#FoodieFriday: Clementine is San Antonio’s Darling

by Dawn Robinette on July 6, 2018 in Food+Drink, Drink, Living Texas, San Antonio,
Clementine Photo A mural e1530805115370

It’s impossible not to hum “Oh my darling, oh my darling, Clementine,” especially once you’ve tasted a few bites of anything at Clementine, a neighborhood restaurant serving seasonal southern and American eats in a casual setting.

Cool blues with pops of orange give everything a relaxed, happy, welcoming vibe at Clementine. The restaurant’s name came from a clementine tree chefs and co-owners John and Elise Russ saw growing through a crack in a parking lot while they were looking at potential restaurant locations. Colorful fruit crate art and the mural pictured above fill the walls.

How can you not love a menu that features delightful twists on Southern flavors, the freshest seasonal selections and that begins with “Feed Me?” Exploring the menu is an exercise in frustration as honestly, it’s hard to choose what not to order. I could easily graze my way through Miss Julie’s Beets, Squash Blossoms, Smothered Squash, Gulf Wild Shrimp and Peach Crumble. Everything sounds familiar, yet intriguing, and you want to sample it all.

The dinner menu is arranged in sections including “Petites,” small items including delightful Hush Puppies and Poteet Blackberries (don’t ask, just order—feta, grilled okra, marcona almonds and Bayonne ham); “Sideboard,” sharable plates like Ricotta Cavatelli and ‘Smothered’ Squash with pepper jelly, pepitas and cotija. The “Platters” section features entrées, including Pacific Halibut, and Spatchcock Chicken, as well as Branzino served mostly whole and bone-in with black olive tapenade, basil and charred lemon.

Clementine’s Ricotta Cavatelli, pillowy one-inch pasta twirls with broccoli pesto, Sichuan pepper and toasted pecans. “Feed Me” often includes other pasta options that also showcase fresh flavors and fantastic combinations. Photo Jessica Attie

But let’s go back to “Feed Me.” That option entrusts Chef Russ to create a menu especially for you, highlighting the flavors of the season. You’ll enjoy a relaxed, perfectly paced meal of six dishes, served with an explanation of each dish.

The “Feed Me” option often features dishes Clementine is testing to add to the menu. One of those dishes, clams smothered in the yummiest corn and pepper combination, was featured during my visit. I’m not exaggerating when I admit that our table fought over who got to lick the plate and that I begged Chef Russ to put the dish on the regular menu as soon as possible. I*NEED* those clams again. Photo Dawn Robinette

If placing blind trust in Chef Russ gives you pause, push through that worry and dig in because the team at Clementine won’t let you down. When you select “Feed Me,” you enter into a conversation with the waitstaff, detailing any food allergies—or simply food dislikes—you may have, as well as any dietary concerns. “Feed Me” isn’t about making you eat something you won’t like—it’s about a relationship. By telling the wait staff what you enjoy, what dishes on the regular menu pique your interest, and what you aren’t interested in, you allow Chef Russ to customize options while you sit back and enjoy every bite. Those tasty bites may include off-menu options, or a new dish they’re testing to add to the menu.

Clementine’s regular menu features squash blossoms. Here a squash blossom is featured on a “Feed Me” salad featuring cherry tomatoes, fried okra and feta. Expertly fried to leave no trace of grease, the blossoms are crisp and flavorful. Luckily the regular order offers enough to share, or keep them all to yourself. And please, Clementine, can you add fried okra to your regular menu. It’s fabulous! Photo Dawn Robinette.

Even if you don’t go with “Feed Me,” Clementine will more than amply feed you. “Seasonal Southern and American Eats” is a great description of what the menu offers, but doesn’t go near far enough to describe the flavors you enjoy. Southern here is not typical, but Southern flavors raised to new heights—with something I consider authentically Southern, fantastic vegetable dishes that truly celebrate seasonal flavors. To me, Southern food is my great-grandmother and my great aunts harvesting vegetables then creating fantastic dishes with them. My family might not recognize the dishes on the menu, but they would whole-heartedly approve of the flavors that come out of Clementine’s kitchen.

Like everything else at Clementine, the salads are familiar but elevated. The White Mushroom Salad is fresh, fabulous and unlike any mushroom dish you’ve ever had. Even if you’re not a mushroom fan, it will win you over. Photo Jessica Attie

If your image of southern flavors is food fried within an inch of its life or greens cooked until they’re soupy and gray, you’ll be lost at Clementine. Take the hush puppies. Clementine’s arrive at your table in a pyramid of flavor, nestled atop yummy herb-laden labneh and topped with a sprinkling of sumac. The dish is certainly designed for sharing, but once again, you may want to be selfish. Trust me.

All of Clementine’s terrific vegetable dishes pop with color and rich textures, perhaps thanks to the influence of Elise, a vegetarian who serves as Clementine’s pastry chef. My grandmother would have scoffed at turnip puree, but once again, it’s Southern with a twist. So eat your veggies, but save room for dessert because Clementine’s fresh take on flavors extends to sweets, too. On the menu as “The Best Parts,” don’t miss options like Lemon Creme Brulee and Chocolate Clementine Crunch Bar. But if any of Elise’s perfectly amazing donuts are offered—ORDER THEM. You’ll thank me.

Clementine’s wine list is small, but it is mighty and fun, with off the beaten path varietals and terrific bubbles to enjoy. The sparkling wine I enjoyed with “Feed Me” was absolutely perfect, just as our amazing waiter said they would be. Talk to the wait staff and trust them: they know the food, they know the wine and they are happy to help you find the right match. Photo Jessica Attie

The neighborhood vibe at Clementine is epitomized by its 12-seat communal table, front and center with great views of the open kitchen. I have no idea if the groups I’ve seen at the table know each other, but the conversation, wine and laughter definitely flow. I may have to squeeze in and make some new friends next time. But if you want to join me, make reservations now. Clementine’s fantastic food and service is making it a San Antonio favorite and you don’t want to miss out.

Cover photo Jessica Attie
Dawn Robinette is an award-winning writer and communications expert based in San Antonio who enjoys finding new discoveries, revisiting old favorites and telling stories. She regularly writes for San Antonio Woman and Rio Magazine. You can read more of her work at Alamo City Moms Blog.