2500 SE Clinton St.
Hours: 5 pm – 12 am
We have always appreciated the link to the unique culture that Canadians share with Americans. We’ve adopted so many of their creative geniuses making them our own. Now here in SE, we have one of their culinary imports, Aaron Barnett, owner/chef at La Moule.
Aaron has been making his way across the border from his family’s home in Winnipeg for the last twenty years. He became a resident and chef in Portland in 2006.
His contribution to the culinary table here is inspired by a childhood of tasty experiences from parents who both loved to cook. His father was a fan of French cooking and his mom found the spices of the Orient and other far flung regions to her liking. They were foodies (or gourmands) before it became trendy to be one.
“Family meals were an event at our house as a kid,” Aaron said. “I remember coming home and finding ducks hanging from the ceiling in preparation for Peking duck my mom would make.” He was especially enamored with the sauces and flavors of his dad’s special meals.
For many years, Aaron worked as a chef for other restaurants and when the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, he decided it was time to start his own. He and Kurt Huffman opened St. Jack’s, an intimate little restaurant originally on the corner of SE Clinton and 21st St. (and now located in NW), where he applied his knowledge of French cooking to make it the delectable establishment it is today.
When the opportunity appeared to open La Moule in his own ‘hood ( SE Clinton and 25th) over a year ago, he was ready. “I like the atmosphere of old Portland buildings, so this location was perfect – just four blocks from our original place,” he said.
La Moule is a more casual version of St. Jack’s, and a place where everyone in this extraordinary community can enjoy an evening out. The colors and cool wallpaper, tufted booths and dark, warm ambiance casts everyone in a good light.
The vision for the restaurant came about three years ago in Washington D.C. while preparing food for the Democratic Governors Association. The day was one of those crazy travel days where Aaron arrived four hours late and starving. Nothing in the hotel was open so he decided to go for a walk in the neighborhood and stumbled upon a Belgian Pub that was still open.
“They served mussels twenty different ways along with great chips and beer.” This was a reminder of the casual go to food he was used to in
Canada. The idea of this type of neighborhood brasserie that specialized in mussels, chips and beer took root in his mind.
The menu at La Moule includes several different ways to eat mussels, oysters, crab, Steak Diane, Mushroom Pappardelle, Rabbit Pot Pie, burgers and pommes frites (French fries). This time of year one of the menu favorites is the Dungeness crab salad. Aaron says the winter is the best time of year to eat seafood because the colder it is the better it tastes. Mussels come year round from Pemco, WA where they are known to have a consistently good supply, mild flavor and texture.
“The basic ingredients in a lot of French sauces are lemon, garlic, dijon, capers, butter and spices. I especially favor dill,” he said. It’s a matter of how to combine them and in what proportions that can make for the lightest, most delicate dishes to the more hearty savory ones. He shares the kitchen with chef Elise Walker who has created some of the menu too.
Aaron’s cocktail partner is Tommy Klus, renowned throughout Portland for pouring a great drink. The back bar is stocked with lots of spirits, many of them rare. Bartenders are constantly adding new, thoughtful (and more importantly, delicious) cocktails to the menu.
La Moule pours a wide variety of draft beers including delicious malty Belgian ales, carefully selected local micro-brews, and unique, rare, sour beers. Happy Hour includes a $2 can on the menu, Mediterranean and coastal wines and lots of champagne.
The dessert is the Belgian Liege waffle, a raised dough coated in a special sugar and baked to crispy perfection in a waffle iron. Toppings include a chocolate ganache topped with whipping cream or chiurro style dulce la leche powdered sugar.
Yes, winter is the season for seafood and if you haven’t had a great crab salad in awhile La Moule is the place to go.