Portland has no shortage of terrific counter-service restaurants that are great for kids, but sometimes, on a special occasion, you just don’t want to place your order, take a number, and bus your own table.

So to celebrate their first day of school this year, my husband and I got gussied up and took our 9-year-old twins to Bergerac, a small, atmospheric, family-owned bistro on the edges of southeast Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood with a classically trained chef who hails from the Dordogne region in southwestern France.

Our kids were — to put it mildly — skeptical. But they brightened up when the waitress bustled over with a special kids’ menu with a coloring map of France on it, including landmarks and key regions. The kid menu included the obligatory macaroni and cheese, but also some decidedly more Francophile options, including a mini croque-monsieur (translation: an extra gooey and delicious ham and cheese), and baked ham with pasta and seasonal veggies.

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My vegetarian daughter picked the kid-sized potato gratin with a side of fresh green beans after I told her it was akin to the potato pancakes she adores at Hanukah. All the kid menu options are just $6 and come with a complimentary scoop of vanilla ice cream; add on a cup of juice for another $1.50. Her brother was hungrier, and ordered the seared-and-marinated “poulet” from the grown-up menu for $16 — that’s chicken, for those who’ve forgotten their high school French — which he scarfed up, although the onion jam garnish went untouched.

I was a little worried about service, as there were several tables that were seated just before us, but things moved swiftly, helped by the $10 cheese, fruit and nut platter we ordered to tide the kids over before the food arrived. My son tried to hog all of the goat cheese for himself, which was a first.

But neither kid would try the escargot that my husband ordered ($10 for six), cooked simply with garlic butter and sided with more bread. I did, though, and the taste brought me back to being 19 in Paris, with a backpack, a hostel membership and a Eurail pass. The menu has a number of other traditional French choices that are rarely seen on Portland menus at kid-friendly establishments, including housemade pâté and duck confit.

I had a grown-up sized version of my daughter’s potato gratin ($16), which was so creamy and rich that I only managed to eat about a third of it (she, however, finished her entire smaller portion), but I polished off all of the vinegary side salad accompaniment and jewel-toned ham on the side.

Since it was a celebration, we ordered a pot au chocolate for dessert, which is a very French and fancy way to say chocolate pudding. The kids fought for every last spoonful of decadence.

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There’s no play area, as the restaurant is small, but I did note high chairs and a changing table in the bathroom; there’s also a weekend brunch menu with gentler pricing and pancakes/egg options for kiddos.

The owners of Bergerac are parents themselves to two young children, and clearly believe, as is the prevalent philosophy in France, that a good meal can and should be savored as a family. Kids can eat at the table, enjoy a cheese plate, try new things, put a linen napkin on their lap and clink glasses to celebrate a special moment. In oh-so-casual Portland, it’s a treat to be reminded of this.

Bergerac: 5520 SE Woodstock Blvd., bergeracpdx.com.
Reservations recommended.

Julia Silverman
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