It's been a busy couple of weeks for Winston Blick and Cristin Dadant.
During May, the couple oversaw the opening of the Green Onion food market on Harford Road and Clementine at the Creative Alliance, an Eastern Avenue outpost of their popular Hamilton comfort food spot. On top of the openings, Blick and Dadant's catering business is booming, and the original Clementine continues to serve a steady stream of diners.
They've got a lot going on. But if our experience at Clementine at the Creative Alliance is any indication, Blick, Dadant and company are handling things with aplomb.
Fans of the original Clementine will enjoy version 2.0, which puts an emphasis on local, seasonal comfort food. The sophisticated Eastern Avenue location is likely to draw new fans as well.
While the Hamilton restaurant, which opened in 2008, is an artsy, kid-friendly neighborhood joint, the food and the decor at Clementine are a touch more stylish. A long bar dominates the small space, where rough wood, exposed brick and an enormous mural create a cool urban vibe (the art is provided by the artist-in-residence at the Creative Alliance).
When we arrived on a recent Thursday night, a cool breeze blew in through the large windows open to Eastern Avenue. We were greeted by Dadant, who runs the front of the house at both restaurants. She and a single waitress tag-teamed the tables, enthusiastically answering questions about the new space and menu. The restaurant wasn't busy while we were there, but that will likely change.
Clementine's menu is almost completely different from what's offered at the Hamilton location, but we were happy to see that the restaurant's house-made basil lime elixir made its way down to Highlandtown. Mixed with gin and soda water, the elixir is a refreshing summery cocktail ($8). We also tried the Peep ($9), a combination of Hendricks gin, lemon, mint and chamomile syrup that was an easy-to-drink take on the ubiquitous (and often overly boozy) sweet tea cocktail.
Blick oversees the food end of Clementine's business, but chef Jeremy Price is responsible for the kitchen at Clementine on a daily basis. Before moving to the Highlandtown restaurant, Price was the sous chef at Clementine on Harford Road; Woodberry Kitchen and "Top Chef" alum Jill Snyder took the reins there when Price moved to Eastern Avenue.
Our first dish, thick slices of hard cider-braised pork belly, served with whipped potatoes and house-made mostarda, was the stuff of foodie dreams. The pork was achingly tender and an inspired matched for chive-studded potatoes and bright mostarda, a jelly-like condiment of apricot, figs and mustard ($10). Each element of the dish worked on its own, but together, they were outstanding.
Dadant explained that the menu's small-plate selections are designed as mini-meals — they're about half a portion each. In addition to the pork, we tried the fried green tomatoes ($10). The tart tomatoes, coated in a crunchy batter, made a nice foil for sweet Maryland crab claw salad and tangy remoulade.
Dadant and Blick are careful in their sourcing — they work hard to use as many local products as possible, and only the freshest ingredients. This dish was a prime example of why that's important: Its simplicity put the spotlight where it should be — on the high quality of the tomato and crab.
Bluefish often gets a bad rap as oily or "fishy," but Price's roasted version ($20) was neither. Cooked just right and topped with spicy radish butter, it was flaky, fresh and tasty. On the side, herbed Israeli couscous added interesting texture and garlicky sauteed purslane was a flavorful take on wilted greens.
Not every dish was a roaring success. From the small-plates menu, seared scallops ($12), served with kimchi atop a sticky-rice pancake, were too salty, and the scallops' sweetness got lost under the intense flavor of fermented cabbage. The scallops were cooked properly, and our first bite of the pancake was crispy and interesting, but after the dish sat for a few minutes, the rice was soggy. It wasn't terrible, but compared with the rest of the meal, the scallops were a disappointment.
Price redeemed himself with dessert: creme brulee infused with coffee from the local caffeine heroes at Zeke's ($6.50). The hard sugar crust and creamy center were sweet, as expected, but the subtle roasted-coffee flavor gave the standard dessert a grown-up edge.
After dinner we lingered, chatting with Dadant about the Green Onion, the challenges of running two restaurants, and about bluefish (her mom doesn't like it, and neither does mine). Dadant is friendly, just like the food, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She sent us out the door smiling, sated and genuinely excited about our next visit.
Clementine at Creative Alliance
Back story: Clementine at the Creative Alliance, the new Eastern Avenue outpost of Hamilton's much-loved Clementine, offers an urbane and capable take on comfort food.
Parking: On-treet parking.
Signature dish: Clementine at the Creative Alliance's menu changes frequently, but if you have the opportunity, try the pork belly with mostarda and Yukon Gold mousseline. The mostarda — a fruit and mustard condiment — is an excellent foil for the fatty richness of the pork and whipped herbed potatoes.
An earlier version of this review misidentified the new Clementine's neighborhood. It is Highlandtown. The Sun regrets the error
Where: 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore.
Contact: 410-276-1651 ext. 202; creativealliance.org/clementine
Open: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday; The bar is open until midnight Thursday to Saturday.
Credit Cards: All major credit cards except Discover.
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]