Portland Monthly's Destination of the Year 2014: Maurice
In ways both strange and delightful, Kristen Murray is Portland’s first ambassador of fika. Fika? It’s the Swedish concept of a long, lingering coffee break, devoutly observed on its home turf. Måurice, opened last December and named after Murray’s pet bunny, embraces the custom in the form of a French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette” that lovingly obliterates any common-sense notions about running a restaurant.
Come on in and slide down the rabbit hole into an all-white Wonderland. You’ll encounter itty-bitty macarons, impeccable salads that embrace the bitter world, intricate desserts that appear at mysterious times throughout the day (or not), a vermouth happy hour, and yes, some very good coffee and pastries. Måurice is 580 square feet of exacting, tunnel-vision fervor from a trained pastry chef in possession of a great palate and a rare spice literacy. The leisurely experience can veer from twee to revelatory—it all depends on how comfortable you are inhabiting another person’s world, and paying the price (literally). Herewith, a guided tour of Måurice’s menu.
Scan the top of the case up front for Old World baking wonderments. Bostock tastes like an otherworldly slice of French toast, soft but crisp, blanketed in brown sugar, fresh nut cream, and juicy baked fruit. Brioche rolls, elongated expressions of flaky dough hugging fresh fruit, arrive under an entire runway of anise seeds embedded in icy-white glaze. The chocolate roll (left) boasts enough sunflower seeds to feed Portlandia’s entire bird flock.
Mäurice’s daily menu feeds a longing for a forgotten realm where you found time in your day for a few radishes with good butter. Polenta clafouti arrives as a cosmic grits soufflé beneath a blissed-out poached farm egg, its yolk the color of a sunset plunging into the horizon. An open-faced sandwich (above) radiates surprising beauty: toasted spelt bread, pickled rockfish (or bay shrimp with crème fraîche), avocado, and some shaves of fennel.
The menu rarely lists coffee. But ask, and you will receive a supremely delicate brew of a custom roast from next door’s Courier Coffee. Otherwise, Måurice is in a perpetual state of high tea, served in handsome iron kettles. Browse the wall for bistro wines, but Måurice’s heart beats loudest in a glass of European vermouth at the daily happy hour, when fer vermut (“do the vermouth”) is officially in session.
Murray’s pastry art follows its own schedule. The only constants: black pepper cheesecake and a lemon soufflé cake tangy enough to win the Legion of Honor. But watch for the gems: gorgeous box cakes glistening in near-black chocolate or, perhaps, a green walnut ice cream crackling with crushed wafer leaves, two kinds of chocolate, chopped-up cedar leaves, and one fine imagination.