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clarklewis With Child + Other ripe Observations (Too Damn Long)

mczlaw | Aug 6, 200502:05 AM

My daughter had camp all week at OMSI, so after the pickup this evening, I persuaded her to try clarklewis since it was so close and daddy had a bad day. Being the sensitive, caring type of kid, she fell for it. (Actually, it was a pretty lousy day.)

Though prepared to make a meal of bread & butter in the absence of anything else she liked, Gracie decided to give the ravioli a try (minus the proferred--godferbid green--fresh basil). The portion of three in the small serving size were presented cheese (ricotta?)-stuffed with a simple tomato sauce topped by a little grated parmesano. She ended up finishing the one order and getting (and finishing) a second. I sampled the sauce; it emphasized the wonder of local tomatoes at their seasonal peak. Gracie admitted that the dish was at least as good as Lean Cuisine. (OK, so it's a start.) FWIW, I had the roast pork that was quite nice. Chewy, salty dark crust; moist interior; served on a bed of perfectly cooked (not chalky undercooked, nor gooshy overcooked) white beans.

I hadn't been in a while and have read with interest both the fawning accolades and excoriation of the ripe empire, its principals and clarklewis. To these comments I would add:

(1) Concededly, we arrived about 5:45. With no reservation, we were seated right away and were treated so nicely by the host (Aaron) and our server, even after Gracie tried to scam us into the bar by claiming she was 23 (which is very close to her true age of 8). Special praise to the server who didn't bat an eye about the Lean Cuisine comment and walked halfway down the hall to help Gracie find the loo. She (I wish I'd caught her name) was personable and even found a few minutes to schmooze. At the outset, she asked about pacing and the kitchen delivered in accordance with our preference. As far as I know, I'm not on any VIP list. Service gets a good solid "A" overall and taking into account kid friendliness.

(2) Portion size on my large pork was, well, large. I'd estimate 8-10 oz. For the two small raviolis, a plate of Ken's (deeply caramelized to near incineration, but delicious) bread + butter, the pork, a small green salad (which the server recommended to me instead of the large, thank you much), a milk and a bubbly water, $45. Not cheap, not out of line. This is a fine dining restaurant (even if us Portlanders glory in underdressing--god bless us everyone), so I'm not expecting bargains. Food (overall): A; Value: A-.

(3) Absence of even a hint of snootiness belied some of the rips on this place and ripe generally. I know most of the principals (other than Morgan) reasonably well. Some of Michael's comments in the "O" article were a bit over the top, but overall he and Naomi and Tommy and Morgan are absolutely working their tails off to bring Portlanders first rate food in somewhat offbeat settings. They are also approachable and pleasant people to talk to. Most importantly, I like the fact that they have shaken things up a bit--at least to the extent that they have the "experts" and food enthusiasts alike talking about the dining experience, restaurant design and what, if anything new, the ripe empire brings to the table (so to speak). So, in the final analysis, I'm not sure what is more elitist--the attitude of the ripezoids themselves or the anti-elitism of those who've already judged ripe the balance and found it wanting.

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