One website called it a “farm-to-nutritionist-to-table restaurant.” That nutritionist, according to the pre-opening press, is Mike Roussell, Ph.D. His name isn’t on the website, but his presence looms large at Cafe Clover, which opened recently in the West Village.
The chef here is David Standridge, formerly of Market Table and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. You’d think, with that pedigree, his menu wouldn’t need an editor. And yet:
“Unlike a health food restaurant that starts with a healthy perspective, I start from a delicious food perspective and then try to eliminate unnecessary calories and also try to make things more healthy,” Standridge, says, of the Café Clover concept.
To do that, he creates the menu and then gets a full nutritional analysis from Dr. Roussell, who will report on things like if a dish has too many calories or carbs, and then send Standridge back to the kitchen to tweak it.
The result is as joyless as it sounds: a cuisine that is clinically executed and hopelessly dull. Do we really want a restaurant where every dish tastes like a nutrition lecture?
Restaurants have struggled on this West Village street corner, most recently home to 10 Downing and La Villette. But there’s nothing wrong with the neighborhood, as El Toro Blanco is still packing them in, on the same block. If Cafe Clover fails, I’d blame the concept, not the space.
On the mid-priced menu, salads are $9 each, or you can have any three of them for $22 (I wonder how many people take them up on that). Starters are $12–18, entrées $19–39 (most in the $20s), side dishes $8, desserts $7–12.
The meal starts with crackers made from flax, chia, and sunflower seeds, served with a butternut squash hummus (above left). An ivory lentil risotto ($18; above right) coaxed surprisingly little flavor out of parmesan and black truffle shavings, perhaps because it needed more butter, more salt, or more something.
Nova Scotia lobster ($17; above left) rested on a bed of parsnip, jalapeño, and grapefruit. Poached halibut ($29; above right) had very little flavor, despite an assist from salsify, black lentils, almonds, olives, and lemon.
The striploin steak ($21; above left) was chosen, no doubt, for its comparatively low fat content, and therefore, comparatively less flavor. A Nike swoosh of potato purée offered more carbs than I’d seen all evening. The kitchen did right by Brussels sprouts ($8; above right), blasted with jalapeño and black garlic.
A crèpe cake ($9; right) with mascarpone mousse and espresso chocoloate sauce was presumably the only dish on the menu not approved by the nutritionist, which means it was pretty good.
Designer Steven Gambrel oversaw the dining room re-vamp, which features clean lines, comfy pastel-blue banquettes, distressed mirrors, and understated sconces with beige lampshades.
There’s a fashionable crowd here, as you’d expect from an ownership group that was behind the now-closed Meatpacking District clubstaurant Lotus, and more recently Jimmy at the James and The Lambs Club.
But is there a long-term future for a restaurant where most of the food is so deadly dull? Perhaps if they let their talented chef off the nutritionist’s leash, they’ll have a shot.
Cafe Clover (10 Downing Street at Sixth Avenue, West Village)
Food: New American cuisine, with all the joy sucked out of it by a nutritionist
Service: Very good
Ambiance: A bright, comfortable room, waiting for a new menu to show up