Tiny metal pails on each table hold small bunches of roses and daisies. Forks and knives are placed just so, and white napkins are precisely folded. A cold carafe of water is set down as we pull in our chairs. The cool morning air still smells like rain, but the bistro patio is open–and a sign on the sidewalk outside the door welcomes:
I am remiss in not writing about Petite Jacqueline sooner. And in not mentioning Jacques de Villier’s wonderful store, Old Port Wine & Cigar. If I hadn’t met Jacques nearly two years ago now, I might never have visited Petite Jacqueline–or countless other restaurants and shops. From behind his register at Old Port, where he greets fist-time vacationers and townies with the same enthusiastic, “How ya doing?” and “Wave if you need some help!” Jacques is Portland, Maine’s beloved, unofficial host.
I have spent many a leisurely afternoon perusing wine at Jacques’–always a highlight in our trip–getting the latest gossip, tidbits of news from the wine world, and best of all, hearing Jacques’ latest yarns. He is an expert storyteller, and I love a properly told story in his booming, baritone voice. Once he gets going it’s impossible to leave, evidenced by friends and shoppers lingering in the doorway, and the patient dog or two leashed outside, calmly waiting by the water bowl.
So a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting down for brunch at a tiny restaurant that came highly recommended, and was as charming as its name suggests.
It was a cool morning in early June. I ordered a Bellini and a plate of patisseries, leaned back to do some people watching in the square, and announced that I could get used to this kind of living. If you’ve been reading these past few months you’ve likely noticed my deepening relationship with patisseries (I’m working hard to develop a similar camaraderie with the elliptical trainer).
On pastries, I’m a notoriously tough judge–when I treat myself I feel cheated if it’s not entirely “worth it.” I’m happy to say that the pain au chocolat was worth every flaky, buttery, eaten in slow-motion, licking-the-chocolate-off-my-fingers and ruining-my-appetite bite. I even suffered through part of a sticky bun after that.
But what made that morning most memorable was the degree of attention given to every small detail. The greens next to my omelet were dressed just so. The omelet itself was a perfect, neat, crepe-like roll enclosing its goat cheese and herbed mushrooms. Like the perfectly set tables and beautifully arranged food, the service was punctual, thoughtful.
I’ve always thought it’s a sign of wonderful hospitality at a restaurant when you don’t think about anything else during your meal–that is, you never need to ask for a missing fork, or wave down a waiter for another glass of Champagne. Not an easy job, admittedly (especially when I’m drinking the Champagne). So on this point I give Petite Jacqueline my highest compliments. I left later that morning not just fed, but soothed after a busy couple of weeks, and feeling restored after those blissful hours.
To me, that full experience is rare, since eating in restaurants has become so common you’re just as often rushed and jostled and leaving more harried than when you sat down. So I’m grateful for that little respite, the excellent French food, and the kindness of the staff–each person I encountered was helpful and pleasant, so thank you. I look forward to returning soon.