NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Clementine’s at Riverview is a jewel box of a restaurant with a cozy atmosphere offering diners a fresh twist on comfort classics. Open since July, Clementine’s defies easy categorization. Rather, the combination of inventive entrees, creative cocktails, and engaging service leaves one feeling soulfully sated, whether you go for brunch or dinner.
My suggestion is to arrive early, sit at the bar, and enjoy the cheese plate ($10) with four different cheeses plus harissa honey and pickled watermelon rinds. For dinner, I started with the Whipped Goat Cheese Tartine ($8). A thick slice of chocolate-hued puddin’ bread is topped with a light and tangy goat cheese and berry compote. While the bread was heavy and too sweet as a dinner starter, the whipped goat cheese and compote were light and refreshing, and I could have happily spread it on crackers as an accompaniment to my cocktail. Of the half dozen dishes I tried at Clementine's, this is the only one I consider a “miss.” Thankfully, things got better from there. Gnocchi with Seasonal Vegetables ($15) was light yet filling. Pillows of potato tossed with grape tomatoes, brown butter, garlic, and fresh basil balanced summertime freshness and the comfort of a heavier pasta.
As a breakfast lover, my next visit was during primetime brunch hours on a Sunday. After wrangling a gang of sixth-graders at Sunday school, I was in the mood for something substantial. I found it with the Steak and Eggs ($16). Flat iron steak is grilled to a perfect medium rare, thinly sliced over well-crisped discs of potatoes, and topped with two eggs. The emerald-hued chimichurri sauce adds the right amount of cilantro-spiked brightness to a rich and hearty dish. This has now become my Sunday go-to, and I’ve had it at least twice now in as many weeks. To round out the dish, order a fluffy, buttery biscuit on the side. You won’t be sorry.
During my last visit, I started with the Summertime Salad ($7). Tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, pickled shallots, and arugula are tossed with a cilantro-buttermilk dressing, and the salad was a crisp and refreshing gateway to the Korean braised short rib. Fork tender, the meat is served over a ginger-laced rice congee. The effect is the same as pulling on your favorite oversized sweater; mouthful after mouthful envelops you in warmth. The best part of the short rib is how well Chef Rick Fraley layers flavors; you can taste the tang of the apple cider vinegar used to braise the meat, and Fraley manages not to lose the delicate flavor of ginger in the congee.
This is Fraley’s second restaurant in Norfolk. Fraley, along with wife Heather, owns The Ten Top, a sandwich institution in Ghent. They opened Clementine’s with Fraley’s childhood friend, Matt Hartnett. Fraley oversees the kitchen while Hartnett manages the bar and front of the house.
Clementine’s wine selection isn’t huge, but you will find what you need to accompany your meal. Sometimes less is just enough. Where Clementine’s really shines when it comes to libations is its “Remedies” (nee cocktail) menu. The watermelon flavored “Summertime and the Living’s Easy” is a game-changing delight I will pine for until next summer, when I hope it will be offered once more.
Fraley offers diners seasonal and “approachable” food while introducing new flavors and spices. Fraley’s seasoning deftness could be overlooked easily, but should be celebrated as the introduction of harissa, gochujang, and other spices elevate flavors without clobbering diners’ taste buds.
If it’s not too busy, Fraley, in his orange Crocs and heavy black-framed glasses, often will leave his post at the flattop and chat up diners, making sure they are enjoying their food, answering questions, and exchanging pleasantries. Hartnett, from his post behind the bar, keeps a cool eye on service and new arrivals, while mixing drinks and trading jokes.
After a thoroughly enjoyable meal at Clementine’s you will leave happy and look forward to your next visit.
Clementine’s at Riverview is located at 110 La Valette Ave. in Norfolk. The restaurant does not take reservations. Dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu changes seasonally.
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