Sometimes a restaurant is so surrounded by hype that it can be difficult to experience the food itself. There are restaurants like John Gorham's Toro Bravo, eagerly anticipated thanks to Gorham's previous work with Viande and Simpatica, or Le Pigeon, which turned heads out of the gate with Chef Gabriel Rucker's bold signature style—but in these cases, food was and is very much the focus. Clyde Common is located in the meticulously chic Ace Hotel, and the food happens to be great, but I somehow imagine this restaurant would be hot shit even if the food failed to live up to the expectations raised by its location.
It's no overstatement to say that Clyde Common is the most fashionable restaurant in Portland right now. To its credit, though, the restaurant doesn't entirely price out the folks on the lower rungs of the social ladder, nor is the atmosphere so oppressively trendy that I'd feel uncomfortable taking my parents there. The high-ceilinged, two-floored space has a bar at one side and an open kitchen tucked toward the back, with mostly family-style tables. It is in no way an appropriate choice for an intimate dinner—interaction with other diners is encouraged by the table layout, and it would be missing the point to eat here and fail to chat up the folks around you, who, if my visits are any indication, will probably be friendly and have good hair. In fact, the atmosphere was so electric I found it difficult to concentrate on the food—which is unfortunate, because the food rewards any attention you can pay it.
A corn and peach salad was unadorned enough to let the fresh ingredients take center stage—this simple dish reflects a real respect for the quality of local produce. The "pigboard" is two squares of perfectly cooked pork belly, improbably creamy with none of the blubbery quality that is a hazard of the cut. The pigboard also comes with marinated cherries and mustard, the strong flavors of which are crisply complemented by an accompanying shot of chilled Medoyeff vodka. The menu changes regularly, but no matter when you come you're guaranteed to find a few foodie buzzwords represented on the menu; squid ink, foie gras, beef tongue, and nettles. Lest this seem oppressively highbrow, it should be noted that they also serve some of the best French fries I've had in recent memory.
Happy hour is a fantastic way to experience this restaurant: A short list of "Cocktails by Clyde" are half off from 3-6 pm—$4 ain't bad at all for these innovative combos, including the truly unusual Anemic Mary, a sour, bracing concoction made with celery juice, Serrano chiles, and sundried tomato vodka; or the Floral Figa, with fig-infused vodka, Earl Grey tea, and a hint of tangerine, which is pretty much the cocktail I've been waiting for all my life. There's also a $2-5 bar menu that includes a mean salami sandwich—so even if you're not posh enough to spring for dinner, a taste of this chic, likeable new hotspot can be yours.