But why on earth am I waxing poetic about Prune when I began by talking about a new restaurant in Portland, Oregon?
Ace, A Friendly Hotel.
Because the food at Clyde Common is also inspired, whimsical, down-to-earth, laid back, seasonal, exceptionally delicious at times, and it could turn into my favorite restaurant in Portland if I'm not careful. I don't think the chef behind its menu is as brilliant as Gabrielle, but at least he's reaching, standing on the diving board' edge, toes dangling. Most of the cooks in the kitchen understand how to cook, and many know finesse and flourish are important parts of making a dish day after night after day still taste good. I'm as big a fan of consistency as the next diner, but eating in a plated-food factory is not my idea of a great meal.
When I go out to eat I want to be tempted, turned-on, pushed, inspired, and given too many options to choose from. I want to see items that sound intriguing but not too wacky, ones I never would have thought to do myself. Appetizers like, "asparagus with caul fat wrapped egg," "beef tongue, seared scallop, beets and tomato jam," "chicken-fried chicken liver, cucumber salad and citrus mayonaise," "fennel sausage, octopus, fried potatoes and ink."
Words. On a page looking torn from a child's 1950's blue-lined notebook. Typewriter written letters, in all their skewed arty loveliness.
For design is our first visual. Our first amuse bouche. The way she styles her hair, and the strands which refuse to be bound, falling lightly at her collarbone. The way he suavely matches green pinstripes with a shiny blue tie. The way the light in the room greets you, soft from a few dozen candles, and a menu with the restaurant's name in red rubber stamp ink and today's date in black, upper left hand column, in a hurried angle. You're going to get a special meal no one else will get. Unique. Just like you.
Chicken-Fried Chicken Livers.
But there's always the moment. The dish that makes the rest of the menu fall away, West Side Story style. You take a bite and you wish you didn't have to share.
chicken-fried chicken liver, cucumber salad and citrus mayonaise 9.
You moan audibly. You say, "[expletive deleted] yeah!" And then you consider ordering one for dessert. If Clyde Common pleases you in no other way but the way you feel when this exquisitely delicious combination of inspiration, technique, texture and flavor reach your mouth and then your taste buds, so be it. Leave happy.
Or go on to order the "fishboard" of the day, a generous side dish of "roast cauliflower," "seared chicken thighs/pork shank, refried peanuts, frisee salad and pork jus," or "risotto: fennel, finicchiona, walnuts and grano padano."
French Fried Potatoes with Harissa and Creme Fraiche.
Clyde Common is not for the vegetarian in you. It's for the adventurous, slightly silly, open- minded diner. People are pretty but casual. If you sit near the kitchen be prepared for a conversation with the person plating your salads and desserts. Cooks are white-jacketless, heavily tattooed and young enough to look like college drop-outs. Think Zuni Cafe meets Blue Plate.
Unfortunately the desserts are too sweet, boring and sloppily plated. Someone had a good idea but not the skill or follow-through to make it taste good enough to order again. Dessert as afterthought: not my favorite way to end a blush producing meal.
Believe me when I tell you to walk a few blocks into the Pearl District and go to Blue Hour for dessert. Or drive 15 minutes across one of Portland's beautiful bridges to SE for desserts at ClarkLewis. Or plan ahead and stop into Sahagun for sumptuous chocolates... Any of these three options will satisfy any sweet, seasonal craving you might have.