Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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EatBeat: Clematis Social From Burt Rapoport

December 17th, 2008 · No Comments

The menu’s casual, price-friendly and fit for sharing at Clematis Social, Burt Rapoport’s newest venture, in West Palm’s downtown. Its grand opening is tonight, though opened to the public in a soft start a couple of weeks ago.

Clematis Social bar

Clematis Social bar

I got a sneak peek early this month, and talked to Rapoport about starting up a restaurant in this economic climate.

Burt Rapoport

Burt Rapoport

“It’s tough, no question,” he said.  “I’ve thought about doing something else, in fact, but am gun shy about opening another restaurant right now. I want to get this one settled first, but I think it should do well. There aren’t a lot of small-plate, tapas-style restaurants down here, and I think diners want that — they like those choices. Sharing is becoming more popular with groups who go for a night out and don’t want to spend $400. The dishes here are designed for sharing around a table and noshing with a drink – maybe even moving on to another spot for dinner.”

The menu has a lot of what those in the biz call “entry points” — foods that appeal on several levels to a number of diners. All have a homey, comfort feel to them — no crazy, confusing flavors or too-precious ingredients.

From the “chips, dips, breads and spreads” there’s baked spinach dip ($8) and a three-cheese cheese toast ($6) (all it needs is tomato soup to dunk it into and you’d feel like a kid again). Several flatbreads ($8 to $11) stand in for pizza — crusty and brought to the table on a rectangular paddle.

Angus beef sliders

Angus beef sliders

The sliders ($9 to $11) are a fun take on an old diner favorite. Social’s versions include a black Angus beef trio with crispy onions and a “secret sauce.” Pulled pork, beer-battered group, Santa Fe chicken and tuna burgers fill the other trios of small sandwiches. Slaw or salsa or onion strings come with them.

A few nods to the Asian diners are here: a wasabi seared tuna features a crispy wasabi-peas crust around a rare cool tuna slice. A spiced tuna roll, a California roll and chicken spring rolls round out these offerings.

French onion soup dumplings

French onion soup dumplings

One of the more unusual dishes is the French onion soup “dumplings.” The name will change, but the dish will remain the same, Rapoport said. It’s an escargot plate, with the little snail indentations filled with onion soup and a French bread crouton. The entire plate is covered with cheese and baked off; diners scoop out the soup in one mouthful bites. Clever presentation.

For those who come in for a solid meal, the favorites of a nice bar are on the menu — grilled sliced skirt steak ($25), sesame seared tuna ($27 – and the pricest meal here), fish and chicps with Mystic tartar sauce and slaw ($17), a sirloin burger ($12) and Southern fried chicken with fries and slaw (a quarter chicken is $9).

For the late-night partiers, you can drop by and get several versions of eggs Benedict for $9 to $11 – they’re served till the wee hours.

We appreciate the drink recommendations on the menu. Try their signature drink, Palm Beach lemonade or slurp one of their chunky fruit-heavy sangrias.

Rapoport is no stranger to the downtown area; he helped open My Martini during Clematis Street’s first revival back in the ’90s. He been all over the county with restaurants, teaming years ago with Dennis Max, then opening several on his own or with others. He currently operates Opus 5, and Bogart’s Bar and Grill in the Muvico’s Premiere, both in Boca Raton.

One of his most popular and enduring eateries is Henry’s, in west Delray Beach, where a new chef with a new menu is in place.

“We’re still a neighborhood destination there,” he said. “But the neighborhood includes 30-somethings who want tuna when they go out — that’s within their comfort food palate.”

Social’s design is in cool greens, ambers and teak and bamboo shades — and it’s open to the street where sidewalk tables are set up. They’re open for lunch and dinner daily; happy hour is from noon to 6:30 p.m.

Tags: The Eat Beat: Restaurant News

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