When I started working with a nutritionist earlier this year, I laid it all out for her: Restaurant dining is a huge part of my life, and I will not be snacking on a Ziplock bag of raw vegetables anytime soon. (Or ever.) We found ways to make sure I could still order the good stuff at restaurants — aka enjoy life — while making smart choices, but as soon as I sat down at Clancey on New York City’s Lower East Side, I knew that there were going to be a few not-so-smart choices involved, and I decided it was totally worth it.
Keeping my fingers crossed with my wedding dress fitting just weeks away — I chose one with a built-in bodice, a smart choice for someone who’s constantly nursing a food pregnancy — I decided to indulge in five of the menu “musts.”
Here’s why I shrugged and said “when in Rome.”
- Soft, garlicky, salty, hot, almost fluffy pretzels with mustard and cheese. Because seriously, what’s more comforting than that? Because Clancey is a beer-centric restaurant, mixing a new beer into the dipping cheese each week is part of the fun for chef Keith E. Geter. He doesn’t even like beer, he claims, but does a tasting each week to find the perfect mix.
- The oysters, which are covered in breadcrumbs and live in a shell of melted butter, served with a butter-soaked piece of toasted bread. Inspired by Drago’s and Felix in New Orleans, they are butter-poached in the shell, making for a less burnt, more briny oyster. Mopping up the garlic butter with the bread is the most fun part of eating the dish.
- Yesterday’s Lo Mein with crispy pork belly. Todd Birnbaum, owner of Clancey, was a picky eater as a kid, and on Sunday nights, he would sometimes purposely order an extra pint of pork lo mein, knowing it would absorb all the yum overnight and be prime for lunch the next day.
- Truffled grilled cheese made with fontina and provolone. “We were looking for the right blend of elasticity and meltiness to make sure it would be fun and stretchy to eat, while being stark white and contrasting visually with the asparagus and the egg,” said Birnbaum. Mission accomplished.
- A tiny cup of heaven known as the dessert jar, the restaurant’s nod to diner desserts of yesteryear. “We are executing standard yellow cake and brownie recipes straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook,” said Birnbaum. “We used older recipes without any update for our puddings as well. Whipped cream is always made in-house with vanilla, confectioners’ sugar, and heavy whipping cream.”
Passionate about rustic ingredients and farm-fresh flavors, Geter refined his skills in classic French-technique cuisine working with the likes of acclaimed chefs Gray Kunz, , Michel Richard, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He most recently served as executive chef of Caramel Abu Dhabi at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island. He currently resides in Brooklyn.
“There’s always room for delicious comfort food,” says Geter. “Our take is a bit different than most, as we are borrowing from International Flavor Profiles like satay, lo mein, and romesco and presenting them in a down-home fashion. We see plenty of ‘eating healthy’ customers that still treat themselves to something heavier for their ‘cheat meal.’”
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