Chef Nina Clemente is nearing the end of her second summer stint helming the kitchen for the Standard Plaza, where laid-back alfresco dining can be had twenty-one hours a day (the outdoor café is only closed 4–7 a.m.). Having relocated to Los Angeles to serve as chef at downtown L.A.’s di Alba, the native New Yorker is back home through September with her husband and toddler-age daughter. Clemente admits to their influence when she conceptualized this year’s menu and space, which includes a variety of large, sharable trays. . . and drinks available by the pitcher. “It’s still the Standard, even though it’s in what I call the ‘Times Square of downtown,’ ” she says of the casual outdoor eatery located around the corner from the southernmost entrance to the Highline. “It is this beautiful little outdoor experience. We have that chronic breeze over [here], thankfully, as it gets a little warm. You can hang for, like, two hours and not be bothered — it’s not like we’re trying to flip the tables and get you in and out of the door.”
The Voice asked Clemente — who spent her childhood among the city’s creative community as the daughter of New York artists Francesco and Alba Clemente — to give us her guide to her favorite New York City haunts.
My Daughter’s Favorite Restaurant
Indigo is three and a half and she’s a pretty incredible eater. Between my husband and myself, we spoil her significantly. She loves Jack’s Wife Freda. The food is wonderful, but they are very smart in their approach where they give kids these stickers that they’re always changing, and crayons, which are great, but also a little predictable. I think these new-age kids are like, “Crayons! Where are my neon 3-D markers?” Stickers are amazing. As a parent, you’re always thankful when a restaurant embraces children. We’ve been very lucky in that she’ll sit through a two-hour meal, no problem, because she is an avid eater. She floats between the Mediterranean Breakfast that I love there, and she loves the waffle as well. Though we do have to sneak in our own maple syrup, because they do, like, a honey-rose syrup, and she’s like, “No, no, no! I need real maple syrup for my waffle.” So we travel with maple syrup.
Jack’s Wife Freda, 50 Carmine Street, 646-669-9888, jackswifefreda.com
Food Shop Stop
I go to Raffetto’s on West Houston for pasta, which I love. It’s been there, like, eighty years and you just can’t go wrong.
Raffetto’s, 144 West Houston Street, 212-777-1261, raffettospasta.com
We are massive fans of Abraço — they definitely have the best coffee in the city. We live in the West Village, so we bike over there and sort of indulge. I do a single-shot latte as, being Italian, Italians don’t really go with that double shot. It’s funny, it’s just how coffee drinks are made — it’s always been a double shot [here and not there]. I just discovered that recently, and it was always just a little too aggressive for me. So I started doing single shots and it’s changed my world. It’s rare that I start with a sweet thing in the morning, but their olive oil cake and banana bread are so incredible, I make exceptions.
Abraço, 81 East 7th Street, abraconyc.com
Somtum Der [on the Lower East Side] has the best Thai food in the city, in my opinion. I always order the vegetarian fried rice and the tum thai, which is their papaya salad — I go medium, but it’s, like, fire-spicy, so if you don’t like super spicy, go super mild. And then I get the larb moo — it’s a mint-stuffed pork [salad] with tons of herbs. Indigo will order these coconut pork skewers that are delicious. I have to order two of the vegetarian fried rices, because she’ll wipe out one on her own.
Somtum Der, 85 Avenue A, 212-260-8570, somtumder.com
I love going to DomoDomo, which is around the corner from me. I always try to make a reservation, but if it’s just the two of us we’ll just pop in — I can walk by [and think], “Oh, line’s too long, not happening.” It’s a little hand-roll place. They used to be much smaller, and now they’ve sort of expanded — everything’s almost always better when it’s smaller, but it’s still pretty delicious and easy. It’s a fairly pricey place, but the Handroll Course is pretty reasonable.
DomoDomo, 138–140 West Houston Street, 646-707-0301, domodomonyc.com
Just from my childhood memories — it’s Indochine. As a family, we’ve had so many celebrations there, so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for it. Growing up as a kid in the Eighties, spending so many of my early years under those tables, playing and drawing — occasionally with Keith Haring — being fed morsels of delicious fish [wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf]…I don’t know how many years it’s been open, like twenty? It’s still such a celebratory vibe in there, and the booths are so intimate, that you can have your own party. Indigo goes crazy for the walls and the food — she literally draws everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve surrounded myself with enough under-the-table-drawing artists, sadly.
Indochine, 430 Lafayette Street, 212-505-5111, indochinenyc.com
There’s this new little place around the corner called Banter, run by Australians. They just opened on Sullivan Street. It’s pretty straightforward, it’s very California — I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but they have pretty good coffee. The food that they have, it’s all very clean. They have a grain bowl, you can add on avocado and kale — it’s a nice substantial breakfast that kind of makes you feel good after you eat it. And they’re super lovely. I love Australians.
Banter, 169 Sullivan Street, banternyc.com
Goodbye Summer Meal
If it couldn’t be my mom’s kitchen, it would have to be Bar Pitti. It’s beyond trendy now, but I literally grew up in that restaurant, and we’ve been going there for [as long as] it’s been open. It’s one of the few spots that is so insane, line out the door, and I can walk in and be like, “Gianni! Two of us!” and he’ll be like, “OK, OK, I got you! Cinque minuti! Five minutes!”
The perfect summer meal would be the spinaci saltati — the sauteed spinach — the funghi — he does these incredible mushrooms, straight-up oyster mushrooms that get super crispy in olive oil with lots of fresh mint that gets all sort of crispy as well — and then the vitello tonnato, which for the summer is just unbeatable. It’s super-capered, thinly sliced veal, with this sort of tuna sauce spread on top, which sounds kind of terrifying, but it’s so delicious. I drench it with lemon, and it’s served with a little side of zucchini. If I’m there sharing with someone, I’ll also get an order of the Rigatoni Pitti.
Bar Pitti, 268 Sixth Avenue, 212-982-3300
The Standard Plaza
848 Washington at 13th Street
New York, NY 10014