2500 SE Clinton
La Cruda, the now defunct hipster burrito shop on Southeast Clinton, was one of the first restaurants that I visited when I arrived in town seven years ago. "It's soooo Portland," my friends told me. The interior looked decorated from a rummage sale, there was a giant tub full of ice and PBRs in the front room, and the food was moderately priced and moderate tasting. To be sure, it was charming--Portland-style.
But since then, the city has changed--grown up a bit and shifted its soul slightly towards the yuppier end of the spectrum. Dark and cramped clubs like Satyricon and Blackbird have given way to swankier venues like Holocene and Doug Fir. And restaurants like clarklewis have countered that fine dining is not just for geezers anymore.
The corner space on SE Clinton perhaps tells the story of this evolution as well as anywhere in town. La Cruda closed a year ago and in its place Savoy has arrived. The space has been completely overhauled and mostly polished. The restaurant is open and airy, with the front room awash in sunlight. And, from the meticulous wait staff to the stylish kitchen, there are hints of sophistication. Yes, there are still touches that are very much "old" Portland--like the tavern side of the restaurant, outfitted with a vintage '70s theme. And, of course, mac & cheese is available. But the space is cleaned up and crisp, and the dishes, although still comfort food, are decidedly refined and fussed over.
The menu works best when it steps out from the normal trappings. The meatballs are fine, but unexciting, while the deviled mushrooms are surprisingly snappy. But what is singularly most alluring about Savoy, to me, is that the menu has hints of Wisconsin. Although better known for brats and beer, Wisconsin does have some delicate culinary touches--namely, cheddar cheeses and tasty lake fish. On my first visit, being a bit homesick (for Wisconsin--duh), I went straight for the cheese curds and the pan-fried trout. For those not in the know, cheese curds are un-aged and mostly unprocessed cheddar cheese. Sweet and tangy, they are firecrackers of flavor. Savoy serves them fried, just slightly curbing their sharpness.
The pan-fried trout is also excellent--subtle and not overly seasoned, it lets the simplicity of the trout carry through, tasting almost as if it was pulled from the campfire.
Like several other restaurants in town, the menu at Savoy allows a certain amount of autonomy: Each entrée is joined by your choice of two side dishes. On my second trip there, I went a more traditional route. The flat iron steak was juicy and carried the smoky taste of a backyard mesquite barbecue. The fries were hefty, but the real standouts were the carrots, which nearly stole the show. Mind you, I don't normally give carrots much thought. But these demanded recognition, as the cook had found the perfect balance, slightly softening them in butter but generously restraining from grilling away their crunch.