We have a new favorite location for great food and even better cocktails, but it requires a little planning to get there from St. Paul. That’s because this destination is all the way over the Rocky Mountains in Portland, Oregon. The object of our affection is Clyde Common, a Downtown/Pearl District hot spot that is helping to define the cocktail revolution.
Before we jump right into the cocktails, it’s important to mention that first and foremost, Clyde Common is a restaurant. The decor has a basic, modern look that reminds us of a warehouse. The stenciled labels on the wall identify the “KITCHEN” or the “BAR” with a somewhat industrial look that is softened by wooden tables and candles glowing from every corner.
We were seated in front of the open kitchen at a huge table that seats perhaps 20 guests. This “common” seating arrangement was interesting, and repeated throughout the main level with smaller tables along the mezzanine rail. The tables are just wide enough that you don’t feel as though you are really sharing dinner with the guests across from you, and yet you could easily make new friends gathered around the corners. We ordered the beef carpaccio as a starter and an asparagus salad with tarragon puree. The entrees included an amazing chicken confit with morels and cream sauce and a spicy fresh pasta with squid that was equally impressive.
Ok, so the food was delicious, made with fresh, local ingredients. But it was the cocktails and the reputation of the bar manager that really led us to investigate Clyde Common. Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the man behind the stick creating all of the magic. If you are a regular reader of Summit Sips you might recall a post a while back about how to make your own tonic water. Well, it was Jeffrey’s recipe (which was technically Kevin Ludwig’s) that got us started on that project and his skills with the shaker and spoon are somewhat legendary at this point. To start our evening we decided to try something totally unique: barrel-aged cocktails.
For a couple of months now, Mr. Morgenthaler has been batch mixing cocktails and putting them into oak barrels to age for several weeks. This results in a sublime melange of flavors with a light oak finish. We had the Negroni and the Trident. After dinner we returned to the bar to enjoy more.
The Trident cocktail was created by Robert Hess in 2000. You can read about this newly popular cocktail on his website. Ours was aged in whiskey barrels, but you can still make an excellent cocktail without that!
1 oz dry sherry
1 oz Cynar
1 oz aquavit
2 dashes peach bitters
Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
For those of you keeping score, we tried the One Trick Pony, a bitter cocktail featuring Pelinkovak, a Croatian potable bitters balanced with maraschino liqueur and boosted with the aforementioned house tonic. Then there was the Bourbon Renewal, a Maker’s Mark sour using cassis as a sweetener augmented with bitters. Our last round included a wonderful sherry cocktail that contained Amontillado, Aperol and grapefruit called the Suicide Note, and the Copper Penny: a frosty potion of rye, pear and apricot brandies, Angostura and lemon peel.
All told, we picked an excellent spot to kick off our visit to Portland and can now cross it off the list, yet, even with plenty of other local destinations to explore, we have a feeling we will find our way back to Clyde Common again before the week is over!