Clementine Report (and what do you like?)
Perhaps it's the wretched construction on Santa Monica Blvd, but I found Clementine surprisingly empty at around 11:30 this morning. Just as well, because it made the restaurant the perfect place to enjoy a little shade and read a book over lunch.
The salads were tempting, but for my first trip to this well-loved restaurant I chose the sliced ribeye sandwich (what they refer to as a Philly cheesteak).
The bread: lovely baguette. Crispy thin crust, tender flavorful inside. Slathered with butter, which was wonderful if a bit much even for this butter eater. Hey, you don't eat like this every day.
Steak: yum! Cooked medium, but I understand how hard it can be to keep sliced steak pink. The pieces usually tend to cook each other. The indication of steak made appropriately for sandwiches, to me, is that you're able to bite off pieces of the sandwich without any long pieces of steak being pulled out from inside. Clementine's sandwich passed this test with flying colors.
Vegetables: roasted green bell peppers, onion, and eggplant were a perfect, slightly sweet accompaniment to the salty meat. Soft melty texture to contrast with the slight chew of the meat.
Cheese: everything inside the sandwich was bathed in a white swath of gooey melted provolone. The cheese was mild, and contributed more to texture than to taste. There were enough other flavors going on in the sandwich that this was just right.
All in all, one of the best steak sandwiches I've ever had. I wouldn't call it a "real" Philly cheesesteak, but it's darned good eats. I washed it down with some fresh ginger limeade. It was slightly too light in flavor for me, but I squeezed a few wedges of lime into it and it was fine.
Portion sizes are what I would call pleasant. That is to say, compared to most restaurants, the portions were small. But when food is this delicious, I find myself savoring each bite and being satisfied with much less volume. I left the place too full for dessert, despite the many temptations and choices. And in case you're turned off by small portions, I'll say that I almost religiously eat a normal sized lunch noon and have a snack at 3pm. My stomach actually tells me when it's 3pm, almost to the minute. Today, I ate at 11:30 and am still not hungry at 3:30. I think it's all the butter and meat.
When I left, the place was really filling up. A lot of families with babies or people walking their dogs. I loved that a lot of people seemed to know either other customers or the staff. It's surprising to find such a familial atmosphere right on such a huge street.
I can't wait to try their Friday BBQs. What are other must eats at Clementine?
Deviled eggs, shrimp and arborio rice salad, red cabbage salad, quiche, roasted eggplant sandwich, tuna melt, almost all soups, especially the cauliflower to go with a poached oyster in it, banana cream pie, plum or apricot buns, chocolate cream-filled cupcakes, coconut cupcakes, apple turnover, little pave chocolates or caramels at counter.
Almost all of the food and baked goods are excellent.
The menu rotates frequently and some of my top favorites are apparently off the menu right now (notably salmon w/edamame, chicken w/cold soba, pastrami reuben sandwich) but there's usually something good to take their place (the aforementioned cheesesteak, the VERY popular sloppy joe, summer cucumber, prosciutto & brie, shrimp succotash, grilled broccoflower, thai slaw, etc.)
As a general proposition, anything with melted cheese is worth trying. Stay tuned for the next "melted cheese month"--these are always full of interesting sandwiches.
Definitely the devilled eggs. Definitely the Nanaimo bars, when they have them, Orange corn bread. Moravian sugar bread. Mini-biscuits with ham.
Ginger limeade, and, even in the heat of this globally-warmed summer, the best hot chocolate in town.
And, get this--it seems that Clementine has taken over the erstwhile Joan's-On-Third space at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood and is offering a lunchtime selection of salads, cold sandwiches (no melted cheese, apparently), and desserts. Definitely worth checking out (the Hammer's current "Société Anonyme" exhibition is a must-see in any case.)