Note: This is one of the very earliest reviews. The style and content has changed quite a bit since then, but the basic review still stands. I will revisit clarklewis in early 2006 and completely re-write this review at that time.
I went to Clarklewis (aka ‘Dark Lewis’) tonight with a few friends. The previous times I have been there the restaurant had just opened. Those meals failed to impress me. Lately Clarklewis and Chef Morgan Brownlow have been getting so much publicity, I decided it was time to see if my first meals were just an unfortunate fluke. I’ll try to make this short and sweet.
1. Still too damn dark. They give you a flashlight when you sit down so you can read the menu. That’s not cute, just stupid. Sound insulation has been added and helps somewhat, but the noise level is still high. The chairs are still uncomfortable by the end of a long meal.
2. You can order small, medium, and family sizes of each item. Small portions are literally a few bites. Even with medium you are going to need to order at least four items. Entrees are nicely sized.
3. Service was very spotty. Over 20 minutes just to get cocktails from the time we ordered them — and then they took our food and wine order. Other times it was very attentive. This was rather late on a slow night.
4. The wine list is excellent and well priced, a huge improvement over their opening months. We had no trouble finding several good choices.
5. Everyone decided on the ‘Chefs Choice’ meal, which means they pick out what they feel is the best food that evening and send it out. No other ordering except for wine and dessert. With three persons in our party, that meant a fair amount of food: three antipasti, three salads, three pastas, and three entrees. With the exception of the entrees, the dishes were literally a few leaves each, so we did not leave feeling bloated.
6. The antipasti and salads were all very good. I’d even go as far as to say fantastic. Salads were small but adequate within the overall scope of the meal. All three of them were about subtlety. One really has to stop and pay attention to what they are eating to truly appreciate the various flavor shadows. They really required concentration throughout every dish
7. Three pastas came next. The first, pasta with black truffles was perfectly cooked and the flavors well balanced. A second pasta with wild boar was well composed with plenty of meat without being too gamey. Finally, excellent gnocchi were also served in a very light sauce. All of these dishes were excellent.
8. The final course was Halibut, Lamb, and Beef (to split three entree size dishes among the three of us). The Halibut was excellent; buttery and perfectly cooked/seasoned with a hint of lemon, simply done. The other two were god-awful: Over-cured, over-cooked, dried-out, and over-salted. We played a game closing our eyes and trying to tell the difference between the lamb and beef by taste. None of us could do it. This was a lead balloon to what had been an excellent meal to that point.
9. Desserts: Hmmm… Just say no. Not even worth commenting on.
In conclusion: If we had stopped before the meat course we would have been blown away by this meal. Everything prior to that was really excellent. If I were to go back, I would stick to antipasti, salads, and pasta. I wonder if the critics that eat there have ever gotten to the meat course.
Because of the weakness in service, noise level, ambience, and the meat courses I’d give the overall experience 2 stars; so much potential gone unrealized.
1001 SE Water ave, Portland, OR. Google Map (503) 235-2294 Ripe/Clarklewis/Gotham Website
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