It’s Spring Break! I’ve been MIA for a few days because I’ve been too busy drinking mojitos on the beach and showing my tits to strangers with cameras. Sorry. I’ve met twenty of my most best friends in the last two hours and have not, as far as I know, been date-raped. It’s awesome!While that is a complete lie, I can confirm that I’ve been doing some pretty radical things. Keepitcoming and I went to Brooklyn last night to catch up with some friends and grab some dinner. Since my outfit was too cool for school and apparently, Peter Luger, we- Keepitcoming, Van, Reed, TR, and I, grabbed drinks and dinner at Diner.Diner, owned by renegade former chefs of Balthazar, is a cramped, yet cozy establishment in the center of hipsterville- er, Williamsburg. Featuring a daily rotation of local, fresh food and funky cocktails, it sounded like the perfect choice for a blushing spring evening. Walking in, we were assaulted from every angle by plaid shirts and pencil moustaches on both men and women, but the bar with its cracked tile mafia charm beckoned us to its stools. There, we had a few drinks, the most notable of libations the Touch and Go cocktail, one of their specialties. The combination of scotch, earl grey tea, lime juice, and sage brought a seasonally versatile flavor to the table with a smoky, yet light flavor and a bitter note playing in the citrus as well as the scotch. It had a queer neutral bite, like unsweetened iced tea, with only the natural flavors of each ingredient shining through. No salt rims or sugar crystals here, just the quenching delight that only a ten dollar, organic cocktail can bring.
We were handed a scroll of a menu, written hastily on a roll of receipt paper, and whacked up three appetizers amongst the five of us, heightening the anticipation of strange dishes by starting with stranger ones. Where else but Brooklyn can you find dead on, savory mussels and fries, rabbit consomme, razor clams, and cornbread? Nowhere else I’ve been. The moules were just as good as any I’ve had in France and equally as tender, with a spicy broth that begged for a crusty roll to sop it up in. Leaving the remnants in that dish was one of the bigger tragedies of this year. The smooth, creamy shellfish, best consumed tucked into the side of one’s cheek while piling in Diner’s freshly made french fries, was an absolute sensory overload. Just delicious. Size does matter, in the case of the fries. Though delicious, they were an entirely insufficient carrier for the creamy housemade mayonnaise, and ended up using less than a few dips here and there.Das friiiites…the consomme was consumed pre-photo!
The rabbit consomme was piping hot and savory, with nice chunks of tender bunny floating within. The crisp slices of cabbage, added at just the right moment prior to serving, were a nice touch and fun irregularity in the dish. While it was tame compared to the other two, it was delicious for what it was and would make an excellent quick lunch for an unusual palate- perhaps one not as inclined to tackle its Chinese counterpart, rabbit jaw soup.Our last appetizer was a selection of razor clams, served with a thick wedge of cornbread and spiced greens. Although the tiny clams could hardly be called the focus of the entire dish, they were sweet and delicious on the palate. This was another example of Diner’s impeccable seafood pairings- sweet and spicy are kept in top billing, though certainly less so in this dish. While I was relishing the bitter greens and the crumbly quickbread-like cornbread with the delicate clams, I was missing the jalapeno cream sauce on the side that supposedly brought it all together. Less compelling, but nonetheless quality.
Soaring on the wings of unique appetizers that, for once, didn’t include- well, wings, (though I’d love to see their interpretation) we wrangled a table and focused our sights toward our entrees. In my ever-expanding attempts to forge human relationships, I decided against sticking my camera in my friends’ Hake and Heirloom tomato, but did snap a few of my own and Keepitcoming’s. The lighting, mere tea candles in holders, could be seen as advantageous to say, a hipster poseur on a first date hoping to conceal that awkward Kenny Chesney quote tattooed in Comic Sans on their forearm, but unfortunately brought a cavernous, dim atmosphere to my photos. And so I apologize. Because I’m on a steak frites kick, I ordered their bistro steak and fries (with beets, but the only beets I care about are THE Beets, AMIRITE?), while Keepitcoming chose their fettuccini with roasted cauliflower and garlic.My steak frites was served with a healthy scoop of the aforementioned frites, still averaging at an inch to two inches long. I ended up spearing six or seven at a time with a fork, dipping them into a little of the mayo, and awkwardly maneuvering them into my mouth with a shred of steak. It was then that I revisited the advantages of candlelit dining once more, glad my compatriots could not view my gluttony. I asked for a medium rare steak, but was presented with a plump, soft rare with a delightfully crispy crust, glistening with truffle marrow butter. The steak was a little on the tough side, but the chewy crust was expertly done. For the first time in my life, I wished that there had been just a little less butter. Truffle butter is rich, and marrow butter is rich, but truffled marrow butter is almost queasy in its decadence, and the underlying result made the steak flavorful, but too salty.Luckily, we found ourselves heartily enjoying our bottle of 08 Bonard “Le Ginglet” Trousseau- Bastardo for the cool kids- a wine with a robustly organic presence and intensely sharp, clinical aroma that kept getting harder, better, faster, and stronger. It worked the palate like an experienced streetwalker, toeing the line between tarry, molasses brassiness with a twinge of uric acidity and musky spices- cumin making a big splash. I can’t exhaust any more wine terms describing what I need to say- (sorry, mom and dad) this wine tasted like the aftermath of a good night in bed with a gorgeous woman. For its age, a flight 2008, its port(ly) origins really come out- it’s hard as nails and massively satisfying.Keepitcoming’s fettuccini was textured to perfection with a homemade pasta and delicately roasted pieces of cauliflower, but she found that the base sauce, an alfredo bastardization, was overly salted and one-dimensonal in its execution.We went all out and ordered all three of Diner’s desserts to share and nom off, their olive oil pound cake with coffee cream and sauteed kumquats, a flourless chocolate cake with unsweetened whipped cream, and lemon pie on a pine nut crust with candied pine nuts and whipped cream on top. To my surprise, I found myself going back to the flourless chocolate cake again and again. Having grown up genuinely detesting the Passover tradition of a dearth of leavening agents, I was none too excited to try this one. It was utterly decadent and exactly what a flourless cake should be. With the subtraction of dense crumbs from the flour, it added in a truffled, gooey flavor with healthy amounts of dark chocolate. None of the dessert was too sweet as a result of the neutral whipped cream, and it was addictive and indulgent. Definitely something I’d order an entire cake of.The lemon pie benefited from the toasted pine nuts, removing it from the purgatorial category of Pine-Sol and Lemon Pledge-esque artificiality and imparting a nutty, buttery quality to the citrus that, with the whipped cream, really created a pudding like texture and gave a pleasant array of flavors on the palate. I liked the two-way preparation of the pine nuts, both crushed in the thick, grahamy crust and candied on top as a garnish.Our last dessert, and at this point, we were quite full, was an olive oil pound cake with aforementioned garnishes that bore a striking and scary resemblance to our razor clam appetizer, cornbread and all. Fortunately, this was not a fishy dessert in the slightest. The olive oil cake was moist with a hint of salinity, but whose overall flavor was more reminiscent of a pound cake than anything else, albeit a really good pound cake. The kumquat garnishes had a distinct, yet fleeting flavor, but what really pushed this over the edge for me was the addition of unsweetened espresso whipped cream. The bitterness and coffee ground crunch spread out the sweetness of the other elements and really heightened the experience of eating cake and whipped cream. Definitely a good choice.
Overall, Diner is a place that I’d go back to with friends for a night that would walk the line between relaxed and regimented. With a diverse, tightly focused menu of nightly, local specialties and a hell of a wine list, this is the place to go out to enjoy a dinner a little more upscale than your local taqueria. (Not that I’m dissing those by a long shot!) If you can blend in with the crowd, there’s no reason you should be hatin’ on Diner- it’s worth the wait.