We’re all familiar with four-leaf clovers.
Now, it’s time to get to know Spokane’s four-star Clover – as in, four stars out of four.
After a fine dinner and a more-or-less perfect patio brunch, I have no hesitation in saying that Clover has arrived in the top tier of Spokane restaurants.
It has just about everything you require in a great restaurant: care in the choice of ingredients, house-baked breads, house-made pasta, a creative menu, professional service and a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere. It also has one of the best lounges in town, for those who appreciate the mixological arts.
Clover is located in a converted two-story home in the Gonzaga University district – just around the corner from Jack & Dan’s Bar and Grill. Scott and Liz McCandles – who own Clover along with Paul and Marta Harrington – are veterans of numerous Subway franchises. Yet Clover is in a whole different universe. Under chef Scott Schultz, formerly of Paprika and the Davenport Hotel’s Palm Court, Clover is the kind of place that takes pride in the quality and provenance of its ingredients. For instance, it specifies eggs and chickens from Hangman Valley Farm, just a brief drive away, and Sciabica’s olive oil, from a small producer near Modesto, Calif.
The entrée menu has an exceptionally high percentage of dishes that seem eminently orderable. Should you go with the Dungeness Crab Ravioli in a white wine butter sauce ($22), an item that you won’t find in too many other places? Or the Chicken and Wild Mushroom Ravioli ($22) in a lemon basil sauce? Or how about the Stuffed Chicken Breast ($24), which creatively includes Kasseri cheese, Kalamata olives and a lemon Dijon cream sauce? Or should you go with the steaks – Rib Eye ($34) or Filet Mignon ($36)? Or the seafood – Halibut ($28), Wild Salmon ($26) or Cioppino ($22)?
I can certainly vouch for the halibut, which Schultz delivers in a particularly creative manner. It arrives on the plate as a snow-white rectangular cube, coated on one side with a crunchy and delicious pine nut-panko crust. The mango salsa and port wine reduction sauce nicely complemented the flaky-white halibut, but the true inspiration was the mound of “forbidden rice with coconut milk.” This is an Asian-style black rice, sweet and sticky and delicious, and which I have rarely seen outside of a Chinese restaurant. It not only had a wholesome nutty taste, but it gave the plate a black-and-white elegance.
I can also vouch for another entrée I simply could not pass up: the Veal Saltimbocca ($26). I wanted to sample the house-made pappardelle pasta, and I also wanted to see what Schultz would do with this classic Roman dish. When it first arrives, you might momentarily think you were given sausages instead of veal cutlets, because there are four browned cylinders arranged artfully around the plate. Those are, in fact, the thin veal cutlets, layered with prosciutto, sage, rosemary and thyme, and rolled into tight cylinders.
They were just salty enough to live up to the “saltimbocca” name, which translates roughly as “jumps in the mouth.” And that house-made pappardelle? It arrived in the form of broad, toothsome, al dente white ribbons. The white wine-butter sauce was just right for sopping.
And you can also sop with the excellent bread, made in Clover’s own bakery, housed in a backyard annex. Spread some of the tarragon-flecked butter over it.
As for the sides, that Sciabica olive oil helped start our dinners off right, with the Clover Salad ($6, $10). It was dressed lightly with a fresh-tasting citrus vinaigrette. The mixed greens appeared to be right out of the garden, and every so often we were surprised with the crunch of a spiced, candied pecan.
The menu offers four soups: Tomato Bisque, Smoked Salmon & Clam Chowder (in a bread bowl), French Onion and Gazpacho. The gazpacho was cool and tomato-rich, with a sliced avocado fanned over the top. It tasted like liquid salad, tanged-up with a dollop of crème fraiche. Next time I would love to try any of the other soups.
Clover’s dessert menu is built with diners like me in mind. I usually shun dessert because I’m already stuffed after a restaurant dinner and don’t need a late-night jolt of sugar and fat. Yet Clover’s menu consists of a range of “Petite Bites,” small portions for only $4, which helped to override my usual reluctance. We had an Orangesicle Cake – an orange chiffon cake with white cream cheese icing and orange anglaise sauce. We also tried the excellent Spumoni, which features house-made ice creams, chocolate and pistachio. I caught a glimpse of another diner’s order of Tiramisu – next time, I’ll pop for that.
Clover takes on an entirely different character for its Saturday and Sunday brunches. Prices are cheaper and choices are heartier. If you are lucky enough to go on a gorgeous weekend morning, as we were, you can sit outside at one of the wood tables in the big (70-person) patio.
The house bakery takes center stage in the brunch menu, especially with the truly outstanding French Toast ($8), which uses fresh orange brioche bread with a citrus tang. A syrup made with Tahitian vanilla beans complemented it – you can see the vanilla specks floating in the clear syrup. I’m a vanilla fanatic, and I have never had a better syrup for French Toast.
The Dungeness Crab Melt Omelet ($12) featured plenty of richly sauced crabmeat, surrounded by fluffy Hangman Valley eggs. The Rosemary Breakfast Potatoes were roasted to a mahogany hue.
I had to check out a side of sausage ($3) since it, too, was house-made. It arrived as golf-ball sized rounds, with a hint of brown-sugar sweetness balanced by a slight kick of cayenne.
And then there’s the Clover lounge, which has already been named one of the 100 Best New American Bars by Food & Wine magazine.
For good reason. It has an amazing array of classic and unusual cocktails, masterminded by co-owner Paul Harrington, a cocktail authority and author of a James Beard Award-nominated cocktail book. The lengthy cocktail list is divided into categories including Crisp, Exuberant, Effervescent and Current. The drink names themselves are poetry: Satan’s Whiskers and Golden Stonefly. I leave it up to you to conduct your own research into this creative cocktail menu. You might want to do so during the summer Patio Music Series, on Friday and Saturday evenings.
I was impressed with the level of service. One of our waiters gave us extensive breakdowns of dishes we were pondering, and he truly did help us decide on our entrees. I want to give the wait staff extra credit for their aerobic conditioning – they have to run up and down the big staircase from the kitchen to the second-level dining room.
The old house’s entry level contains the kitchen, the bar and tables for about 20. However, the rest of the tables are upstairs, for about 45. The atmosphere is a nice mix of elegant and casual – the tables are of burnished wood with no white tablecloths, but the napkins are thick white linen. The walls are decorated exclusively with great old historic photos of the Gonzaga neighborhood, Gonzaga University and of the house itself.
Clover reminds me of one of my other favorite restaurants in the region, Lovitt in Colville, and that’s about the highest praise I can give. Both are located in old houses and both take pride in using the best ingredients, often local. Both make almost everything from scratch.
And since Clover is a lot closer to those of us who live in Spokane, I’m feeling, well, in the clover.
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