Apparently I’ve started a tradition. Clarklewis began my Dining Month Portland reports last year. I hadn’t realized it, but I hadn’t been in since. As with Tabla, it tends to be a place I think about when I think about pasta and I don’t think about pasta very often. But I could do a lot worse than returning to Clarklewis which has been a sold restaurant through multiple owners and multiple chefs.
Dining Month Portland is back — now in its second year, a reincarnation of the 25 for $25 from a decade ago. Many of Portland’s best restaurants (and a few, frankly, that I wouldn’t even consider going to for free) offer three course meals for only $25. Last year, I went to five different spots during the first five days and I’ve decided to do that again this year, starting with Tabla.
I’ve always enjoyed Tabla. It’s one of Portland’s best values. I’d probably go more if I ate pasta more, but being on a perpetual low-carb diet — or at least telling myself I am until a delicious dessert gets plopped down in front of me (or until blackberry season) — usually precludes a visit. But I wanted to get back. Since Ten-01, its sister-restaurant closed, there’ve been some changes in staffing.
One of the first true fine dining meals my wife and I had after moving to Portland over a decade ago was at Paley’s Place. I still remember little touches like that they offered an amuse bouche, that they folded my wife’s napkin for her when she got up from the table, and that someone held the door for us as we left. The food was good, too. We’ve kept it on our rotation of special occasion restaurants ever since.
When trying to decide on an appropriate finish to my five-day Dining Month indulgence, Paley’s begged to be chosen. Other than a couple visits to the bar for burgers and small bites, it’d been years since my wife or I had been — basically since Kenny & Zuke’s opened — an egregious oversight. To have an opportunity to return and eat a meal for only $25 seemed too good to pass up.
When Ten-01 opened, it was broadly savaged. I never went under its original chef, but the most charitable reviewers seemed to think it was trying too hard, too clever by half. Then Jack Yoss took over the kitchen, comments rapidly improved, and less than a year later Ten-01 was named restaurant of the year on Portland Food & Drink. After making the restaurant one of Portland’s top tier dining destinations, Yoss left to travel the world. Benjamin Parks was brought in to mixed reviews. It’s always difficult performing under a shadow of success. The expectations are too high. Personally, I had an excellent meal under Parks and was disappointed to see him go.
I’d only been in for a burger and some charcuterie under their current chef, Michael Hanaghan, so when I saw Ten-01 was part of Dining Month Portland, I put it at the top of my list. It ended up being one of the best fine dining meals I’ve had in months.
I was excited to see that Lincoln was on the Dining Month Portland list. Lincoln is part of the concentration of quality restaurants and retail spots around North Williams and Failing. It’s really one of the best barely-more-than-a-block stretches of food in Portland, headlined by Pix, Eat Oyster Bar, Tasty n Sons, Ristretto Roasters, and, of course, Lincoln.
Lincoln is the fanciest of the bunch, though entrees average around only $20, and the room has a modest elegance; a guy could be at home in anything from a polo and dress shorts to jacket and tie. Besides being the fanciest, it’s also the most local and seasonal restaurant in North Portland. It’s a sign of chef-owner Jenn Louis’s pedigree with over a decade of experience in Portland’s kitchens, including locavore luminaries like Wildwood.
If I’ve had any complaint in the past, it’s been that the food has a tendency to be rather restrained, one layer of flavor short of perfection. But that’s part of their philosophy: the ingredients in their natural goodness. And execution has always been good, so I was more than happy to get an excuse to return.
I’m using Dining Month Portland not only as a good way to get three course meals for relatively cheap, but also as an excuse to return to restaurants I’ve liked in the past, but haven’t been to in a while. I always liked Vindalho, but Chef David Anderson left Vindalho last spring to re-open Genoa. I hadn’t been since. One friend told me he had a bad meal there after the change. But every restaurant takes time to get its feet under them with a new chef. I wanted to see for myself.
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.