Alas, poor Clarklewis
My wife, daughter, and I ate at clarklewis Saturday night. I had really been looking forward to being there again; last time we went I had the best lamb I've ever eaten. At that time the place had already been taken over by the original chef's wife/partner, but it was still terrific.
Well, no more. It's still good, but not at all exceptional. First off, the kitchen pacing was terrible. This restaurant has been around for about five years, and a busy Saturday night should not upset them so that main courses took 30 minutes to arrive. They had to buy desserts for a number of tables.
The food was mixed: very good first courses, but the mains were really lacking. My wife's salmon was mediocre; daughter's fish was better but nothing to write home about. My leg of lamb (sliced) was quite rare and, although tasty, was way too chewy and gristly. Dessert was good.
This was a destination restaurant but I think it's gone down. The new owners run two bar/restaurants in Portland that cater to, as my daughter puts it, "chads." Guys in polo shirts and khakis who spend a lot on vodka and think fine dining is yelling your head off when you are having a good time. In other words, yuppie restaurants, with an emphasis on the "y." (I don't think one should be judged on their shirts and pants, but I do think the focus of those places is different from what clarklewis was. It looks like the new management is trying to replicate their other restaurants in the "new" clarklewis. Too bad.
I might have excused them for telling us that we couldn't sit in the window because those tables were reserved but then stayed empty the 2 1/2 hours we were there. But you are right, clarklewis is not the same and the changes are for the worse.
This was my husband's favorite restaurant in town, and we were excited when another couple suggested dinner out and told us they had never been there. It was only after I made the reservations that I read that Naomi had left and that it had been taken over by the Bluehour guy. What could be wrong with that? Well, it wasn't bad--but it just wasn't the consistently delicious and unique experience that we'd had the other times we'd been there. The portions were bigger (if I want a huge dessert I'll go to Papa Haydn), prepared with a heavier hand (too much dressing on my salad, the fish slightly overcooked), and with less subtle flavors. Nothing to write home (or in the NY Times) about is right. Add that to the snooty greeting we got at the door and it is pretty sad.
I was actually there that night and they seemed really - really busy. The place was packed. I went because the restaurant got a really great write up in the dining section of the newspaper. It had sort of fallen of my radar so I was excited to go to dinner there and made reservations right away.
I waited too but my food was delicious so all was fine by us.
The place still has an inner eastside appeal and the food I think is better than it ever has been. Clarklewis is certainly worth making reservations for!