the real reason
i want to move back
to new york
The Neighborhood Changed,
but the Local Restaurant?
Not So Much.
By FRANK BRUNI
85 Broadway (Berry Street), Williamsburg, Brooklyn; (718) 486-3077.
One minute our waiter was standing over us, in the usual tableau; the next he was seated beside us, not only reciting the night’s menu but also scribbling it, in shorthand, on the paper that covered our table. That’s Diner for you: shaggy, improvisatory and cheeky, much like Williamsburg — or at least, like Williamsburg when Diner opened there a decade ago.
The neighborhood has changed. And Diner? Not so much. A while back, Caroline Fidanza ceded the reins in the kitchen to Sean Rembold, who had worked beside her. But now, as ever, the cooking emphasizes seasonality, accessibility, comfort and correctness: the beef for a recent strip steak special ($32) was grass-fed. Diner was doing the Brooklyn tropes before they were Brooklyn tropes.
And it still does them with charm and skill, based on a recent dinner there, which I found more satisfying than a dinner not too long before that at Marlow & Sons, the most prominent of Diner’s offspring, including the two Bonita restaurants.
A half chicken ($22) was impeccably cooked. Same for a fillet of halibut ($23). Neither reflected particular daring — that was left to an appetizer of grilled duck hearts ($11), by far the best dish of the night. The runner-up? Possibly a sorrel soup ($8) with such intensely smoky, porky accents that it tasted almost like a liquefied ham sandwich. I mean that as a compliment.
All of the desserts I sampled — chocolate cake, poundcake, lemon pie (each $8) — were good. There’s a sophisticated wine list and carefully chosen beers. You can get an easy-drinking, refreshing Presidente ($4) from the Dominican Republican. You should.
Diner’s setting — in a narrow, snug metal dining car from 1927 — remains irresistible. But its prices have risen sharply since the start, when an evening’s soup special was, say, $3.50, and the chicken was $9. That’s inflation, yes. But that’s also what happens when a neighborhood itself ascends.