June is “Dining Month Portland”. Over 40 restaurants, some of Portland’s best, are offering three course meals for only $25 every day they’re open. No catch. If you remember the days of 25 for $25, here they are reborn. Make sure you check out the PortlandFood.org thread where contributors have been posting some of the menus.
I loved the old 25 for $25 promotion and am glad it’s back. I’ve decided to visit a different restaurant on the list the first five days of June and report on my meals here. Hopefully it will encourage you to make use of the great deals as well. I decided to start with Clarklewis.
It’s been years since I’ve been to Clarklewis. I really enjoyed the food under Brownlow when it was part of the Ripe Empire. During one of my favorite visits, a half dozen of us from PortlandFood.org met for a veggie-dominated meal. I loved that they had a tendency to use whole animals and work their way through them. But spending so many hours at Kenny & Zuke’s during its first two years kept me from giving Clarklewis a try after the change in ownership. I’ve always liked Bruce Carey’s restaurants, been a fan of Bluehour, and when he bought Clarklewis, it seemed like a relatively good fit. A $25 three-course dinner seemed like a good excuse to give it a try, finally.
The restaurant didn’t have a distinct menu for the promotion. (A mistake, I think; you don’t want to make people who come in for the promotion, possibly the first time they’ve been to the restaurant, feeling awkward asking about it.) However, I asked the waiter about it and he pointed to the items (ala carte prices listed, as well):
Sauvie Island Organics baby greens
with glazed walnuts, Oregon blue cheese and sherry vinaigrette 9
with braised lamb ragu, shaved pecorino toscano and rosemary 13/18
Buttermilk panna cotta
with rhubarb compote and dried cherry spice cake 8
The salad and the spaghetti made the menu sound a little boring and not exactly filling. Both preconceptions were wrong.
I love salads. I love greens. The Sauvie Island Organics salad had such a wide and interesting variety of greens, I couldn’t identify them all. Baby chard, maybe. Young dandelion greens, perhaps. Some soft. Some sturdy. Some bitter. Some mild. The pungent blue cheese, sweet walnuts, and tangy dressing made for flavorful, yet balanced, additions to the salad. Two edible flowers added color. And the dish was sizeable for a fine dining salad.
We would take half the spaghetti with lamb ragu home. It was a big portion. But better than its size was its flavor. The thick, housemade spaghetti matched the hearty lamb stew. A daintier pasta would have been overwhelmed. The lamb was braised until falling apart, surrounded in a light, meaty tomato sauce with a hint of rosemary. Thin shavings of pecorino added saltiness and a nutty, caramel tone to the pasta.
Our dessert, the buttermilk panna cotta (pictured at the beginning of this report), had a lovely tanginess. This is one of my favorite trends in desserts: taking the bland milk-based panna cotta and replacing it with yogurt, like at Nostrana, or buttermilk, as here. The dairy-based gelatin could have been a creamier, but the flavor, especially paired with the sweet rhubarb syrup and rhubarb compote, was perfect. The dried cherry spice cake that accompanied the panna cotta was just as good, perhaps better, and also a terrific a match for the rhubarb syrup. The moist, dense cake, as savory as sweet, was studded with the tart, dried cherries. The syrup soaked into its bottom.
Since I was with my wife, we ordered two more dishes (and were brought one more, the pork belly, by the kitchen):
with roasted beets, lamb bacon, red radish, goat cheese dressing and La Vecchia vinaigrette 11
Braised pork belly
with fontina val d’aosta fries, mushroom gravy and pickled onions 14
Roasted Cattail Creek lamb
with roasted fennel, flageolet beans, crushed kalamata olives and rosemary gremolata 28
The Viridian lettuces sat atop slices of roasted beets covered with crumbled, salty lamb bacon. They were like lamb-flavored bacon bits, intense and gamey. Thin julienned strips of radish covered everything. The idea was good, but the radishes weren’t peppery enough to hold up to the other flavors. Still delicious.
I can see why the kitchen would want to give us an order of the pork belly. They were showing off. First, you have a meaty hunk of pork belly, fork tender, with fat just short of liquefying. Pork belly is everywhere in Portland. While some might think it has “jumped the shark”, they’re wrong. Good food never goes out of style. At least it shouldn’t. A creamy, wild mushroom gravy rested under the pork belly, matching surprisingly well. Pickled onions and peppery greens cut through the richness of both. Several fontina cheese fries, crisp shells yielding to a gooey centers, much more intensely flavored than mozzarella sticks, sat behind the pork belly. I want to see them do an upscale rendition of jalapeno poppers, now.
Arguably the best dish of the night, though, was the roasted lamb leg with flageolet beans. The supremely juicy meat wasn’t as tender as some cuts would have been, but had a great flavor. The lamb was cleverly topped with a mixture of chopped kalamata olives and gremolata, the salty, sharp flavors countering the gaminess. Tender beans in a naturally sweet, meaty demi-glace were good on their own and even better with the lamb. Soft, roasted fennel added another layer of flavor.
A very good meal, made even better by the great Dining Month promotion. I look forward to my next meal here. I’m glad I got the excuse to finally try it under Chef Lane.
1001 SE Water Ave
Portland, OR 97214