Thanks to PDX Chowhounds' recommendations, I stopped by clarklewis this evening and had a very pleasant dinner sitting at the T-shaped bar. Yes, it's a very dark and dramatic restaurant, but I really like the space and was treated very well by the congenial staff. I'd like to see it at lunchtime -- maybe next trip. I decided to place myself in the chef's hands, and chose the $35 Chef's Menu.
As I was still sipping on my Tanqueray martini, they brought out the fritto del giorno -- two crisp, golden slices of lightly-battered, fried fennel with an anchovy aioli. Yummy. This was followed by a dish of cold cauliflower flowerets in an anchovy/lemon/garlic dressing under a blizzard of parmesan. Pretty yummy, but I bet it would have been better if it were hot. At this point, the martini was gone, and the nice bartender suggested a glass of "friuli scarbolo - tocai friuliano" to accompany the cauliflower. It was indeed delicious. I'm clueless about Italian wines and depend on the kindness of waiters and bartenders when those choices are to be made -- I'm rarely disappointed.
Next came a dish with three succulent ravioli stuffed with braised ham, leeks and fontina in a creamy sauce. I'm very happy at this point, enjoying not only my delicious meal, but also the restaurant's buzz, and the virtuosic cocktail-mixing behind the bar.
My friendly bartender swung by to tell me that the next course would be roast pork, and suggesting a glass of "marches - saladini pilastri - rosso piceno" to go with. He poured a taste first, and it was perfect. The pork was superb -- a chunk of shoulder, with a big sheet of crackling attached, an incredibly delicious rib, and several succulent chunks of pork belly, accompanied by some suave, balsamic-glazed onions. The chef must have known I was coming -- pork is one of my weakest spots. The wine vanished quickly, so I followed up with a wonderful "piemonte - marziano abbona - barbera."
"How about dessert?" asked the bartender. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but my eye was caught by the lemon-fennel panna cotta and it more than surpassed my expectations.
All told, it was a delightful meal in a great space, with very attentive and personable staff. I loved having the option of a "menu surprise" and it really delivered. I'll definitely come back on my next trip to Portland.