Yesterday I headed to the big city, to Portland, the Babylon of Maine, to celebrate my daughter Shannon’s birthday. As is our tradition, our friend Kate Johnson joined us for lunch. We all look forward to these thrice-yearly gatherings, where the birthday girl gets to select the restaurant. This year, Shannon chose Petite Jacqueline, a restaurant I had never been to, and it had such good food at such reasonable prices that I am tempted to choose it when we celebrate my birthday in September.
With its yellow walls and banquette seating, Petite Jacqueline really does have some of the feel of a French bistro. (There are tables and chairs as well.) On its website, Petite Jacqueline bills itself as serving comfort food—and this is certainly the case—Hamburgers are on the menu as well as mouth-watering, hand-cut fries. The food is neither fussy nor pretentious, but at the same time, there is a certain elegance to it. This combination of simple but good paired with elegance gives the restaurant a comfortable feel. There is nothing stuffy about Petite Jacqueline, and for a relatively small restaurant, there is a surprising amount of elbow-room, always a plus for me as I hate being crowded.
A friendly but intense server told us about the specials, one of which was English pea soup. Being Franco-American, I am very familiar with pea soup, but I had never heard of English pea soup, and it seemed a little odd for a French-style bistro to be serving English pea soup. On the other hand, maybe it was done in the spirit of multiculturalism, which I am always in favor of.
“What is the difference between French pea soup and English pea soup?” I asked the server.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
So I decided to order the soup, and as soon as the server brought it to me, I could immediately see the difference. This English pea soup was bright green and puréed. French pea soup, at least the one I am used to, is made with dried split peas and ham or salt pork. It is yellow and thick with texture, almost like a porridge, and the ham gives it a smoky taste. This green pea soup, on the other hand, had a fresh—one might even call it green—taste with an onion undertone. I ate every bit of it and could have eaten more.
Shannon ordered the hamburger, which came with those delectable fries, and Kate got the sandwich au fromage, which featured brie and apricot preserves and came with a side salad. Both said their meals were delicious.
Along with buying the birthday girl lunch, we like to give presents, and Kate brought Shannon The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. (If you are unfamiliar with this terrific blog, then don’t hesitate to check it out.) Shannon has been wanting the cookbook for sometime, but Kate, who lives out of state, did not know this. Perhaps, I joked, Kate received psychic emanations from Shannon: “I want the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.”
Whatever the case, Shannon was very pleased with the book, and we were all very pleased with our meals at Petite Jacqueline.
Kate’s birthday is next, and I can’t wait to see which restaurant she will choose.
Wherever we go, we always bring our good appetites and our bonhomie.