A great many sandwiches start as other meals, but very few of them start as soup. It takes a special sort of thinker to turn soup into something hand-held, and it takes an especially talented sort to do it well. Thankfully, Clementine possesses just that sort of person. Gruyere and caramelized onions join braised beef brisket on wheat levain, pressed to warm melted delight and served with a cup of jus. It’s richness upon richness, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do successfully. Contrary to what you might expect, this isn’t essentially without harmony. Everything works in the same direction, and so it isn’t that one side can drown out the other as they both combine for a loud, deliberate note. That’s what you find here, just umami on top of savory, deeply rich and just outstanding. Maybe one of the 10 best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and if you’re anywhere near Los Angeles I cannot recommend it enough.
I’ve been to Clementine a number of times, and I usually come away quite pleased. The sandwiches tend to be simple affairs, well executed. That’s usually enough, but the issue with a simple sandwich is that when something goes wrong, there’s little left to support what remains. Take the above. The menu promises sliced meatloaf, caramelized onions, iceberg lettuce and their ‘10,000 lakes’ dressing on country white bread. That sounds like it would be just fine, but the actual sandwich I was served didn’t have much to speak of in the onion department. They weren’t completely absent, there was one bite towards the beginning that reeled me in and another towards the end that assured me I wasn’t crazy, but in between there was little of the sweetness that would have balanced the sandwich out. Without the onion, the remaining sandwich was a bit dry and altogether unbalanced, something from which few sandwiches can recover.
It occurs to me that I’ve never had a genuinely good meatloaf sandwich. I suspect that it’s simply a more difficult task than most expect, and so the general effort tends to miss the mark. That’s a shame. I think that there’s a lot of potential there, but it will have to wait for some other day, in some other sandwich shop.
I’ve visited Clementine before, and the quality of what I found the first time around ensured that I would return. This time I elected to try the rare roast beef: top round, roasted in house, matched with a horseradish mustard dressing, marinated onions and arugula on ‘rustic bread.’ I’m never exactly sure what something like ‘rustic’ means, but I in this case it seemed to mean a roll with a respectable but not overly tough crust, and that was a touch that made all the difference. A tough roll could have easily made eating this a chore, with all manner of filling creep. But the crust was chewy yet yielding, and it made the sandwich delightful overall. The beef is tender and juicy, the dressing spicy and flavorful, (but, as always, could have used more horseradish) and the arugula well present. Look at how much lettuce is in that sandwich! That’s no obligatory greenery, friends, that’s a part of the sandwich. The marinated onions were a bit more scarce, sadly, and in a lot of bites of the sandwich they were hardly there at all. In a different sandwich that might have bothered me, but this was fine with or without them.
Enough about what was on the sandwich, I’d like to note what wasn’t: cheese. I’ve spoken many times about the required slice of cheese, the inveterate sense that without a piece of cheese, something isn’t a sandwich. This is hogwash, of course, but I’ve been to more places than I can count who put cheese on everything in sight, practically throwing a slice at you as you walk in the door. Enough. Clementine is smart enough to realize that there’s enough here, that no cheese is necessary, that it would either be lost in the rest of the sandwich or simply gum up the works, and so they leave it off. That was downright decent of them, and I cannot thank them enough.
The Tony’s Veggie-Luxe at Clementine is corn, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, garlic and three cheeses grilled on sturdy slices of whole grain bread, and it’s delicious. I was reminded of the sandwich I had at Bread Nolita, the one where the eggplant and the zucchini were hopelessly lost in the cheese. This sandwich was everything that that one could have been, a delightful melange of vegetables, heavy on the sweet but with mushrooms to provide a grounding influence. The cheese was present but restrained, and the bread grilled in a way that walks just to the edge of burnt and stops, peering over that line. That might not be your thing, but I think it provides a wonderful depth of flavor. There’s nothing fancy about this, it’s just a delicious sandwich.
The Fernando doesn’t disappoint either. A toasted ciabatta roll held tinga de pollo, coleslaw, avocado and something they claim to be a secret sauce, but whatever it is it’s lost behind the smokey adobo flavor of the tinga de pollo. There’s spice here, but not too much of it, the coleslaw has a fresh snap, the avocado is as wonderful as avocados are, and the chicken was moist and flavorful. I don’t know that there’s much of anything you could do to make this a better sandwich, and that’s a rare feat. It’s balanced, complete, and tasty as all get-out.