Mussels and Fries Take the Spotlight at La Moule

At St. Jack’s new sister spot, Belgian tradition meets Portland cocktail bar.

By Benjamin Tepler December 21, 2015 Published in the January 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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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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