Clementine bakery and café in Century City bustles with the activity of patrons who make regular appearances at this sidewalk café. Sensory overload hits guests the moment they cross the threshold into the restaurant. A display case greets patrons with freshly baked cookies, cupcakes, bars, and mini key lime pies. Just when a sweet tooth might surrender to making a meal of just pastries, the smell of homemade soups, fresh sandwiches, and seasonal salads wafts by. Curbside pickup and a take-out dinner menu round out this charming, breezy, bistro like gem. With a new menu every season, highlighting the freshest, in season ingredients, it is clear why regulars keep coming back to Clementine.Read More ...
Tucked on a side street across from the hustle of the Century City mall, Clementine is a welcome reprieve and surprise sweet spot on the edge of West Los Angeles. Walking through the door it seems a tiny bell should ring, calling forth the feeling of a small town bakery where everyone knows your cupcake. While the counter is a canvas of towering cookies, chunky chocolate bars, coconut covered cupcakes, apple turnovers and mini pies that seem just perfect for one; the best surprises lie just a bit further down the row. Waiting in line to order, a glass partition puts up a fragile line between customers with wide-eyes and flowing commentary. Without a doubt, just a few moments in line will yield the voice of an expert, a regular who can opine on the ‘amazing fruity-nutty-creaminess’ of the Autumn chicken salad or the ‘virtually impossible way’ the ‘crisp yet moist’ tuna melt stays together.
Since Clementine’s opening in 2000, chef/owner Annie Miller has brought a farmer’s market sensibility to elevated home-cooking fare, with baked goods and salads that are almost too pretty to eat. Born and raised in Minneapolis, her home-grown roots seem present throughout the restaurant. From the warm wood interior to the warm-hearted menu, Miller brings a piece of good old fashioned small town charm to the sophisticated Los Angeles scene. With a bend toward the fresh Californian side, Clementine’s food is as comfortable as its surroundings, but won’t leave you with the regrettable feeling you bit off more than you could chew. And with the same sense of whimsy and lightness that pervades her cuisine, Miller brings her plucky fun to carry-out boxes for the Hollywood Bowl and clever take out menus for self-catering Swanky Cocktail nights and Tree Trimming parties.
On the walls are chalkboard menus and t-shirts for sale where just below a busy staff tries to keep up with the usually-long line of anxious eaters. Counter ordering is the way of the land, with a more recent addition of curbside service that has seemed to help handle the lunchtime rush. Staff is friendly, albeit a bit harried, but always willing to offer a sample of the soup of the day, maybe a lemony and delectable cauliflower or the always-dependable meaty, meaty chili. Daily specials are a range of sandwiches from savory roast beef to grilled vegetable panini with an olive tapanade. April might be the very best month of all, as Clementine declares it ‘Grilled Cheese Sandwich’ month and patrons are invited to vote in a 30-day contest pitting the restaurants best cheesy concoctions against one another. Last year’s battle was a showdown between the surprise entry, chicken quesadilla, and the eventually minted champ, the refreshingly refined cheese steak.
One of the more popular items is the three salad combo that allows for good size portions of the numerous specialty salad offerings. Almost every item has its special flair of herby goodness that highlights, but never overwhelms, the fresh taste of the high quality ingredients. Most popular are the grilled shrimp and calamari salad, which combines garbanzo beans, carrots, and fennel in a satisfyingly light combination of tart vinaigrette and a smooth cilantro finish; and the aforementioned Autumn chicken salad, with its inventive mix of scallions, grapes, and apples balanced against the pull-apart chicken and creamy, slightly sweet dressing. Even the brussels sprouts are delicious: grilled in olive oil, garlic, and red onion, the most skeptical of vegetable eaters would be hard pressed to resist this surprising roasted treat. Side note show-stoppers are the deviled eggs that many frequenters find a necessity upon each visit. With a perfect blend of creamy yet salty egg mixture and a delicate scallion and red onion topping, consider it the first course for almost every Clementine meal.
Not to be overlooked are the breakfast and dinner offerings that can satisfy Clementine cravings during less frequented hours. Recent Clementine converts often quickly become early morning regulars, as waiting until lunch time seems an impossible task. They can choose from an extensive coffee menu and indulge in kicked-up basics such as the granola with apricots and cherries, to the worth-waking-up-for poached eggs tucked delicately into homemade biscuits. While the restaurant closes at 7:30 on weeknights, a take-out dinner menu gives loyalists a way to end the day right. Dinner-to-go ranges from beef brisket to cheesy meatloaf, the much-raved about sloppy joe and the irresistible macaroni and cheese. Dinner dishes are provided cold and are to be re-heated at home for the customer’s next best thing to eating it there. Don’t forget to take some sweets for the road: the peanut butter cookies have an actual layer of real peanut butter running through them, the banana cake frosting is a dessert unto itself, and the key lime pie will bring a cool ocean breeze blowing by even if you live in the Valley.
Truth be told, this quaint hideaway has been found by many and often the parking and long lines can serve as a deterrent for some lunchers. While there are some meters on the street and a few spaces along the restaurant’s back, it’s not uncommon to have to circle the block a few times before finding a spot. Curbside pick up has helped to alleviate some of the headache, but those who need to see and sniff before they order should be prepared to have plenty of time to do so. Inside, the number system works most of the time, although finding a table and not getting lost in the shuffle isn’t always a guarantee. The best advice is to call ahead or come with a crowd who can divide and conquer between ordering and the table search. The noise level is usually not obtrusive to conversation, but the stares from people waiting to steal your seat might make the experience a little less enjoyable. If you’re lucky, take your chances on scoring an outside table, they are larger than average bistro size and leave much more space from chair to chair than the inside crush that can get a little tight.
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