For the stylish and health conscious, Cafe Clover is the restaurant to see and be seen. The big, circular dining room is prime for people watching, and everyone is certainly dressed for the occasion, with suit and ties and designer handbags in tow. I was probably a little under-dressed in my J.Crew sweater and shorts, but the congenial waitstaff didn’t hold it against me, which was nice.
The menu at Cafe Clover has been designed with skinny girls and calorie counts in mind. In an interview with Well + Good, Chef David Standridge, formerly of Market Table, mentioned that he’ll try to repurpose a delicious dish to have less calories. They even have a Peak Performance nutritionist on hand to help skinny things down, that’s how serious they are about it. Less calories doesn’t necessarily mean less flavor, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we said there wasn’t a difference.
For instance, instead of bread and butter, Cafe Clover serves every table a complimentary plate of gluten-free seed crackers and spring pea guacamole. The crackers, true to their word, are purely made of seeds and there isn’t a fiber of gluten holding them together. Knock out a pepita and the whole thing crumbles. It certainly tastes wholesome, but nothing compares to a basket of hot, freshly baked gluten-filled bread.
The poached halibut was actually pretty solid, the fillet was soft and buttery, but you could tell that perhaps they used maybe half the olive oil or wine to cook the fish in. I thought the artichokes and the olive tapenade came on too strong, but otherwise I would order this again. Something I would pass on? The blistered shishito peppers. In a traditional preparation, the peppers are mild and soft, but the ones at Cafe Clover were at times way too spicy and still pretty tough. I think they may have flashed them in the pan for a hot minute and then removed them so that the oil wouldn’t get absorbed too much. I would also pass on the seared diver scallops. They were too dry and tasted as though they had been toasted directly on a pan without any oil, and the accompanying sauce and pickled vegetables felt a bit overdone.
The quinoa tagliatelle was the one dish where health and flavor made a successful collaboration. This dish was just as hearty and robust as any bowl of bolognese from a Babbo or Del Posto, which was impressive, given that there were only mushrooms and beefy vegetable proteins in there. The noodles broke apart a little too easily, which I assume is due to the unconventional whole wheat and quinoa blend, but those broken bits still tasted great.
Not surprisingly, this dinner left me wanting more, probably because my usual dinner calorie and fat intake had been cut in half. And also half the flavor. There’s no doubt that Cafe Clover is a beautiful restaurant with good intentions, but sometimes being just another pretty face won’t cut it.
10 Downing St (between Bedford St and 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10014