Despite a French Menu and Location Nostalgia, Renard is Not St. Jack

The storied corner restaurant's successor brings accessible, vanilla French to Clinton.

By Benjamin Tepler September 2, 2015

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Renard's cheese-puff gougères. 

St. Jack in 2010 was magic: a sullen 1890 house transformed on Clinton Street, serving gutsy Lyonnaise food with an Amélie-cute patisserie attached. Then it relocated in 2014 to NW 23rd Ave, taking with it the signature dripping bar candles and copper madeleine molds, but the original Clinton space so embodies St. Jack that it’s impossible not to make comparisons with its two month-old tenant, Renard—especially since the food is French. Right now, Renard is a solid neighborhood option, with pleasantly superficial French cooking and very unfussy service.

Francophile romanticism still resides inside the 35-seat restaurant and bar up front, now in slightly darker tones, but without the same attention to detail. The former patisserie side, open for breakfast and lunch, now serves cottage cheese bowls and 6-minute eggs instead of éclairs and caneles. Servers are friendly, but slow and unshakably Portland-casual.

The menu looks suspiciously like a Cordon Bleu student manual; gougères, French onion soup, and steak frites all make the rounds. But generalist cooking isn’t a bad thing. The omelet, stuffed with Portland Creamery chevre, pops of black olive, and zucchini is beautifully turned and pale, as all French omelets should be. Crostini slicked with sweet, Morrocan-ish eggplant ragout and topped with smoked sprats is plenty satisfying, as is a bowl of moules au curry, spiced with vadouvan, feta, and fennel.   

As a totally unintimidating local spot with half-price wine bottle bargains and beautiful bones, Renard is already a success. To go beyond modest ambition, it’ll take more than the standard French playbook and vintage absinthe posters. And for goodness' sake, stop comparing it to St. Jack.

2039 SE Clinton St
Cafe: Mon-Wed, 8am - 12pm
Lunch: Thur-Fri, 8am - 2:30pm
Dinner: Wed-Sun, 4pm - close
Brunch: Sat-Sun, 10am - 4pm 

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