December 13th, 2006 12:00 am Shoshanna Cohen | Food Reviews & Stories

Repas De Deux

Get your French on at two new Southeast Portland bakeries.

Petite Provence
When people say Portland is one of the most European of American cities, they're usually talking about bicycles and public art, but the city's multiplying Euro-style bakeries and cafes make that label apply more literally. Chef Tucker's Pâtisserie and Petite Provence are two of the latest, which opened in October and August, respectively.

The light-filled Victorian that vegan restaurant Calendula once called home now showcases pastry chef/co-owner Tucker Mortensen's creations. The menu is promisingly streamlined: Often a limited offering is a sign of a attention to detail and quality. Here, this is sometimes the case.

A handful of morning items include a breakfast croissant ($9.50) with eggs, bacon and lettuce, and lemon-cream cheese crêpes ($8.50) topped, confusingly, with syrupy, previously frozen strawberries. Both dishes are served with perfectly crusted roasted potatoes and a cup of melon on the edge of turning. Lunch is more successful; a highlight is the tangy, succulent chicken piccata ($12.50), accompanied by a yeasty roll, almond-laced saffron rice and green beans sautéed with big chunks of bacon and sweet roasted pearl onions.

The pastries are all variations on classic themes: several flavors of tartes, mousse cakes, éclairs, macaroons and quiches, as well as croissants and chaussons pommes. The Plaisir cake ($5.50) tops chocolate and vanilla mousse with meringue and burnt sugar that evokes campfire marshmallows. A neon-hued blood-orange éclair ($3.25) is a fresh take on the original.

A more relaxed interpretation of the French cafe exists at the quaint, rustic Petite Provence, whose Americanized French offers a healthy dose of stateside excess. The offerings here are more sprawling than at Chef Tucker's: the bakery counter overflows with frog fare like a pain aux raisins ($1.75) loaded with juicy raisins, or American favorites like Frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies ($1.30). Artisanal bread includes a garlic-mushroom loaf ($3) so garlicky it's nearly toxic. For breakfast, nibble pesto-lathered, tomato-mozzarella eggs ($7.95). Come noon, fill up on sandwiches served on massive wedges of fresh-baked crusty bread, like an enormous, almost pornographic croque monsieur ($6.75) oozing with Gruyère, butter and creamy béchamel.

Each of these cafes explore a different element of French culture. Chef Tucker focuses on detail-oriented rigor, while Petite Provence revels in the laid-back charm of southern France. Neither is perfect, but both offer a taste of European escapism while retaining an unpretentious charm that is purely Portland.

Chef Tucker's Pâtisserie, 3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-2600. 7 am-3 pm Wednesday-Sunday. Petite Provence, 4834 SE Division St., 233-1121. 7 am-6 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.
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