Cafe culture

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

When a much-loved neighborhood eatery closes for retooling, regulars worry. Will the ambience go from homey to uncomfortably frou-frou? Will the place be as friendly? Will the menu stay the same?

Cafe on Clinton is that sort of place. The eatery, which closed in the late spring, was a popular Cobble Hill spot for 18 years, with regulars citing great ambience over great food as the reason for their loyalty. This July, the restaurant re-opened under the watch of chef and owner Charlie Statelman, a former chef at Patois and currently the consulting chef at the Australian restaurant Wombat in Williamsburg.

Statelman made a few changes — he rebuilt the kitchen, added cream-colored wainscoting to the 32-seat dining room’s walls, updated the sconces and upholstered the tables in deep green leather — but said that he tried to keep the elegant space “pretty much the same.”

What has been overhauled is the service. After just a few weeks, the place is packed and the tables are turning over frequently. But rest assured, the meal is well paced, with just enough time between courses to take a breather.

Statelman’s cuisine prides itself more on familiarity than innovation. There’s a bar menu with a jumbo shrimp cocktail, a plate of oysters and burgers. The most creative salad features baby arugula, white peaches, grape tomatoes and Meyer lemon vinaigrette.

And the pastas are simple affairs like an irresistible macaroni and three cheeses (pecorino, ricotta and Fontina). Some entrees, like a lusty duck confit and a fragrant shell steak au poivre, have a French accent while others, notably the grilled leg of lamb with potato salad, are more American.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, a seven-course tasting menu ($65 with paired wines, $45 without) is offered. Given the price — and that Statelman designed the pairings beautifully — you should spend the extra money.

Our first course, an impressive pairing of oysters and Prosecco, was followed by an equally remarkable tuna tartare. The small buttery cubes of fish were delightfully offset by a hash of crisp, wasabi-fortified cucumber and a pile of peppery watercress. A glass of pale, golden Chenin Blanc balanced the rich dish with acidity and a slightly oily texture that mimicked the lush feel of the fish.

I could have passed on the next course, a grilled vegetable terrine with goat cheese and basil puree that was a bore when I first tried it two decades ago and hasn’t changed much, but the dry rose that came with it was delicate and delicious.

A confit of duck leg with crisp, mahogany-colored skin and meat oozing with juice, was the richest dish of the night. We swiped the dense meat through a puddle of tangy and sweet pomegranate sauce that, with its tart edge, cut the bird’s richness. A light-bodied Sangiovese wasn’t so heady that it overpowered the food.

Relief from one dizzying dish after another came in the form of a martini glass filled with sharp, creamy lemon sorbet doused with Lemoncello. That high-octane liquid and the cold ices cleared our heads and palates fast.

A glass of not-too-sweet port accompanied a trio of desserts. The best was a humble, eggy blackberry clafouti (a crustless tart made of fruit cooked in an egg custard) and the others: a crepe with Nutella and bananas and a blueberry fritter, were just so-so.

Statelman has given Cafe on Clinton what it lacked: A fresh interior that’s still cozy, and a beautifully executed, seasonal menu. And that’s something 18-year loyalists — as well as diners late to the scene — can appreciate.

Cafe on Clinton (268 Clinton St., between Warren and Congress streets in Cobble Hill) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $16–$19. Seven-course tasting menu available Thursday through Saturday: $45, with wine: $65. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Lunch is available Tuesday through Friday. Brunch is served from 11 am–3 pm on weekends. Closed Monday. Subway: F, G to Carroll Street. For information, visit or call (718) 625-5908.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: