The Standard Diner
They’re missing a brick, but only one
By Jennifer Wohletz
If the word “diner” means an upscale American bistro-type restaurant with incidental touches of down-home décor, then, by golly, The Standard Diner is a diner. From the cold cucumber slice in my water glass to the mint leaf on my dessert plate, the recently opened brainchild of Matt DiGregory (co-owner of The Range Café) lives up to its rep as being the “finer diner” in Albuquerque.
I squeezed into a “compact” car space in the teeny-tiny parking lot right next to a Jeep Cherokee and entered through the posh glass front doors. I was greeted by a mega-friendly female hostess who oozed movie-star charisma and was seated in a booth in one wing of the enormous dining room. I could see the extra time they took in reconstructing the place (orginally built as a Texaco Station in 1938) was well worth the wait, because the interior is seriously classy. The décor is all bricks, cream walls and polished metal accents, and the modest artwork accentuates rather than overwhelms the ambiance.
Before meeting my server, I took a gander at my fellow diners, only to feel slightly underdressed and lacking that corporate executive look. I definitely lucked out on the service, because I got the cool shoot-from-the-hip girl that identified herself as “Jackie Brown.” It could have been an alias, but I decided to go with it.
I started out with a hazelnut mocha latte ($4), and ordered one of the house special appetizers called the “onion brick” ($5.95), which the menu described as thin-sliced onions encrusted with buttermilk and served with hand-smashed garlic aioli and homemade ketchup. That’s about as close as I got to the dish, because I perilously ordered my entire meal in one fell swoop, and my brick was forgotten.
Jackie had personality, though. She gave me an interesting recitation of the saga of the 160-year-old sourdough starter used to make my dinner bread, as I ate the bread--but only after ascertaining that only the starter, not the actual roll--came West via the Oregon Trail. Just like with some ex-boyfriends, I’ve been burned before by restaurant bread, but Jackie nursed me through it like Dr. Phil.
My supper came within about 20 minutes. It was both artfully arranged and steaming hot, making me glad I wasn’t at an everyday diner, where I’m usually lucky to get the gummy, tepid fries I ordered an hour before. The “Chicken Saltimbocca” ($15.95) consisted of a juicy, flavorful chicken breast filet, pounded tender and embossed with fresh sage and rich prosciutto ham, served with a slice of fresh potatoes au gratin and a large broccoli floret covered in sautéed red and green bell peppers with onion. It was all presented over a nappe of lemon-butter sauce.
The chicken was divine, the potatoes were sliced to be transparently thin and baked in a cream sauce that wasn’t too cheesy, and the lemon-butter sauce was subtle enough to keep the focus on all the right places. They could have stretched the creativity further than bell peppers on broccoli--like maybe some turmeric-roasted green beans or orange-cardamom carrots--but the green provided necessary color placement.
Jackie finally realized she had spaced on my onion brick and logged in some apologizing time. I had forgiven her long before, but if it meant getting my dessert faster, I shamefully played on her guilt. They make their own ice cream here, and the special flavor du jour was the “5054,” a cream stout-flavored confection ($3.95). The weird factor made me order this, but stout-flavored ice cream is the cool new thing (Ben and Jerry’s are now marketing their version, swirled with chocolate).
It was actually quite good. The sweet malty taste gave way to a faint hoppy finish that I don’t like in beer but can appreciate in a frozen confection. The fresh-baked macaroons on the side didn’t hurt, either.
My tab was up to $25 ($31.54 with tax and tip) when I decided to call it splits, and I had to leave Jackie’s comedy for the cold, cruel outside world. I would definitely eat here again, despite the missing brick, because if they are only missing one brick out of a full load, then they are doing better than me most days.
The Alibi Recommends:
The duck confit tamale appetizer
Country fried tuna
The Standard Diner, 320 Central SE, 243-1440. Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. everyday. Price range: Moderate to expensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, large parties, catering, espresso bar, beer and wine.
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