Now with a new owner (Bruce Carey has replaced ripe’s Michael Hebb and Naomi Pomeroy) and a new chef (Daniel Mattern in, Morgan Brownlow out), clarklewis has grown past its enfant terrible stage. It has settled into providing Portland with some of the best salads, appetizers and cocktails in town, even if the entrees never seem to measure up to the standards of the rest of the menu. A spendy, nothing-special pork loin is typical, leaving you yearning for the world-beating starters: cool mâche with plump shrimp, bitter chicory paired with nectarines, and a stunningly simple wax-bean salad that’s better than most restaurants’ main dishes. The infamous ripe hubris has been dialed down but not eliminated, particularly in service; when a delicious but undercooked whole-wheat fettuccine with basil was sent back, a sniffy waiter returned with an entirely different, unasked-for dish. (Well, pardon us.) But who can argue with the exemplary desserts, or the new, comfortable chairs? With its bar area begging patrons to strike a pose and a wall open to the industrial district outside like an urban proscenium, clarklewis is still as much theater as restaurant. And with a few front-of-the-house cast changes and some work on the middle act, it should easily scale the heights to which it obviously aspires and stick around for a long run. (KA)
Signature dish: The absolutely freshest local ingredients, presented simply.
Standouts: Grilled figs with Gorgonzola and arugula; sautéed skate wing with squash blossoms; plum-hazelnut cake. And did we mention the new chairs?
Regrets: Entrees are fine but dull, not reaching the height of the magnificent starters, desserts and drinks.