Walking up the front steps at Clover is like a meander through a ferny and lush meadow. But the fronds you pass on the way in may soon end up in your cocktail, laced into your salad, or atop your entrée. The herb garden is just one facet in an all-compassing commitment to local ingredients that defines this fledgling restaurant and is part of an intentional initiative to know exactly where the ingredients on your plate originate.
Consider the intricately-flavored Bibb and Blue Salad ($12): the rippling organic bibb lettuce is sourced from Otis Orchards and topped with cherry tomatoes from sunny Central Washington. Sprinkled throughout are house-seasoned pecans and house-cured bacon, showered with a tarragon and gorgonzola vinaigrette that is – you guessed it –made in the Clover kitchen.
Or, more precisely, in Scott McCandless’ kitchen, where the majority of the offerings on Clover’s menu were developed and perfected. McCandless, one of the owners, espouses a passion for creating not only good-tasting, but good-for-you food. At a moment’s notice, he can rattle off the nutrition facts – or shall we say detriments – of a Costco hotdog or the typical ranch salad dressing. It is this unfortunate reality, he says, that has inspired his pursuit of properly executed dishes with subtle health benefits.
Rest assured however, that a visit to Clover is not a trade of flavor for fiber. Executive Chef Scott Schultz, formerly of Paprika and The Davenport, presents a menu of dishes that pack a punch. Recommended by the wait staff and diners alike, the Shrimp and Polenta appetizer ($10) is a lively place to start. Jumbo prawns are nestled with spicy chorizo and red peppers in an eye-tearing lemon-pepper sauce. Made-from-scratch polenta serves as the foundation and flavor-equalizer in this dish.
For a more libatious introduction, Clover’s cocktail selection does not disappoint. World-famous mixologist Paul Harrington, dubbed “The Alchemist,” designed the inventive menu and accompanying legend that designates one-, two-, and three-leaf clover levels of intensity. The favorite among our group was the El Diablo ($11) – a concoction of tequila, lime juice, crème de cassis, and ginger beer – that warrants a two, or inspiring, on the Clover scale.
Clover took over the former Dawg House near Gonzaga, and the building received a significant facelift in the process. The restaurant offers seating on two levels inside, flexibility for larger groups, and plenty of outdoor seating when the weather cooperates. The refreshing simplicity of the food is reflected in subtle décor – natural colored walls, single filament bulbs, soft jazz. A svelte copper and zinc bar welcomes with carved personal messages, and the engaging wait staff were carefully hired hand-picked for their grace and ability to explain the intricacies and details of the food. In our experience, recommendations were spot-on; small kinks and delays in service may be attributed to a recent May opening and should resolve with time.
Harrington, McCandless, and their wives make up the quartet spear-heading this venture. Together they bring vast industry experience, but it is this very experience that led them to create something new. In each other they discovered a common commitment to fresh and unambiguous ingredients, ingredients that are absent or misunderstood in most kitchens. As McCandless boasts with pride, “there are three things you will never find in my kitchen: a deep-fryer, gassed tomatoes, and ranch dressing.”
Instead, you will find such novelties as Sciabica Extra Virgin Olive Oil, voted by Cooks Illustrated as the Best Olive Oil in the World. This is no impersonal source, however; the McCandless’ have family connections and have been present in Modesto, CA at fall olive pressings.
Equally illuminating is a peek in the larder, which boasts beef from Snake River Farms, a local collection of farmers from Boise to Omak. Hamburger patties are hand-ground and beef cuts – Wellington, New York, and Rib-Eye – are subjected to a two-week dry-aging process with Himalayan sea salts and cedar planks. The results on the plate are no less impressive. Our visit produced a succulent rib-eye topped with truffle butter and accompanied by Gorgonzola horseradish and perfectly cooked vegetables ($34). For lunch, go out on a limb and try the hand-ground lamb burger ($13) – a virtual gyro on a bun.
Also of note is the quality of the seafood. Wild Alaskan King salmon and halibut are caught, flash-frozen, and shipped directly to the restaurant, where they are prepared with skill and variety. The Dungeness crab-filled raviolis are made by hand.
In fact, made-from-scratch is applicable to almost every item on Clover’s menu. An in-house bakery turns out high-quality breads that appear throughout the menu as well as being sold by the loaf. Pastry Chef Teresa Whitney has crafted an eclectic collection of petite bite desserts to satisfy any lingering sweet-tooth – particularly scintillating is the Orangesicle Cake ($4), a childhood throw-back without the melting.
In many ways, a throw-back is exactly what Clover is intended to be. Black-and-white wall photos from the Gonzaga library open a time capsule to the 1950’s, the age of Camelot, where food was prepared simply and wholesomely and where sharing a family meal was important. The plea is simple – a reinvestment in the pure enjoyment of food through a responsible and personal interest in ingredients. In an era of ambiguity, Clover is refreshing and worth a visit, a true Spokane “happening.”
Monday – Friday, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm and 4:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Saturday – Sunday, Brunch 8:00 am – 2:00 pm and 4:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Published in October 2012 Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living as “One Plate at a Time”