My friend Charles is a tastemaker and boulevardier, a dj at the Standard Downtown, food writer and proponent of healthy foods. I met him in a food writing class, where he insisted on disgusting us all by writing about natto. So naturally he had his fabulous birthday celebration at Clifton's Cafeteria, where fortunately, there was no natto in sight.
We climbed up past waterfalls, past animated bears, past illuminated scenes of California, to the third floor Colonial room to find Charles' party, complete with a Clifton's chocolate banana cake and Clifton's balloons. Naturally, we considered choosing some rainbow-hued jello salads, but instead I went with a clever carrot salad/coleslaw combo, fried shrimp, garlic bread and a tamarindo drink. I liked the nods to the surrounding Latino community like various aguas and a fresh-looking fruit salad with papaya, although I was a little bemused by the counter lady, who wanted to dish up mashed potatoes with every dish including Matt's enchiladas.
While the food is nothing special, it's a cut above the hospital-level fare I was expecting: the birthday cake was pretty good, the salad uses lettuces that are not iceberg, and there are several fresh fruit and vegetable selections. If you've never been to Clifton's, you really must go there soon, and show your kids, because it's doubtful it will still be there when they're grown up. And Happy Birthday, Charles!