Clinton Street deathwatch

I seem to be an object

of fascination for the chaps at Eater, who masterfully get all meta on my

Chubo entry. "Is he

food blogging for the people, or is he in it just to try to save his go-to spots?"

asks Ben Leventhal. Well, in the case of Chubo, it’s the latter. But since you

ask, here’s the official deathwatch for all of the restaurants

on Clinton Street.

Houston to Stanton, west side:

Clinton Restaurant. By far the most decrepit restaurant

on the street, it’s also perenially popular among the LES penniless crowd.

It looks dreadful from the outside, but it does the job on the inside, with

cheap and filling chicken-rice-and-beans-style food. Could keep on going

indefinitely, but will not be able to afford to renew its lease when the

time comes.

Piada. Incredibly expensive sandwich joint. They’re good,

those sandwiches, and the coffee’s not bad either, but there’s not much

atmosphere and it suffers from the same problem as many mostly-empty places:

that when you enter you feel as though you’re barging in on a private conversation

between the owner and his friends. I fear he underestimated the price-sensitivity

of Lower East Siders.

Sachiko’s. A good Japanese restaurant which never really

managed to take off. It’s got a weird layout, which isn’t very welcoming

from the street, and the food is unfamiliar enough that you need a real

reason to go there – which most people don’t have. It’s not good enough

to be a destination, and doesn’t have the neighborhood appeal to survive

on locals alone.

Salt Bar. Everything which is bad about Clinton Street

– which means it’s very popular and won’t be going away in the foreseeable

future. Lots of loud Bridge & Tunnel types drinking expensive cocktails

make the food more or less irrelevant in any case. In fact, by bar-food

standards the food is very good, but you need to be a bit weird to actually

want to eat there while being constantly jostled by a drink-spilling crowd.

With luck the crowd will move on to the next buzzy bar and Salt Bar will

fizzle out, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tapeo. I have to admit I haven’t ventured into this tapas

bar yet: irrationally, I suppose I haven’t forgiven it for kicking Dr Dave

out of his former premises. It’s new enough and inoffensive enough that

I’m sure it’ll be around for a while.

Houston to Stanton, east side:

Clinton St Baking Company. This hugely popular spot only

ever seems to increase in popularity. It has had an insane wait for weekend

brunch for a long time now, but even mid-afternoon, mid-week it can be difficult

to get a table. The muffins are good, as is the coffee, and it’s hard to

mess up an egg dish, but overall it’s hard to see exactly why this place

is so perenially crowded. No chance of it closing, though.

Thai on Clinton. Hard to tell, with this one: it’s never

very crowded, but one suspects that’s because most of its customers order

delivery. It has good, reasonably priced food: it’s certainly not a destination,

but every neighborhood should have a decent Thai place, and this is the

official Decent Thai Place for the LES.

Chubo. Already

discussed. But one has hope that its high quality will win out, and

that the restaurant will overcome its present thin patch.

Punch & Judy. A popular wine bar; it has food too.

I’m not entirely sure who comes here or why, but it certainly seems to be

at no risk of closing down. I suspect that most of the custom is from guys

wanting to impress their dates by choosing somewhere "sophisticated"

where they can pretend to know something about wine.

Stanton to Rivington, west side:

Lotus Club. It was here before anybody else, and it will

probably remain here long after everybody else has gone. If there were any

doubts about that, the aquisition of a liquor license should have put them

to rest. It is the unofficial headquarters of the Lower East Side: hang

out there long enough and you’ll meet pretty much everybody, sooner or later.

Meet people by asking them to watch your PowerBook while you go to the toilet.

Or just hang out at the bar.

Summers. This space is cursed. It didn’t work as a shop

selling reversible jeans, it didn’t work as a distant cousin within the

Dufresne empire, and whatever it is now, it still doesn’t work. No one will

mourn its passing.

Chibitini. For sake-lovers with a soft spot for small

dogs. A small cross-section of the LES, perhaps, but large enough to keep

this place going. Surprisingly good and reasonably-priced bento boxes, if

you get hungry.

Cube 63. Lock nails it, really: "green glow = not

conducive to my dining experience". Perfect for people who like green-tinged

sushi. Which seems to be an enormous number of people. The food’s not cheap,

but it’s BYO, so you end up spending less than you might at a nominally

cheaper and certainly higher-quality sushi place such as Esashi, on Avenue

A. Seems very popular with groups of 21-25 year-old girls. Who can get very

loud. In any case, it seems to have hit on a successful formula.

71 Clinton. What is it, just one week to go? Sad. End

of an era. I had some great meals there, especially when it first opened

and one could get a same-day table. You’d phone them up, ask them to decant

a bottle of their $28 pinotage ahead of time, and the wine would have opened

up by the time you got there.

Stanton to Rivington, east side:

Pizza. I have no idea if this place has a name beyond

"Pizza", the bare-bones sign outside. In fact, I’m not sure if

this is actually a restaurant or is really some kind of money-laundering

operation. I can’t imagine why anybody would actually go in and eat any

of their congealed product, let alone sit down at the plastic tables in

front of the faux-brick walls. Awful.

WD-50. It survived the initial hype, and then the inevitable

backlash. Now it’s an established destination for adventurous gourmands

from around the world. Its prices are high enough that it will be able to

stay on Clinton Street indefinitely, should Wylie want to do so.

Crudo. Do you remember the crudo craze? Italian raw fish?

It lasted for just under 15 minutes a year or two ago? Well, there’s an

entire restaurant devoted to the stuff on Clinton Street. I’m far from convinced

that their turnover is high enough to guarantee the freshness of the fish.

It’s a nice enough restaurant, but no one will be surprised to see it go.

Plus it always gets confused with Chubo, which is a much better restaurant.

Best to settle on just one of the two.

1492. Popular, reasonably-priced, friendly tapas joint

with a nice back yard in the summer. What’s not to like? Should be able

to make it.

Falai. Lock might not like it, but this is a fantastic

restaurant, permanently packed for very good reason. For the quality of

the food and wine, the prices are decidedly reasonable, while the atmosphere

is generally upbeat and friendly. Yes, it does attract rather too many trend-seekers

from the Upper East Side, which means the crowd leaves a little to be desired.

But I’ll always love coming here for a meal.

Cibao. The quintessential Lower East Side rice-and-beans

joint. Friendly, with good food, good music, good atmosphere. Does run the

same risk as Clinton Restaurant two blocks north – that it won’t be

able to afford to renew its lease when the time comes. But its closure will

occasion much sadness in the neighborhood.

South side of Rivington:

Falai Panetteria. An overnight sensation. Permanently

packed, for very good reason. The ultimate Italian-style coffee shop, with

great coffee, great desserts, and even proper food (pastas and the like).

Inconceivable that it could fail.

Alias. The only other Dufresne joint, now that aKa and

71 Clinton have died. Popular neighborhood restaurant. I’ve never been hugely

impressed myself, either by the food or the wine. But there’s no denying

the fact that lots of people love it. Will stay for a very long time.

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13 Responses to Clinton Street deathwatch

  1. 99 says:

    Is Alais properly a Dufresne joint? I though aKa and Alias were employees from 71, but his money or cooking wasn’t actually in it.

    From what I can tell of my friends, TOC does massive delivery. And they are pricey to boot (but worth it).

    Re, Piada: How does the difference between $5 and $8 for a sandwich in a neighborhood where PBR is $5 become a measurable gap (especially when the sandwiches at Clinton Baking are more)? But you are spot on about the atmosphere. I feel like saying excuse me every time I enter. And forcing people to try out their knowledge of pronouncing Fellini films to order food might not help either. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how say Amarcord.

    Though you didn’t branch out, you can add Cafe Juanita — sold to the guy who owns whatever is at 9C these days (the bar, not Esperanto), it is slated to become a Fish and Chips place imminently.

    Have you been to the place on Houston between Atty and Ridge? I find Clinton Restaurant to be pretty mediocre, but people generally seem to rave about it. Likewise, I’ve heard about the place to the east.

  2. Felix says:

    When I say Dufresne, I mean Dewey, not Wylie. I’m pretty sure the Dufresnes generally are invested in Alias.

    You get a LOT more bang for your buck with the sandwiches at Clinton Baking than you do at Piada. A sandwich at Clinton Baking is a meal unto itself; at Piada it’s a snack.

    And you’re talking about El Maguey y la Tuna, a wonderful Mexican restaurant I can highly recommend. We order from there the whole time, and even eat there in person occasionally.

  3. Lock says:

    To be clear, I like the food at Falai. I just find it overpriced for the neighborhood, and nothing drives me crazy like bad value.

  4. SLAP says:

    Clinton Street Restaurant’s Cuban sandwich is the best in the neighborhood. hands down beats many for miles around.

  5. pipharper says:

    Chibitini is closing, according to the gossip on Clinton. Finish it up and put the unhappy face, because it’s dead.

  6. Patricia says:

    Crudo has been a bar only for over a year, no food there.

    Also, avoid Tapeo. The food is mediocre at best. 1492 is run by real Spainiards that actually know how to make tapas.

  7. Clinton says:

    I hear from a reliable source that Salt Bar is up for sale.

  8. Clinton Street Resident says:

    Piada is the best thing to hit clinton street in a long time!

    While their sandwhiches will not cater to super-sizers, the meats and ingredients are top quality. I am friendly enough to join in any conversation thats going on while I’m there, a skill most New Yorkers dont have. I think its great to talk to random people in places like Piada!

  9. Morty says:

    Spot On report Felix!

  10. Morty says:

    Also to add about Salt, who is motivated to eat a place called Salt? Not me. But I’m the guy who thinks Prune will make me poo.

  11. Nick says:

    I like your swagger but you fked up once bigtime, the

    joint “pizza” on riv just east of clinton is a paragon new york rendition of this dish served by a guy so authentic he launders your change, truly a reliable gem- if one can get over one’s whoreish addiction to interior decoration.

  12. Nick says:

    I like your swagger but you fked up once bigtime, the

    joint “pizza” on riv just east of clinton is a paragon new york rendition of this dish served by a guy so authentic he launders your change, truly a reliable gem- if one can get over one’s whoreish addiction to interior decoration.

  13. Nick says:

    I like your swagger but you fked up once bigtime, the

    joint “pizza” on riv just east of clinton is a paragon new york rendition of this dish served by a guy so authentic he launders your change, truly a reliable gem- if one can get over one’s whoreish addiction to interior decoration.

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