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clarklewis in portland

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disclosure #1: clarklewis buys olive oil, and I mean a lot of olive oil, from me...

...and of course I think that's one of the reasons the food is so good. This review in the Portland Tribune hit the streets Friday, only 4 days after the doors opened to the public, but I don't think the restaurant really needs much time to get things together, at least in the kitchen.

What the Trib left out is that chef Morgan Brownlow worked with Paul Bertolli at Oliveto in Oakland (links to various reviews here) and brings Bertolli's love of pork, beans, oily fish like sardines and mackeral, perfect produce, and, of course, good olive oil to Portland.

We stopped by tonight and the place was packed. I had one of the best things I've eaten in awhile, a salad of tiny, tiny raw artichokes, shaved paper thin and dressed with olive oil (Olio Novo...more info on my site below, natch) and lemon, then topped with curls of Parmigiano Reggiano. Incredible.

And I had the same dessert served at the olive oil tasting we did before the restaurant opened. It's a traditional Italian cake made with olive oil, very simple, and flavored with in santo. Dried fruits macerated in the same vin santo are served over the top, along with a nice dollop of whipped cream.

Everything on the menu is available in small, large (like individual entree size), and family size, and the prices are mostly under $10. I was talking to the kitchen crew while a family size serving of lamb shoulder braised with tomatoes was plated, and I was doing one of those Homer drool things...mmmmm, lamb...

disclosure #2: one of our kids works at clarklewis.

While it was busy tonight, you should be able to get reservations during the week. And they're open for lunch, too.

1001 SE Water, 503-235-2294


olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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  • 2 months later...

My wife and I said screw the diets, Hawaii can suffer our fat, white, cheesy asses, we're going out, and we did so at clarklewis this evening.

First of all, the big question: is it the best restaurant in Portland? No. However, in the same way Noble Rot received its honor from the Willamette Week, I can understand the honor for clarklewis. It's representative of a trend and style that deserves honor, and it's leading the way in that style in Portland.

I'll make some of the same caveats that the Oregonian did. It is certainly noisy. The unfinished, industrial nature of the space has nothing to dampen the noise, not to mention the occasional train. The chairs are terrible. If you have back problems, bring your own. Really. My ass hasn't been so sore since I did six hours of miserable horseback riding in Wyoming. Not only are the seats uncomfortable, but they're too small for any real food lover's behind.

However, the food is good, the menu is good, and the format is good. Because you can order almost any item in small, large, or family size portions, my wife and I tried 3 starters, a pasta, 3 entrees, and 2 desserts. A mountain of food that came out to $75. They also offer a fixed price option (chef's choice) of 3 to 4 courses for $30.

For starters, we ordered the peasant salad ($6), crostone ($7), and soup ($3). For pasta, we chose the whole wheat ($8). For entrees, we had the swordfish ($11), beef ($12), and the squab ($13). Finally, for desserts, selected the chocolate tart ($8) and the panna cotta ($6).

The peasant salad was a mix of chicories, house cured pancetta, and walnuts, with a balsamic vinaigrette. The house cured pancetta was quite tasty. I kept eating the pieces alone to try to identify the interesting subtle flavor. It was almost anisey. I think the walnuts might have been slightly candied. It was also topped with cheese shavings, probably a parmesan.

The crostone was a crispy piece of bread topped with asparagus and a runny poached egg with sage brown butter and balsamic. It also had a little grated cheese, I think. Very good. The richness of the egg was a perfect compliment to the asparagus, salty cheese, and balsamic.

The soup was good, too, though possibly the only thing under-salted (most things might have been a little over-salted since I actually thought they were about right). It was a puree of carrot, garnished with mint and prosecco, possibly a reduction, possibly as part of the puree itself, adding a little tanginess. Simple, but good.

The whole wheat pasta came in the form of pappardelle dressed in truffled pork sugo. I have mixed feelings about this dish, though you should note that I'm not often a big fan of pasta. To me it's a side. But this was tasty, I just don't know that the sauce had much depth. It had a nice truffly flavor and porkiness, but it didn't have a very rounded flavor and was a bit salty. However, I felt like finishing it, it just was a bit too pastaroni-ish, ultimately. That's a bit unfair since the pasta is obviously much better quality house-made stuff -- and it had truffle flavor. But the flavors weren't rounded and it was salty.

The swordfish was amazingly juicy. Can you brine swordfish? It came grilled topped with a "sicilian preserved blood orange salsa". I didn't notice the orange too much, but the salsa was quite good with golden raisins and pine nuts and a tanginess. It also came with a grilled scallion. A truly small portion, maybe 3 ozs at most with a very small side, but it was quite good.

The beef was on the edge of being fabulous. With just a little more depth in the sauce, I think it would have been. As it was, it was still very good with a strong beefy piece of braised, tender meat in a rich porcini-red wine sauce. On the side were some tasty dark sauteed or braised greens.

The best dish of the night was the squab. It was well seasoned and "hearth roasted", with a nice, crispy skin. The sauce was what put this over the top and made it fabulous. It came with dried mission figs in some sort of rich, tangy (the menu says aged balsamic) sauce. It pleasantly excited all parts of the tongue. I kept scooping up forkful after forkful of the stuff, and dipping in the little leg bones and sucking off the sauce. Mmm. This was also a pretty small portion with almost no side, especially at $13.

The desserts were the only strongly disappointing thing about the meal. To have a claim at the truly best restaurant in Portland, I think they have to work on the pastry menu.

The chocolate tart was quite bitter with a dagoba chocolate ganache and orange caramel sauce and hazelnuts. The menu said candied hazelnuts, but I think they were just roasted. There was very little orange sauce. And without the hazelnuts being candied there wasn't anything to balance the tart, the chocolate of which was left rather unsweetened. The texture of the tart was excellent. But the flavors weren't balanced and the portion was quite small, just a small slice with some whipped cream on top.

The panna cotta was slightly better. Lemon-flavored, the custard came with a pine nut biscotti on the side and a tangy sauce. It was decent, again quite small, but decent. Custards aren't my favorite desserts, but I've had enough panna cottas at places like French Laundry to know a good one when I taste one. The was decent, but certainly not even close to the realm of the best I've had.

The desserts are very simple, which is fine. But I think it's very important to balance flavors and textures, especially with simple desserts. There's a restaurant-within-a-restaurant in Dallas, Lola's Tasting Room which does this to perfection. You can read my report of a visit there here (which includes a panna cotta that was fantastic):


Overall, a very good addition to Portland. There is a clear style here, like a small plates Chez Panisse or Oliveto, with no loss of Portland character, including thrift-store clad staff. In fact, I'm not sure if it was a result of the Oregonian article, but it was quite an interesting juxtaposition of the thrift-store clad, long-hair male staff, short-hair women staff in an industrial, unfinished room in contrast to the button-up plaid, long-sleeve shirted men and sweater around the neck women with big rocks in beamers as patrons. I wore shorts.

Give it a try. I'll be interested to hear what everyone thinks. Just bring a butt donut.

Edited by ExtraMSG (log)
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  • 5 months later...

I had a great meal at clarklewis this July, during my first time in Portland. (Full disclosure: My good friend is the manager.) I wish I remembered the details, but I can say Clarklewis was unconscionably cheap. Perhaps this doesn't mean as much coming from someone living and eating in NY, but I think everyone would agree that the restaurant offers a great value.

Also, congratulations to clarklewis for its press in Food & Wine (scroll down, past the mention of our favorite Fat Guy) and in Gourmet's restaurant guide.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!


"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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I don't think the clarklewis review in the WW Restaurant Guide does justice to the place. For example:

Regrets: If you want bread to sop up the sauces, it'll cost at least three more bucks.

You pay for bread at every restaurant, whether it's explicit or as a percentage of food cost factored into the price of every dish. At clarklewis, you get Ken's bread and about $1 worth of really good olive oil (I import oil from Sicily especially for clarklewis). That's worth $3.

The usual caveats apply: I sell clarklewis olive oil (and salt), and I'm related to JJ's friend the manager.


olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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i've eaten at clarklewis twice now.

honestly, i've got nothing but positives to say about the place.

now... to be clear... i'm not big on sweets, so i've not had any deserts. but none the less, everything about the place; from the food to the staff to the design to the wine list was very good indeed. if i had to compare it to somewhere, it would be Delfina in San Francisco. it has a similar focus, a similar style and an equally high level of execution.

particular standouts include:

- incredible roast suckling pig,

- an amazing (and shockingly affordable) Barbera,

- the host who treated us wonderfully when we arrived (sans reservations) during a rush on a weekend night,

- the feel of the place... a hard to put your finger on sense of "rightness" that just worked for me.

- a chicory salad that was incredibly good in its understated simplicity.

it's a great restaurant - and an amazing deal.

one of the things that made me feel comfortable with the idea of moving to Portland was clarklewis. seriously.

i haven't eaten everywhere in Portland, but if this is not the best restaurant in Portland then i truly cannot wait to discover what is.


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  • 1 month later...

Mr Ledlund and I were visiting friends in Portland this weekend and the four of us tried clarklewis on Saturday. Except for a few small annoyances (not food related) I loved the place.

We were early for an 8:30 reservation so we headed to the bar to wait for our table. It was after 9:00 when we were seated with no apology for the wait. That was a little strange. Lucky for us we were enjoying the fantastic cocktails so it didn't bother us too much. Any place that has a cocktail with Cynar is a place for me. Mr Ledlund loved his Manhattan with bourbon-soaked cherries.

Since there were four of us, we were able to try a lot of things. Our highlights:

-Endives tossed with brown butter, drizzled with aged balsamic

-foie gras with a conserva of quince

-gnocchi with truffled butter and Bellwether Farm crescenza

-spit roasted suckling pig with unbrian lentils

The flavors in all of our dishes were fantastic. Obviously they are using high quality ingredients. One disappoinment was the wine list, which is quite small with mostly italian wines. I can't imagine that they have added a white and a red each week since February. Another disappointment was the service, but we think that it may have been just our server. He would disappear for 15 or so minutes at a time. At least four times we had to flag down another server to find our wine order (which came after we finished our first course), refill water, get our coats etc. As noted previously, the volume in the dining room is quite high and the chairs, well, they sucked - 'nuff said.

Nothing on the dessert menu inticed me to try it. Granted, had they not been out of the Meyer Lemon tart we would have tried that.

The place was packed on Saturday but we were speculating on it's longevity. Is this someplace locals will go time and time again or is it a novelty that requires only one visit?

Practice Random Acts of Toasting

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Personally, I feel it will last over time. The space is great, despite the seating & noice, and the food...well, let's just say I still dream about it.

Another fantastic local restaurant we tried recently is Fife---the food there is easily as good, if not really the same kinda thing. The service was fantastic and we were seated at the kitchen, which was quite the experience. The chef, Marco, was there and was so attentive. The food was delicious and extraordinarily flavorful and...in huge portions (that we gladly took home the leftovers). You must try it when you are here again.

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