Lil’ Gem, a Modern Lebanese Restaurant, Opens at 29 Clinton St. Tonight

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Lil’ Gem, a restaurant inspired by the homestyle dishes of chef Melissa O’Donnell’s Lebanese grandmother, opens tonight at 29 Clinton St.

O’Donnell, who previously ran Thelma on Clinton and Salt Bar in the same location, has partnered with Lesly Bernard for this new venture.

The menu is made up of small, sharable and larger family-style plates. There are dips, flatbreads and a selection of shawarma. The flatbreads are served with various toppings such and roasted mushroom with pearl onion and crumbled lamb with truffled sunchoke and mint. There’s a whole or half smoked duck, whole fish, rotisserie chicken, Lebanese-style lamb chops and a roasted rib eye. There are several options for vegetarians.

In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, O’Donnell said, “I didn’t try and replicate traditional Lebanese recipes… Because I grew up eating the food, it’s more of an inspiration instead of going to a book and being like, ‘OK, what are the standards for this cuisine?’ It’s more like using the flavor and the feeling and the essence of it.”

Bernard has been involved in numerous restaurant/nightlife projects, including the soul speakeasy Tillman’s, the Asian-inspired Mr. Jones and he was an original partner in the cocktail bar Pravda.


Lebanese Restaurant, Lil’ Gem, Will Succeed Thelma on Clinton This Spring

Melissa O'Donnell at Thelma on Clinton. Photo by Katie Foster.

Melissa O’Donnell at Thelma on Clinton. Photo by Katie Foster.

There’s news this afternoon of Melissa O’Donnell’s next act on Clinton Street.

The longtime Lower east Side chef/restaurant owner is teaming up with Lesly Bernard to open lil’ gem at 29 Clinton St. Earlier this year, O’Donnell closed Thelma on Clinton in the same space. The new spot will feature Lebanese cuisine. According to a press release, “the restaurant showcases a concept conceived and built by Bernard, who is known for his warm and inviting designs inspired by culture and current tastes.”  Bernard’s past projects include Mr. Jones in Soho and Tillman’s in Chelsea.

The 49-seat Lower east Side space will feature high-top seating, an open kitchen and art from Lebanese artists.

The restaurant will have an “authentic Saj oven,” and rotisserie.  O’Donnell’s menu debut includes rotisserie duck with cardamon, pomegranate, honey, thyme, and dried mint; house smoked fish with quinoa, dill, and preserved lemon; pickled octopus with new potato, fennel, and orange; and fermented sprouted chickpea hummus.

O’Donnell’s grandmother, Thelma, was of Lebanese descent, so in the new restaurant, she’ll be drawing on her childhood food memories. She has a long history on this particular block. O’Donnell operated Salt Bar at 29 Clinton for about 12 years before launching Thelma on Clinton three years ago.

A May opening is anticipated.

Thelma on Clinton Closes Over the Weekend; New Restaurant Concept In-the-Works

Image via Thelma on Clinton's Facebook page.

Image via Thelma on Clinton’s Facebook page.

Thelma on Clinton, Melissa O’Donnell’s reboot on Salt Bar, has closed after three years in business.

Chef/owner Melissa O’Donnell announced the closure on Facebook Friday and later told us she’s developing a new concept for the space at 29 Clinton St. She’s not quite ready to reveal the new plan publicly.

Thelma on Clinton and Salt Bar rode the ups and downs on the Lower East Side for about 15 years. This year’s Michelin Guide touted the restaurant’s “down-to-earth service” and praised the casual spot as, “the kind of unpretentious restaurant everyone wants around the corner from home.”

In the past couple of years, O’Donnell saw a drop-off in her loyal customer base, as Clinton Street transformed. While there are new arrivals on the block (Clancey, Speedy Romeo, Garfunkel’s), other established businesses have faded away in the past few months. They include Tapeo 29 (the 12-year-old tapas restaurant) and Ariel’s Bistro, which is being sold to new operators.

Tapeo 29, Clinton Street Tapas Restaurant, Closes After 12 Years

29 Clinton St.

29 Clinton St.

The Spanish tapas restaurant, Tapeo 29, has closed after 12 years on the Lower East Side.

It was a quick exit. The space on the northwest corner of Clinton and Stanton streets was cleared out Tuesday evening.  Owners Rinat and Ofir Yaloz posted on their Facebook page, “12 Years of a great ride, meeting seeing and working with some amazing people, its time to move on to other challenges. Thanks to all of our friends for the great time and support.” In a brief phone conversation this morning, Ofir Yaloz said the decision to close was a personal one and that he was looking forward to a fresh start after a good run on Clinton Street.

There have been listings for the space at 29 Clinton St. for at least a few months. According to Loopnet, the 750 square foot restaurant is available for $7850/month. The advertisement suggests that a liquor license (with a closing time of 4 a.m.) is available with key money. [While liquor permits cannot legally be transferred from one owner to another, they are generally easier to obtain when a nightlife business has been purchased.]



Thelma on Clinton Returns to Its Culinary Roots on the Lower East Side

Thelma on Clinton Almost Ready For Opening

More restaurant news this afternoon. Thelma on Clinton, the successor to Salt Bar at 29 Clinton St., is set to debut next week.

Salt Bar Closes This Weekend; Thelma on Clinton On Its Way

After a decade on the Lower East Side, a change is in the works at Salt Bar on Clinton Street.

Salt Bar

The inviting Clinton Street bar serves small plates: cheeses, oysters, salads and tartare. The bartenders are friendly and the room cozy.

29 Clinton, near Stanton


Hours Sun and Tue-Thu, 6pm-1am; Fri-Sat, 6pm-3am; Mon, closed

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