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.