A previous thread discussed the fact that Cafe on Clinton, a popular neighborhood bistro in Cobble Hill, had closed in June for restructuring, and that Chef Charlie Statelman from Patois was taking over and reorganizing the menu. My wife and I stopped by today, and found it newly re-opened (apparently the second night).
My first impression about the menu, is that Chef Statelman is attempting to emulate Brooklyn Heights's JACK THE HORSE - a neighborhood restaurant/bar but with a more "sophisticated" menu. You can still get a burger, but most of the old favorites are gone, or have been spiffied up. The first thing I noticed on the chalkboard menu was "crispy sweetbreads" and a Chef's Tasting Menu with wine-pairings; not necessarily what I expect at a neighborhood joint. The main menu now has a pate appetizer, nothing approaching a basic green salad, and the entrees come with optional sides, rather than a set plate. The wine list has been substantially expanded, but is still affordable (I had a nice South African blend for $25. The bread basket now comes with a crusty boule, served with olive oil rather than butter. The dessert list seemed surpisingly simple for the new menu: pear tart, chocolate tart, pineapple crumb cake, etc.
The food quality, as of last night, was mixed. My vegetable dumplings were in a fairly thick dough, and the dish didn't come with a dipping sauce to moisten the; instead you were supposed to use pickled vegetables on the side. My stake (bare on the plate -- veggies and potatoes are now optional sides) was well cooked and tasty, but had a hint of bacon, which wasn;t mentioned in the description (no objection, but it was a surprising tase that I wasn;t prepared for). My wife's frise salad was very good, but her spaghetti with oil, pignoli and lemon zest seemed a little plain -- maybe a garnish of herbs.
I'm willing to concede that, on their second night, service issues still need to be worked out, but the wait staff seemed overwhelmed by the full house (the same kitchen crew was there however, and kept up with all orders, including the party of 10 that was sitting next to us. We were approached by two different waitresses to see if we had ordered yet. We had to ask for a bread basket after seeing it delivered elsewhere, then had to ask for the olive oil that was supposed to come with it. And -- what always steams me -- is being told after dinner that they don't have the "official" clear bags in which I am allowed to take my wine home. I don't care what the law says: in the past three years, I have come across exactly one restaurant that carries these things (and was unable to figure out how to open them). Put it in a regular takeout bag and let me be on my way.
Will we go back? Probably, but I don't know how often. The old COC had a comfortable neighborhood feel, and I new I could always find something to eat, either simple or elaborate. Now, the simple seems to be gone.