Friday, April 15, 2011

Clementine's Potatoes

A week ago, we were excitedly on our way up to San Francisco for a conference. We wanted to give ourselves a few days to leisurely make our way up there, so we stopped at our all-time fav restaurant, Clementine's. It's located in the sleepy town of Carpinteria, just a few miles south of Santa Barbara. If you've never heard of this seaside gem, you should absolutely check out the town. And please don't leave before eating dinner at Clementine's.

My dad's parents had a home in Carpinteria during many of my growing up years, so this restaurant and the whole cozy, casual lifestyle of the town feels like a warm blanket around my shoulders. Clementine's is an eating experience--one of the best places to share a meal with your favorite people, and I've been fortunate to go there with many of my favorite people.

Clementine's has the quaint charm of a restaurant that is stopped in time--a good time. A slower, happier time. They start your service by bringing out a fresh relish tray--homemade pickles, pepperoncinis, carrots, and celery. And fresh bread and butter. This is where the meal can start and end for me--the pickles are crisp and fresh, and the bread tastes like it was baked by the Pacific--moist and yet crunchy on the outside.

But there's more to come. Salad or soup (weigh homemade dressing and croutons v. deliciously comforting thick soup...) and your entree. In my younger years, I always ordered steak here, but Doug and I haven't been so hot on red meat lately, so he got the fried chicken, and I got a vegetarian casserole (squash, cheese, corn...yum.)

I tell you all this because you can't go to Clementine's without getting a baked potato with your meal. Their potatoes are the one thing everyone in the restaurant raves most about--as they taste crispy, fried, soft, fluffy--all at once. Several fellow diners asked how they're made, and alas, it's a family secret. Each meal includes a slice of homemade pie (this is my kind of place--are you with me on this?!). Apple, rhubarb, pumpkin, four kinds of cream pie, cherry, peach...the list goes on. Made fresh each morning. Couldn't ask for more. Their meals and relish tray are standouts, but the pie finale is what really escalates each meal for me.

Well, our trip got turned around the next day unforseeably, and we never made it up north. So when I came back, I called Mom to get her take on these potatoes and how we might make them at home. Tonight, I tried my version of these, and voila, here it is. They were remarkably like Clementine's, though I know I'll never get the recipe just right.

Baking potatoes
Vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel each potato and rub generously with oiled hands. Prick with knife and place on lined baking sheet in oven. (I know--baked potatoes without peels sounds strange, but trust me. You'll never go back.)

Bake until potatoes are crispy outside (should be hard to pierce) and tender inside (about 45 mins to an hour, depending on size of potatoes).

Remove from oven and serve immediately. If you cover these or wrap them at all, they'll get soggy. Serve 'em fresh. While we enjoyed these immensely with just sour cream and butter and salt and pepper, it seems they'd also be great sliced into coins and served as breakfast potatoes or coined and then topped with a variety of toppings for appetizers. These are just thoughts.

Even without the pie finale, this brought our favorite restaurant home and made us long even more for the road trip we haven't yet had.

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