Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunday Supper at clarklewis

My friend Jenni and I had an interesting dinner this evening. We went to "Sunday Supper" at clarklewis. A little background on this for you non-Portlanders:

Back before they'd founded clarklewis, the Gotham Building Tavern or their catering outfit Ripe, Naomi Pomeroy and Michael Hebb made a name for themselves in the Portland food world through the invite-only meals served in their home, which they called "Family Supper." Later FS would be held in the building that housed Ripe, and it eventually gained a national reputation as "America's most famous illegal restaurant," even managing to draw the attention of Food Network ├╝berweirdo Rachel Ray. The Ripe empire eventually came apart at the seams, but thankfully, clarklewis survived despite the departure of the original chef and several changes in ownership. Naomi Pomeroy stayed on board, and this past January resurrected the family supper tradition in the form of "Sunday Supper," basically a prix-fixe family style dinner with the guests seated around two very long tables.

We showed up at 6:30 and ordered a couple of cocktails. For Jenni, a mojito, for myself a martini. I don't drink martinis, as I really don't like them, but every five years or so I order one somewhere just to see if my tastes are catching up to those of the cocktail nation. They're not. But this one did have an interesting twist: There was a chrysanthemum in it. Which of course meant that by the end of the martini I was dodging chrysanthemum petals. Hence the straw.

We grabbed a couple of seats for ourselves and shortly thereafter the dinner bell was rung. Naomi and her daughter welcomed us all and gave us a brief rundown of the gathering of the ingredients at the Hillsdale farmers' market earlier in the day, throwing in an aside here and there about purveyors such as "the Mushroom Dude" (funny... I went to college with someone called "the Mushroom Dude"). Then we all clapped. In short order came the salad, wild mountain lettuces with aspargus, pine nuts and pecorino shavings. It was very tasty, the pine nuts and cheese offering a nice counterbalance to the lettuces' peppery zing.

Next up was bruschetta. A word about bruschetta here: I am a bruschetta expert. I have made this so many times I can practically do it blindfolded. Bruschetta is a go-to snack for me the way Doritos are for some. I usually stick with the basics: toasted or grilled bread, rubbed with lots, and I do mean lots, of raw garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I also usually add some freshly grated Parmesan (though I will, on occasion, substitute a Grana Padano, Parmigiano-Reggiano or even Dry Jack). I've experimented with everything from tomatoes and basil to Feta and Kalamata olives to Chevre and rock shrimp to Jamon Serrano and five year old Gouda, but typically I'm a purist when it comes to Bruschetta. So if you're serving this to me, you should know that I am not easily impressed.

Naomi got off on the right foot by pronouncing it correctly (this is surprisingly rare, even in good restaurants). The bruschetta was topped with a citrus aioli (blood orange, I think she said, but for some reason it registered as grapefruit on my palate), Boston mackerel and pickled red onion. I didn't taste an awful lot of garlic, so crostini might be a more accurately applied title than bruschetta here (although it's very possible that I've desensitized myself to garlic through overuse). Whatever we call it, though, it was very good. I'd never thought to incorporate citrus. Interesting.

Next to come out was the main course, braised duck leg and seared duck breast, with rhubarb mostarda. I don't know duck quite like I know Bruschetta, but this was great, the mostarda (almost a chutney, really) providing a tart/sweet foil to the richness of the duck meat. Accompanying this was new potato hash with ramps and wild mushrooms, and kale raab with chili flakes and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. The potatoes were perfect. It can be a little tricky, for me at least, to get this sort of preparation to that fork-tender but still substantial state. My guess is that they were parboiled before being cooked with the ramps and mushrooms. The kale raab was nice as well, with the chili flakes providing just enough bite to keep things interesting. However, I'm now having trouble working out whether what I was eating was kale and raab, or actually kale raab (a hybrid of, well, kale and raab). The menu said kale raab, it was dark, and I'm not too familiar with either of these vegetables, so at the time I assumed it was just that, but looking at the photo after the fact, it looks like there are two distinct vegetables there on the plate. Naomi, if you're reading this, perhaps you can set me straight on this...

At this point, of course, we were all pretty stuffed. But too stuffed for dessert? Noooo... Here we can see Naomi filling the eclairs with vanilla cream...

...and here's the finished product:

The caramel on the plate, by the way, was infused with earl grey tea. An interesting combination of flavors, although the tea was definitely pretty forward (imagine a cup of slightly sweet, very buttery earl grey tea. Hmmm, that doesn't sound too bad, actually...).

Throughout all of this, we had an interesting conversation with Chad and Cheryl across the table for much of the night (it turns out, incidentally, that they live a few doors down the street from Jenni). All in all, I would say Sunday Supper is definitely something I'd recommend.

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