527 SW 12th Avenue
Arriving midday on a Sunday in Portland, I was faced with little choice other than predictable brunch options, so I was relieved to find the darling Bistro Agnes serving a full-fledged and very hearty lunch service. (I did indulge in a brunch-y Bloody Mary, if only to swat away some of the jetlag after a delayed flight from New York.)
Bistro Agnes, opened in January, is owned by Greg Denton and his wife Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton, who met at the restaurant Terra in Napa Valley, then moved farther west, including a stint on Maui, to open the much-acclaimed Argentinean grill Ox Restaurant in Portland.
Agnes was Greg’s beautiful grandmother, whose photo adorns the walls of the two-room bi-level restaurant with a bright open kitchen. The place definitely has the look of a modern bistro in France, with brass railings above the banquettes, teal green walls, tile floors and French posters. Greg is in and out of the kitchen chatting with his guests, and the service staff is as attractive as they are eager to please.
Bubbling, browned Gruyere cheese tops the rich onion soup at Bistro Agnes.JOHN VALLS
The menu is resolutely French bistro style, so you’ll pop the black pepper gougères puff pastry balls in your mouth along with olives and pickles ($10) and be on your way to a fine meal. You’ll not find a better, hotter, bubblier, cheese-rich onion soup gratinée than here, piled with browned and melted aromatic Gruyère atop thyme croutons ($13). So, too, the terrine of foie gras with its Sauternes rendered jelly and warm brioche is textbook perfect. Way more out of the ordinary is the pig’s head croquette laced with sauce gribiche ($10).
A very classic rendering of pate with Sauternes jelly is a fine starter at Bistro Agnes.JOHN VALLS
My main courses included a coq au vin braised in red wine, with lots of meaty chicken pieces suffused with red wine and swimming with lardoons of bacon, Parisian mushrooms and buttered new potatoes ($24). And what would be a good bistro without a very good steak frites—twelve marbled ounces of it, beautifully charred and chewy medium rare inside, though a tad salty, lavished with a sauce Bearnaise and served with superb French fries ($38)? My only disappointment was a croque monsieur sandwich ($11 at lunch), which came with the wrong kind of bread and a magma of bland Mornay cheese sauce; this needs re-working. I’d also like to see more seafood on the menu.
For dessert at Bistro Agnes vanilla ice cream profiteroles are lavished with warm chocolate syrup.JOHN VALLS
There are spots of chocolate on the menu paper I took with me at Agnes, from a delicious malted chocolate mousse with crème Chantilly and crunchy chocolate cereal bits called perles croquantes ($9) and big puffed up profiteroles with vanilla ice cream ($9). I also loved a lemon tart with perfectly ripe sweet strawberries of the season ($9).
Agnes’s wine list is oddly short, amplified by beers and ciders. Next door is KASK, the Dentons’ craft cocktail bar.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.