I have only eaten at two ultra-fancy restaurants in my life. There are fancy restaurants like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and then there are ultra-fancy restaurants, like Napa’s French Laundry. For my 30th birthday, I had the pleasure of dining at Canlis in Seattle, of the “ultra-fancy” variety.
While there, they knew our name upon arrival, (sorcery, I tell you), the pianist played Lady Gaga songs that sounded like classical music, I got served some cocktail that tasted like smoke and intrigue, and was served with a pickled quail egg for a garnish – and I have no idea what it was, except amazing, and then proceeded to have the most exquisite 12-course meal overlooking the Sound. That night I dined with my sister and brother-in-law, Patrick, who at the time was the sous chef at Canlis, but who – fast forward four years – would start a farm, renovate a historic house in downtown Steamboat, and open his own ultra-fancy restaurant there, Cloverdale.
Speaking on that, I’d like to introduce you to my brother-in-law, Patrick.
A few people in town think Cloverdale is our restaurant. It is not. Jeremy and I were involved with both the farm property that provides the food for the restaurant, and house that would become the restaurant downtown, so I understand the confusion, but the restaurant is 100% Patrick’s.
Before I continue, you should know I am completely biased. I think Cloverdale is the best restaurant west of Chicago, that my sister Kaylee and Patrick are the best people, and am going to try my best to get you to dine there so we can be united in this belief forever. But I’m also a terrible liar and incapable of false praise, so there’s that.
In late 2014, Jeremy and I toasted while on vacation in Anguilla to buying a farm property. “Are you ready for this?” Jeremy asked me. My answer was, “heck yes,” mostly because I was looking at a tropical sunset and drinking wine, but besides that, I wanted chickens. Specifically, I wanted to name a chicken Bettina. I wanted green acres, gardens, fresh air, and farm life. The simple life.
Yeah…about that. The first thing I’d say to someone angling for these same things is: 1) Don’t name your chickens. They will die. Bless Bettina’s soul, and 2) “The Simple Life” is actually “The Work Yourself Silly Life.” As for me, I planted a garden bed of flowers in front of the house. That was it. Patrick, on the other hand, dug acres of rows in the dirt, erected a green house, planted seeds, constructed a watering system, and began the farming operation on our historic Bartholomew Ranch in South Valley. Patrick was out there every day, sunup to sundown it seemed, pulling weeds, nurturing plants, feeding goats, planting an orchard, sweating, and other farm whisperer stuff in his tan Carhartts. It was no joke. The Bartholomew family had owned the property for three generations before us and were gracious enough to gift the historical documents associated with the land. One newspaper article from the early 1900’s referred to our property as “Cloverdale,” and, upon further digging, found that the original owner gave it that name presumably after the town he was originally born in, Cloverdale, Kansas. This is how the restaurant got its name.
When it came time to find a space for the restaurant, Patrick picked a historic house on Oak St. and renovated it, taking careful steps to preserve the original integrity on the outside as well as restoring the original floors and windows, adding fresh paint, an ornate carved wood bar, custom tables and chairs, and a classic color palate consisting of rich woods, creams, navy, and gold.
In the Cloverdale kitchen currently hangs a large framed quote from Shel Silverstein:
Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts,
The impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.
This is actually my very favorite thing there.
Above the stove hangs a quote from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory:
“We are the music makers…and we are the dreamers of dreams”
The other night we came and ordered off the bar menu instead of sitting down at a table. We ordered the farm salad—the leaves harvested that very day – and baby kale, if you’ve never tasted it that fresh, has an almost al dente quality to its texture. Next came crispy pork chicharrones w/ a sweet cream sauce and cherries, and finally, duck pops. I bellied up to the bar as Kyle, the bartender asks me what I’d like. I lean in and say, “I’m going to be a little difficult here, but only because I hear you can handle it. Can you make me something delicious that’s not on the standard menu?”
“That’s what I’m here for!” he says as he pours me a taste of tamarind and serrano syrup he just made. “Do you like this?” he asked. I did. It reminded me of the Mexican candy I got growing up in LA. “I’m thinking I’ll start with tequila, if that’s alright with you,” Kyle says, “then add the tamarind syrup, and some melon mallorca tea with hibiscus, and finish with a little cava on top.”
Um. Yes. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
The first time I dined at Cloverdale was for the soft opening, which was fun, because, with a bunch of my friends and family in attendance, it seemed more like a big ol’ party. Plus, I got to stand with my sister in front of the Cloverdale sign in the entrance and celebrate all their hard work
One of the courses served that night contained gluten. A friend next to me leans over when she sees her plate of palmier pastry with chocolate hazelnut smear and asks, “Why did you get something else?”
“I assume it’s because I’m gluten-free and they know that,” I said. “Well, what do you have?” she asks me. “Oh, it’s delicious. It’s some sort of caramel ice cream and salted sauce.” My friend looked jealous. “Don’t worry,” I say, “I assume the ice cream is coming up in another course for all of us or they wouldn’t have it in the kitchen.”
“What if they made it just for you?” she asks.
I laughed, “They couldn’t have. I’m just one person and this scoop is so small to make a whole batch just for me. You can’t just whip out ice cream.”
Later, when no other courses feature caramel ice cream, I ask my sister about it. She works the front of house at Cloverdale twice per week and was there that night. “Yes,” she says, “they made that just for you.”
“What!?” I was so embarrassed to have caused a hassle at the soft opening. “They didn’t have to do that! I could have just skipped that course.”
“Well, that wouldn’t have been very special,” she says with a slight upturn of her lips at the corner that communicate, “child, please. Who do you think we are?”
After the soft opening, Jeremy and I went in for the whole shebang again. We started with cocktails, a tequila on the rocks for him, and for me, the rhubarb daiquiri, which is the color of blush pink peonies, before moving on to the Cloverdale Bees Knees, a gin based cocktail featuring honey from the farm. The color will make you swoon– pale yellow, like an icy buttercup.
My favorite dishes that night included ribboned kohlrabi with a dandelion greens ice cream and sweet alyssum flowers, which perfectly combined the sweet and savory components. My other favorite was something that can only be described as a red pepper egg, except much sexier than that, with puffed buckwheat for a crunch at the bottom, and delicate foam on top. It came nestled in a wood bowl perched on top of serviceberry twigs and sagebrush. It’s the kind of magic that I’ll never do justice by trying to describe so I’ll stop trying. Next a bone filled with beef tar tar with fresh parsley, chive flowers, pickled green tomatoes, and a lemony component. Lastly, the most glorious piece of elk in a chard wrap, and I don’t even particularly like elk (…or do I?)
At the end of dinner, you are presented with a box full of delectable house-made candies to take home if you’d like. The hazelnut nougat, espresso shortbread, and goats caramel are delish, but somebody just told me they had some sort of grown up gummy bear in their box, and now I need to go back and see if that’ll be in there. It’s a fun touch.
Beloved reader, hark! Do not let all the exquisite food intimidate you. The first thing to remember when eating at ultra-fancy restaurants if you are nervous, is to not be nervous. Fancy restaurant people are trained to be gracious and will never make you feel unsophisticated. And Cloverdale is not stuffy. Why, just the other night, one of our friends said her dining companion joked to the waiter between courses of fresh and pickled radish, with a gelee base, champagne vinaigrette, chives and a sweet brown butter snow (which is DIVINE) and a striped bass from Alamosa, CO in a broth with braised greens, grilled corn, fresno chilis and leek (cry in your napkin impeccable) that the food was amazing but what she’d really like were some fries from the burger joint across the street. My friend was slightly mortified at her remark until they got up to leave and Chef Patrick came out and presented her dining companion with a sleeve of french fries from the place across the street and said, “We don’t like our guests to leave unsatisfied.”
Some more information:
-There is a private dining room upstairs suited for 8-10 people that can be rented and tailored to suit your needs. Basically, if you got the money honey, they got the time. You can request a 20 or 30 course dinner, wine pairings, or whatever you can dream up. The world is your oyster up there.
-Cloverdale has a full-time coffee barista. When you order coffee or tea with dessert, Noah will come out and let you know about Cloverdale’s single origin coffee and tea program which is no joke. Noah is passionate and knowledgeable and can answer any questions you may have. He sources his coffee and teas from around the world and custom blends, even adding snippets of blooms from the restaurant garden to your teapot when the occasion calls. Tea is served in genuine bone china, and coffee mugs are thoughtfully selected. Everything is in the details at this restaurant.
-You don’t have to break the bank to eat at Cloverdale. Cocktails are priced no differently than other places in town, and there is a bar menu. This is a great affordable option, as is selecting the five-course menu ($65/person) should you choose to sit at a table. The five course is especially great for a girls’ night, as it is like a fuller version of quality apps and cocktails, which you know, women love.
-The current pastry chef is a former geneticist. He knows the genealogy of the grains he uses in his baked goods and the reason why it matters. He is passionate and articulate and if you ever meet him, can tell you one heck of a story about origin and yeast cultures and some others things I didn’t quite catch but was very caught up in understanding. Russell is not your ordinary everyday guy. He is extraordinary and you taste it in his food. Try the bread if they have it! Oh good gracious, try the bread with butter. Just trust me on this.