulevardiers for inventive blends of tequila, mole bitters, a whole egg, coffee bean, and salt. The wine list is chatty, categorizing wines as “unpretentious,” “baller,” “Oregon non-pinot,” and “Oregon pinot.” Pairing your $1 oysters at happy hour with the $26 bottle of French bubbly is never a bad look.
Don’t leave yet, though. While sea creatures and earth-grown dishes rule the menu, no visit is complete without tasting Hanson’s otherworldly roasted chicken. Available as a half ($21) or whole ($42), this bird arrives in a sauce made of tarragon vinegar and the chicken’s slowly rendered drippings; the pieces rest upon thick-cut toasted sourdough, which soaks up that magic and almost eclipses the meat itself. Frankly, there’s no need for dessert after that. It’s a treat unto itself.
The arrival of Jacqueline adds to a small but growing pool of Portland restaurants that do our finned friends justice in the kitchen. This restaurant has a history as the first location of St. Jack followed by the doomed Renard—but judging by the lines starting to form on weekend nights, this submarine won’t sink.