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La Moule’s Morocaine moules-frites

Hungry Portlanders don’t want for anything. Looking for rare Vietnamese soups? Hyperregional barbecue? Try finding Swedish fika anywhere but here. But until last fall, we went without  a bona fide moules-frites joint (a.k.a. mussels and fries). At La Moule, St. Jack’s Aaron Barnett corrects the oversight with a globe-spanning take on Belgium’s fave dish, plus moody lighting and great cocktails.

La Moule is every bit as cozy as its previous tenant, Savoy Tavern, if not a little sexier. The space boasts psychedelic, mussel-themed wallpaper. Its comfy black booths are sweet, dimly lit nooks for sharable, date-night mussels steamed in six flavorful broths: classique (garlic, white wine, butter) to Thai (green curry paste, lime, coconut milk), all sopped up nicely with a thick slice of baguette. The Morocaine is a good place to start: plump mussels wading in a savory broth of cumin-spiced Merguez sausage and flecks of bright mint. The fries, sold separately, are thin and crisp.

The menu is bookended by Frenchy bar fare, like a NY strip with a nob of parsley butter, a terrific plate of smoked New Zealand green-lipped mussels, and a very salty burger with a thick slice of bacon and double-cream brie on top.

Barnett is joined by cocktail ace Tommy Klus, who ensures that La Moule pulls double duty as a serious bar. His Bootstrap Buck (rum, lime, ginger beer) is as good as it was at Kask, where Klus first made a name for himself. New inventions are nerdy but approachable, like the Lilah, which boasts sherry, green chartreuse, and Mellow Corn, an in-vogue corn whiskey. Meanwhile, the Belgian-inspired tap list, both European and local, is a traditional (and perfect) partner for those bivalves.

For Portland, La Moule is more than a novelty: Sure, it’s the only place in town where you can sit in the dark slurping seafood broth and hard-to-find Trappist beers. But it’s also just a great neighborhood bar, teeming with late-night energy and strong, smart cocktails.

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