Disclaimer: this is not an “Official Restaurant Review,” it is merely a mention of a place to eat I loved when I was in Portland last. Clyde Common is the name. Ace Hotel is its location. I ate there once for each lunch and dinner a few days apart. And I would go there tomorrow if it were not an eleven hour drive away.

I have a favorite restaurant in NYC. It doesn’t seem possible to single one place out on a flat, tiny island teeming with enough restaurants to fit on a small continent. But I do. And I send anyone there who asks me for NYC eating recommendations. My favorite place to eat in my old home town is Prune, a slip of an eatery on first street crammed tight with tables and exceptionally happy waiters. Gabrielle Hamilton is one of the most down-to-earth chefs I have the pleasure of knowing. Her food is not exceptionally innovative. She doesn’t wow with new spices or chemical induced textures. There’s little on the menu you’ve never heard of or eaten before, albeit in some other form.

Cauliflower soup.

But Prune’s food is brilliant. It’s simultaneously inspired and soulful, flavorful and simple, honest and satisfying. There are traditional pairings, and seasonal ideas. But somehow, when Gabrielle puts these proteins and vegs together, something like earthy faerie dust gets thrown in, a dash of whimsy, a pinch of what-the-hell and voila, a Vogue-ing, lip syncing, twink of a beautiful creature is born. Always delicious, often exclamatorily so.

But why on earth am I waxing poetic about Prune when I began by talking about a new restaurant in Portland, Oregon?

Ace, A Friendly Hotel.

Because the food at Clyde Common is also inspired, whimsical, down-to-earth, laid back, seasonal, exceptionally delicious at times, and it could turn into my favorite restaurant in Portland if I’m not careful. I don’t think the chef behind its menu is as brilliant as Gabrielle, but at least he’s reaching, standing on the diving board’ edge, toes dangling. Most of the cooks in the kitchen understand how to cook, and many know finesse and flourish are important parts of making a dish day after night after day still taste good. I’m as big a fan of consistency as the next diner, but eating in a plated-food factory is not my idea of a great meal.

When I go out to eat I want to be tempted, turned-on, pushed, inspired, and given too many options to choose from. I want to see items that sound intriguing but not too wacky, ones I never would have thought to do myself. Appetizers like, “asparagus with caul fat wrapped egg,” “beef tongue, seared scallop, beets and tomato jam,” “chicken-fried chicken liver, cucumber salad and citrus mayonaise,” “fennel sausage, octopus, fried potatoes and ink.”

Words. On a page looking torn from a child’s 1950’s blue-lined notebook. Typewriter written letters, in all their skewed arty loveliness.

For design is our first visual. Our first amuse bouche. The way she styles her hair, and the strands which refuse to be bound, falling lightly at her collarbone. The way he suavely matches green pinstripes with a shiny blue tie. The way the light in the room greets you, soft from a few dozen candles, and a menu with the restaurant’s name in red rubber stamp ink and today’s date in black, upper left hand column, in a hurried angle. You’re going to get a special meal no one else will get. Unique. Just like you.

Chicken-Fried Chicken Livers.

But there’s always the moment. The dish that makes the rest of the menu fall away, West Side Story style. You take a bite and you wish you didn’t have to share.

chicken-fried chicken liver, cucumber salad and citrus mayonaise 9.

You moan audibly. You say, “[expletive deleted] yeah!” And then you consider ordering one for dessert. If Clyde Common pleases you in no other way but the way you feel when this exquisitely delicious combination of inspiration, technique, texture and flavor reach your mouth and then your taste buds, so be it. Leave happy.

Or go on to order the “fishboard” of the day, a generous side dish of “roast cauliflower,” “seared chicken thighs/pork shank, refried peanuts, frisee salad and pork jus,” or “risotto: fennel, finicchiona, walnuts and grano padano.”

French Fried Potatoes with Harissa and Creme Fraiche.

Clyde Common is not for the vegetarian in you. It’s for the adventurous, slightly silly, open- minded diner. People are pretty but casual. If you sit near the kitchen be prepared for a conversation with the person plating your salads and desserts. Cooks are white-jacketless, heavily tattooed and young enough to look like college drop-outs. Think Zuni Cafe meets Blue Plate.

Unfortunately the desserts are too sweet, boring and sloppily plated. Someone had a good idea but not the skill or follow-through to make it taste good enough to order again. Dessert as afterthought: not my favorite way to end a blush producing meal.

Believe me when I tell you to walk a few blocks into the Pearl District and go to Blue Hour for dessert. Or drive 15 minutes across one of Portland’s beautiful bridges to SE for desserts at ClarkLewis. Or plan ahead and stop into Sahagun for sumptuous chocolates… Any of these three options will satisfy any sweet, seasonal craving you might have.

Clyde Common, Domestic & Foreign Cooking
SW 10th and Stark in the Ace Hotel
Monday – Thursday open 5 until late
Friday – Saturday open 5 until later
Open Sundays starting June 17th
{More photographs here.}

Clyde Common Restaurant. Ace Hotel, Portland 23 July,2007Shuna Fish Lydon

  • joanna

    Not that I wasn’t already impressed by Clyde, but you’ve reignited my drive to get myself back there, and quick. If they can get my heart racing over a simple plate of roasted cauliflower, they are indeed working some magic.
    Trivial note: The drive over to clarklewis is more like 6 minutes, not 15. Extra incentive.
    Great photos, great piece.l

  • Cuisine Bonne Femme

    Ah yes, the roasted cauliflower is just unbelievable. How lucky we are to have Clyde in Portland.

    Although I agree with Shuna, the desserts need work.

  • Anonymous

    “.. desserts are too sweet, boring and sloppily plated..” Where may I asked were you eating? I have eatent here many times and have been inspried at both dinner and lunch. Perfect chocolate. Seasonal fruit. With Stumptown Coffee. Cannot be better. But then Zuni is listed as sublime and it is the most overblown restaurant in SF.

  • Anonymous

    You’d better stop at Sahagun for your chocolate fix before you go to Clyde Commons–Sahagun is only open until 6 PM Weds-Sat. It’s really a chocolate shop and not a dessert destination. Pix would be a better choice if you’re looking for a place to eat dessert!

  • Anonymous

    but if you think CC’s desserts are sweet (i find them balanced) you will be sickened by the ultra-high sugar level in Pix’s overhyped confections and dessert choices.

  • whimsy2

    I beg to differ. Pix has not only gorgeous pastries, they are not all too sweet. This from a diabetic.


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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