Jan 31, 2018

Clementine’s Restaurant

By Lori Draz

This month, the Journal welcomed our new managing editor, Deirdre Flanagan-Ward, and we put her right to the test and asked her to pick the restaurant. She picked a winner. Clementine’s Restaurant is a truly different kind of place. It’s got that Lambertville/New Hope/even Ocean Grove sense; like it’s been there a hundred years. You feel like you’re eating in an antique store. You enter into a small lobby with showcases full of vintage silver and jewelry. There are three curtains dead ahead and each one opens into a distinctive dining room. Some have fireplaces, antique chandeliers, and every inch of the walls, every corner, even the bathrooms are full of art, curiosity cabinets, antiques, glass, mirrors, like being in an antique pocket watch with moving parts everywhere. We were lucky that the Christmas decorations were still up at our January visit. The decorating was so ornate that it actually makes you swoon. (put it on the ‘must-see’ list next holiday season). Those decorations will be replaced by festive Mardi gras themed ones in February, which leads us to the cuisine – Creole/Cajun. I was very pleasantly surprised at how well managed the spices and the flavors were. The chef didn’t cheat an ounce. He didn’t remedy averages recipes and ingredients with Louisiana hot sauce. No, he turned it out. Each dish was as distinct as the decorations and as beautiful to look at too. And the taste? Zippety-do-dah, it was downright dynamite. Our server told us that the truly traditional dishes, etouffee and jambalaya, could not have the hotness levels adjusted, so light-weights like me could order easily around the hot ones. She shared the specials, opened our wine, and took our appetizer order.

We chose four. The Clementine’s Cheese Toast, is a generous portion of grilled shrimp topping a loaf of toasted French bread with melted cheese. It’s a big offering with a real homemade presentation. The Clementine’s Scallops are topped with a blend of Dijon mustard and bacon and broiled to sizzling perfection. The Fried Brie with a crust of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and sesame seeds comes served with sliced apples and grapes. The crust is packed on tight and the cheese oozes when cut. It is worth every sinful bite. Our fourth was the Fried Avocado that is served over arugula with tomato, shrimp, crawfish, Cajun sausage, and topped with a remoulade drizzle. I was fascinated to try this as I’ve never seen fried avocado. How could they keep something this good a secret? The tissue-thin crust and the warmth of the frying enhance  every buttery quality of the avocado. We each liked a different appetizer the best, but I would tell you to try the avocado for the sheer unusualness and the brie, for that thick nut crust. I don’t know how they get it to stick to the cheese; it’s  masterful.

We didn’t order salads but saw some walking to a neighboring table and they are, as Elaine said in the Seinfeld show, a BIG salad! I thought they were to be shared, but no! They offer a big selection of combinations too, so salad lovers will be most pleased. Now for the entrees. Diner one selected the Fried Catfish which comes served on a pan-fried pancake of mashed potatoes and dotted with crawfish. He ate it with a slow diligence so that each bite could be fully enjoyed. He was more than pleased.
Diner two took on the more traditional New Orleans favorite, Shrimp Etouffee. Though cautioned that this was one of the hotter offerings, the dish was spicy but not hot; and the well-developed dark sauce tamed by the white rice was a tasty delight. Diner three is also a ‘hottie’ and their selection of the Grilled Shrimp and Chicken served with sautéed peppers and onions over white rice and parmesan cheese had a nice little kick that made her taste buds tingle like pocketful of Mardi gras doubloons. I had the Flat Iron Steak which is sliced and laid atop a fried portabella mushroom with grilled shrimp, blue cheese crumbles, fresh arugula and topped off with a porcini demi-glaze. It was awesome. The portabella base paired perfectly with the steak which was tender and cooked a perfect medium-rare, which is just the right cook for this dish.

Now for the desserts. They were so much better than I ever expected! We chose the cheesecake, which comes swimming in a burnt sugar rum sauce. The rum flavor is very strong, almost like having an after dinner drink. We had the three milk cake which was a fluffy vanilla dream. The big scoop of vanilla ice cream made it look like a cloud. Yummy! The third was called the Almond Joy, and it was a joy to behold. It is a large circle of coconut ice cream enrobed with a luscious hard chocolate shell that is encrusted with toasted almonds. It was so good it made me glad to be a grown-up! The coffee comes in a huge mug and it was so good, we asked if we could buy some to take home. Clementine’s has a Wednesday night $30 three-course special that gives diners a limited but very respectable selection of appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We were there on a Wednesday night and could see this was very popular and it’s a great way to try this special place. Clementine’s Restaurant’s seating times are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 4:30 to 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Closed Sundays and Tuesdays. BYOB.

Cost: Moderate to high

What we liked: The funky, eclectic décor, the talented chef, the exciting menu choices and the truly superior desserts, the generous portions, the very homey bathrooms, and that delicious coffee.

What could be better: A better website that shows the menu and a photo gallery of the cool interior and the beautiful food.

We give it 5 J’s

Clementine’s Restaurant is located at 306 Main Street in Avon-by-the-Sea, (732) 988-7979. www.clementinesavon.com.