Where A Scream Becomes A Whisper

First of all, before I dump all over Clyde Common, let me just mention that I found it a pretty impressive place. Someone sure knew how to fill a niche when they opened this establishment, (supposedly that niche is European Tavern) because the place seems to be a madhouse, or it certainly was on the Friday evening Restaurant Roulette visited there. Top this off with nice people, excellent service, a fascinating, wide reaching menu (with wide-reaching prices) and skillful cooking execution, and you’ve got a restaurant operating on all burners.

That being said, this is not a place to hold any sort of conversation. The acoustics are brutal, especially upstairs, and trying to have any normal dinner conversation, even with only four, was nearly impossible. I would have to say that this has to be the loudest restaurant RR has ever visited, certainly put over the top by the throngs of people jammed in to eat, drink, and be merry. The place struck me as a three ring circus all evening, certainly over the three hours of our visit, and it was quite note-worthy to me that both the service and the quality of the food remained first rate. I’m really glad we scored a table on the upper level though, as there was just too much action at all times on the lower floor, especially anywhere near the bar area.

IMG_0964When I announced this dinner, I really did not know that Clyde Common was THIS popular. I knew it appealed to the younger set, and it was a good place for drinks and happy hour, but I didn’t know it was crazy, insanely popular. As our table was on a balcony overlooking the main floor, it was perfect for people watching, and at one time, around 6:30, I saw about 12 people in a row walk in the already packed restaurant all at once, and they didn’t seem to be a group. I don’t know how many of these people show up from the adjoining Ace Hotel, looking for drinks, and how many people end up flowing to and from the immensely popular Kenny and Zuke’s on the corner, but this stretch of SW Stark is the happening place to be. You would never know there was any such thing as an Economic Downturn strolling these sidewalks. Everywhere you look, the young and beautiful set is lurking, rather like there has been a giant spewage across Burnside from the Pearl.

Clyde Common has a reservation system much like many semi-casual Portland eateries, reservations for tables of six of more only (with a 12 person limit on Friday and Saturday.) For whatever reason, be it the fact that we just had a dinner a couple of weeks ago, or that Clyde Common has been open awhile and people have already been there (this was Glenda’s third time) I just could not manage to come up with six bodies for this dinner. I wanted to be fair to the restaurant though, so called in earlier in the day to tell them that I only ended up with four people, although I had reserved a table for six. So it was agreed that I would release the reservation, but they said they would put me on the waiting list for that evening, and hopefully our wait would not be a long one (as previously mentioned, I didn’t know what a madhouse I was walking into until I looked in from outside and saw bodies everywhere, at only 6:15). IMG_0951 Despite all the people waiting to eat, the moment I arrived (DD was already there) my name was found on the waiting list, and we were immediately escorted to a table upstairs, away from the surging bodies and constantly opening door (although not away from the din). One really great thing about this table being right against the wall of the balcony was, I could then look out for the other two members of our arriving party, who both entered when the host and hostess were away from their post, and I could scream their names and wave my white cloth napkin until they spotted us, and knew to head upstairs (incidentally, I swear I would not try this screaming/frantic napkin waving thing at a more sedate place with an upstairs, like Ten 01 or 23 Hoyt, but this was almost like being at a rock concert, so no one seemed to frown on my behavior). So even though I fretting the loss of reservation scenario, Clyde Common made it really easy for us, still basically having a table with our name on it. I think it also helped that a couple of us actually showed up early too, so this empty table was not standing there with the hoarding masses waiting to eat.

One thing David commented on, and I noticed almost immediately, the waiter was exceptional. He was a great mix of knowledge, manners, kindness and casual good humor, certainly the most impressive waiter I have experienced in many moons, and all the staff at Clyde Common, although on the younger end of the scale, were extremely good. This is the sort of place I can really imagine being run buy trendy, stuck-up types, but everyone at CC was friendly and professional, which said a great deal to me, with their seemingly boundless popularity right now. Another noteworthy thing, I never felt rushed along in the least over our almost three hour dinner, no subtle influence to turn over our table, which I actually had felt from the speed of the food delivery and such during our last visit to the ever hoppin’ Toro Bravo.

I don’t really have too many comments to make on the decor at Clyde Common, to be honest I couldn’t see too much over the hoards of people. Inside, the environment basically struck me as rather non-descript and utilitarian, the most interesting areas being the bar and the open kitchen bar area where food preparation was taking place. As I mentioned previously, I was glad we got to sit upstairs, away from most of the madness, but I must say the staircase leading to the balcony has got to be a server’s nightmare, rather steep, with angles, and not particularly wide. Not a place I’d want to be trapped during a disaster.

IMG_0948I had read in a few places that Clyde Common mixes some of the best cocktails in town, but as I mentioned previously, this current influx or trendy drinks full of bitter this and absinthe that just aren’t to my taste, so I had a hard time deciding on a drink. I ended up with something called a Salt & Pepper, which was of a pinkish hue and featured a heavily salted rim and perhaps peppered gin (and maybe cointreau???).l It wasn’t my favorite drink ever, mostly because of the salt, but had they been on the house, I probably could have managed about three, so they weren’t too horrific. DD was quite happy though, because not only did they know what a Rusty Nail was, and have the ingredients, but they were relatively cheap too. Our classy dame Glenda actually, for the first time ever with RR, had something besides wine or champagne, some more rot gut booze like vermouth, and I kept staring at her while she drank it, as it just looked wrong to see a tumbler in her hand rather than a champagne flute.

It took a bit to get the food ordering under way, as after the initial RSVP notice I had switched the dinner from 7:00 to 6:30, and one of us didn’t catch this, and was 15 minutes late (or they thought, 15 minutes early). We were given a plate of focaccia with olive oil to tide us over though, which was better quality than most, although nowhere near as good as my favorite restaurant focaccia in town, the delicious, olive oil dripping stuff they serve at Lovely Hula Hands. Soon our starters were underway, and by and large quite good. David, admittedly craving those spicy chicken wings at Pok Pok, decided to give CCs Fried Chicken Wings with chili sauce and orange a whirl, a decent price at $5. He said they weren’t bad, sort of sticky and crispy, but a pale comparison to those messy gems at Pok Pok, no surprise, as those of one of the most popular dishes in Portland

Glenda, a big fan of Clyde Common (this was her third visit) and as we all know, lover of good slop, started out with some sort of salad, by the bulkiness I’m guessing Belgian Endive, fennel, and citrus with oil-cured olives.IMG_0956 She found it quite delicious. Our new kid on the block for this evening, Shawin, a world traveler and lover of both fine and semi-fine cuisines, was excited to compose her evening meal of two small plates, as she loves small dishes of lots of things, and started out with the Lamb Lomo. To be honest, I don’t know what the heck this was, it’s not on my internet menu, but it seemed like it was all piled up on the plate with vegetables or some such thing.IMG_0954 I didn’t try any, as I’m not a lamb gal, but it seemed like Shawin found it leaden rather than light.

Once again excited about seeing chicken livers on a menu, I lauched myself toward those little wiggly organs, this particular preparation described as Chicken Fried Chicken Livers with frisee, apple, bacon, and chervil aioli. IMG_0953These were certainly some of the least cooked chicken livers I have ever had, not dry or chewy at all (it that even possible?) and I must say they were delicious. The little salad concoction on the side was quite yummy too, but what else could I really expect, with an ingredient like bacon involved?

For some reason, although she said she enjoyed the dinner, there seemed to be a black cloud hanging over Shawin’s menu, and the particular items she chose on this evening weren’t exactly what she was hoping for, as they all fell in the category of heavy. IMG_0958For her main dish, Shawin selected the beef tongue, which in past preparations she has enjoyed. She found Clyde Common’s version a bit too rich and earthy for her tastes, and the side dish of roasted vegetables she  ordered also turned out to be overly heavy and filling, their preparation most likely being drizzled with olive oil and roasted. I had a bite of the tongue (???) perhaps my first ever, as I don’t like to be licking things that can lick me back, and although I found it a tad dry, its flavor was very beefy to my palate. Glenda, also desiring those “garbage meats” on this evening (let’s see, we had liver, tongue, and now pancreas) selected the Ravioli of Sweetbreads, caramelized onions and bacon. I got the impression Glenda found this entree good, as she seemed to be trying to consume the bowl as well.

IMG_0963avid, seeking a more mainstream pasta on this evening, decided on the Tagliatelle with tuna, anchovy, tomato, garlic, and chili. I had a bite and thought it was pretty good, although I tend to not like mixing Italian and tuna, but overall he found it good and hearty, although he might have liked a tad more zing in the sauce (David’s quite into zingy food, he’s obviously not as well acquainted with our good friend Mr. Acid Reflux as many of us are). As for myself, major surprise, I settled for beef on this evening, the Grilled Hanger Steak with cipollini onion, marrow, toast, and horseradish sauce. Although as per usual, I just could not get into being served a bone full of coagulated grease, aside from this rather superficial touch, this was one tasty plate of steak.IMG_0966 I handed bites around, and everyone was impressed by how tender and rich tasting this meat was. The toast was also good, even if I didn’t smear my marrow all over it, and the grilled onion wasn’t bad either. This was Clyde Common’s most expensive menu item this evening at $23, but was certainly much better than many cuts of beef I have had around town for several dollars more.

When dessert rolled around, three of us indulged this night. Sharwin, having bad ordering mojo all night, seemed to have managed to find one of CC’s richest, heaviest desserts, the Pineapple Tarte Tatin with bacon-oat streusel, and vanilla ice cream.IMG_0969 I think perhaps Shawin should have been tipped off that this wouldn’t be the lightest dessert ever by the fact that it contained bacon, but she might have missed that part, and found the concoction incredibly over-the-top and couldn’t eat more than half. Even if it was offered for free, this would have been a dessert even I would not have accepted, mainly due to my aversion to pineapple, particularly the cooked variety (the only good pineapple is mixed with rum!) It did look hearty. Intense as this dessert was, another dessert on the CC dessert menu sounded even more overwhelming, “Butterscotch pot de creme with burnt scotch marshmallow, and chocolate cocoa-nib shortbread. That sounds sweet enough to send a grizzly bear into a diabetic coma. 

Glenda and I were on a similar wavelength at meal’s end, and both decided the Parsnip Cake with cream cheese frosting, seville orange ice cream, and candied walnuts sounded like an unusual treat. I must admit, one reason I ordered it was that I usually give David a couple of bites of dessert, as he never orders any (and it cuts down my fat consumption an iota) and I knew the idea of parsnip cake would daunt him, with his intense love of root vegetables. I also figured as parsnips and carrots are similar growths, that parsnip cake would probably be much like carrot cake, which is almost always worth trying.IMG_0967 As it happens, this cake presentation was much like the wonderful little individual carrot cakes they serve at Tabla (I think someone has been spying) round disks cut down the middle and slathered in the center and top with dollops of cream cheese icing. As the carrot cake at Tabla is probably the best I’ve ever had, this was not as good, not quite as nutty or spice laden, and perhaps a touch sweet, but still a very worthwhile use of the dreaded parsnip. (Although the orange ice cream was perhaps a bit much). I had a hard time getting David to try a bite, as Shawin kept insisting the cake tasted like parsnips, but in reality, it really did taste quite like carrots (which David agreed after I finally persuaded him to accept a gnaw). I think our new friend S.K. might be too interested in analysis at times, instead of simple enjoyment of a sweet treat, she kept saying she just could not see the point of parsnip cake when you could just as easily have carrot cake. I personally was applauding the use of this dubious vegetable, as I personally have not eaten a parsnip for probably around 25 years, and probably won’t eat another one for the next 25 years, unless someone puts a piece of parsnip cake in front of me. In fact, I’m thinking of actually making a parsnip cake someday, as I think the more of the earth’s vegetable bounty one manages to consume, the better.

When it came time to pay, for some really odd reason, we had way too much money, and were giving the waiter like a 50% tip. He really was a great waiter, and offered to take any excess money we wanted to force on him, but in these economic times, I think not. As it happened, Glenda and I each ended up taking back $10 each, which still left the waiter with an incredibly generous tip (Shawin and David were using plastic, and we could tell it wasn’t them, as the problem was too much cash). We never did figure out what was wrong, my only guess is that something was less than the price we wrote down, or an item never made it to the bill. Whatever the problem, it was a nice change, too much money.

Clyde Common was much better than I expected, especially when I saw the masses of beautiful people inside. With such a wide reaching menu, I think they have hits and misses.  Certainly the things myself and Glenda ordered were very good, and David’s two plates of food were good, but Shawin’s were perhaps less successful. So I would give Clyde Common a B+. Shawin, who likes to talk and write about food, shared some thoughts with me later, and said that while she enjoyed the group dinner and trying lots of different things, Clyde Common made her uncomfortable, as it was so loud it forced her to scream across a table at people she did not know. (She prefers screaming at people she knows, I guess). She also thought it was too much of a scene, and that the menu was too precious and “with it” to be that well executed. I guess I’ve been to enough bad restaurants over the years that these things really didn’t bother me. I agree that the sound level was obnoxious, but unfortunately, there are some very good restaurants around Portland with some very bad acoustics, and when you have a big group, the problem is even more compounded. I also don’t begrudge Clyde Common their popularity, because if you are going to appeal to throngs of beautiful people, at least challenge their palates with a culinary inventiveness, which I think CC also does. It’s an interesting place, with a good staff, provided you bring your bullhorn.