Since moving to Portland S and I have made it a habit to take each other out to dinner most Thursday nights. It’s a good night to explore the impressive local restaurant scene; near the end of the week, but a little less busy than the prime restaurant nights of Friday or Saturday.
Last night we went to one of our favorite restaurants in Portland: clarklewis. Since our first visit there in the spring before we moved here when our waiter gave us a postcard on which he had listed all the sights he recommended that we explore in our soon-to-be new home, to the special tasting menu chef Dolan Lane prepared for my most recent birthday, this restaurant has never failed to delight.
Last night was no exception. When we arrived we were seated at a table overlooking the street; the garage door style windows were fully raised and the late afternoon breeze gently lifted the edges of the craft paper that covered our table.
We began our meal with cocktails: the Gentry for S (Medoyeff vodka, basil, cucumber, Pimm’s and soda), and the Honey for me (tequila, fresh grapefruit, lime and honey), drinks that set the stage for a meal that featured fresh, local ingredients and that lovingly highlighted the flavors of late summer.
As hard as it was to choose among the extensive list of starters and salads, S decided to begin with the exquisite Semolina dusted halibut cheeks, and I settled on the Viridian Farms roquefort beans with cucumber, baby tomatoes, red quinoa, pine nuts, ricotta salata and mint vinaigrette. Both dishes were appetizers in the truest sense of the word: flavorful, creative dishes that whetted our appetites for the courses to follow.
For his entree, S chose the Pacific troll Chinook salmon, largely because the artichoke hash that accompanied the dish sounded too good to pass up. The hash was perfect; chunky and fresh, and with the wild watercress and sauce gribiche, an ideal accompaniment to the rich salmon.
I had the Hearth roasted Carlton pork shoulder and I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to say it was one of the best dishes I have eaten in the past year. The pork was flawlessly cooked and rested atop a bed of achingly fresh sweet yellow corn, treviso, grilled figs, and roasted hazelnuts. It was as if all the flavors of late summer were brought to life on that one plate.
For dessert I picked the Peach brulee with blackberries, sweet corn ice cream and almond ossi dei morti (or “bones of the dead,” a traditional Italian almond cookie), and S ordered his favorite, the cheese plate, accompanied by a glass of Clear Creek pear brandy. The crunch of the caramel crust on the peach was perfectly balanced by the infinitely smooth sweetness of the ice cream and the tang of the blackberries; combined with the cheese and brandy this course brought our leisurely meal to a perfect close.
The abundance and variety of good restaurants in Portland is well known and makes choosing where to eat, and identifying one place as a “favorite,” a delightful, but sometimes overwhelming, challenge. Despite that challenge, clarklewis, with its inventive menu, perfectly prepared dishes, and thoughtful, attentive service, has found a place at the top of our list and last night’s dinner again reinforced that view. We’ll be back there soon.