Rebecca Wetherby

1001 SE Water


something about the ambience of an old warehouse makes any event a bit more resonant. It's the contrast of experiencing something new and fresh within the confines of something rundown. Theater and dance companies reside in the warehouses down in the Southeast Water Street area, and their performances take on vibrant life surrounded by dilapidated walls and stained ceilings. Cinema groups show films, and the screen becomes magical in its frame of dusty corners. Now, a restaurant has gone all out in the same area of town, dressing its vast space to the nines with fancy lighting, sleek furniture, and attractive employees, and serving innovative, delicately prepared cuisine. Clarklewis would be a good, upscale restaurant in any neighborhood; but beneath the brooding architectural shadows of Southeast Water, it sparkles like a star in the night sky.

On a Monday night (not a Friday or, say, a Saturday), clarklewis was so packed my friend and I waited 20 minutes for a table--and we even had a reservation. Once seated, however, the service came fast and furious. Our orders were taken, our food delivered, and our waters refilled by a shifting blur of approximately five different employees. This multi-pronged attack theme continued into the menu, which features eclectic dishes categorized by their elemental ingredient ("beets," "radishes," etc.), and divided into a seemingly endless array of portion options. There are traditional appetizer dishes, side dishes, and main courses, but almost all of them come in three different sizes. For instance, if you want, you can gnaw on a family sized platter of braised celery hearts all night, and nothing else. Or you can get 10 different tiny dishes, table style, nibble selectively, and get just as full.

If your brain doesn't feel like sorting the menu into a traditional meal, you also have the option of allowing the chef to choose for you. My dinner companion went this route, and received a tasty green salad composed of apples, walnuts, gorgonzola, and bok choy; a serving of spelt pasta with creamy squab meat sauce (squab is a young pigeon); a tender slice of pork with a fruit compote center; and for dessert a decadent blood orange crostata. I bypassed the chef's choice and ordered individual dishes, winding up with an appetizer of deep fried fennel and aoli sauce (bizarre yet mouth-watering); a smoky artichoke and cheese dipping concoction; a gorgeously fanned out piece of skatewing (very oily, but that may have been a flaw of the fish, not the preparation); and a relatively unspectacular though still tasty slab of cheesecake.

None of mine or my companion's dishes were less than delicious, but then you should expect that from any restaurant that typically runs over $30 for dinner per person. What sets it apart are its creative fusions of ingredients and preparation techniques, combined with its chic, interactive setting. With a shiny, open kitchen, a bustling staff, and a thought-provoking menu, clarklewis makes you feel like you're part of the action, and not just another face-stuffing peon. And amidst the stark shadows of industrial Southeast, where lovely things are only lovelier, not feeling like a peon equates to feeling like goddamn royalty.