New York Daily News

Bowery haute spot

Retro diner dishes up classy comfort food

- BY MICHAEL KAMINER mkaminer@nydailynew­

With its glossy nostalgia and haute comfort food, The Bowery Diner seems eager to claim the mantle of Florent, the legendary all-night Meatpackin­g District diner that epitomized ’80s New York in all its gritty lunacy. Along with ’40s-noir graphics, burgundy vinyl booths and abundant stainless steel, The Bowery Diner boasts a row of black message boards with white plastic letters at the bar — a direct homage to Florent’s mordant signature placards.

That was then, this is now. While its kitchen executes in a way Florent never managed, The Bowery Diner is lacking something more important: a sense of place. Absent are the dry wit and seen-it-all smarts of a true New York joint. Its earnest retro feels more Johnny Rockets than clubland. You’ll have no sense you’re sitting on the same SoHo strip as the New Museum.

That said, The Bowery Diner makes an easy spot to wile away a weekday evening, when locals seem to outnumber visitors, or late weekend afternoons, when the place exhales after brunch. A long, sleek bar in Miami Beach white and turquoise dominates a front room whose diamond-punched metal walls recall sleek Airstream trailers. Bar mirrors tout carefully painted messages like “EGG CREAM-MILKSHAKE-SODA” and “COCKTAILS-MARTINI.” In case you miss the point, the soundtrack to Barry Levinson’s 1983 hit “Diner” is showcased on a front shelf, and a gleaming vintage Seeburg jukebox squats near the entrance.

The menu mostly matches the surroundin­gs, with upscale updates of ersatz-diner classics served on old-school Homer Laughlin porcelain. Belgianbor­n chef Mathieu Palombino, whose artisan pizzas made Motorino a mecca for foodies, takes a more-is-more approach with some dishes, and deconstruc­ts others. As an exemplar of the former, his twice-baked Mac + Cheese is a thing of beauty. A crispy, blistered top layer yields to a molten mix of cheddar, goat cheese, Swiss and heavy cream that makes a brawny bath for soft macaroni and crunchy bacon bits. At $12, it’s enough for two medium portions, and it’s the menu’s best value. Double-patty burgers ($15) don’t quite hit those heights, though an exquisite sesame-seed brioche bun almost makes up for slightly overcooked, mildly salty beef. Accompanyi­ng fries, near-perfect, come greaseless and with the slightest chew.

A high-design take on Greek salad ($12) anchors a mishmash of tomato, cucumbers and olives with a giant triangular feta wedge, all topped with passable stuffed grape leaves and a lonesome-looking anchovy — clever but not quite satisfying.

When its ambitions get loftier, the kitchen can stumble. Cold marinated beet salad ($9) makes a refreshing starter on a hot day, but it lacks bite; house-made ranch dressing gives it a muchneeded goose. While appealingl­y pink, a special of Long Island duck breast requires vigorous chewing. It’s much less memorable than the nutty pea shoots and feathery mashed potatoes alongside. A “farmstead cheese plate” appetizer only inspires headscratc­hing. Five inch-square pieces, with some greens, honey and bread, don’t add up to $12.

A decently priced wine roster sticks mostly with California, France and Italy. There’s

a fair selection by the glass. Winky cocktails make a much more entertaini­ng option. The Teaches of Peaches ($11) slices through a fruity sweet mix of gin and peach-infused agave with lemon juice. The Rupert Holmes ($11) is a po-mo take on the piña colada, amped up with cardamom and jalapeño.

It’s practicall­y mandatory to punctuate a diner meal with java and pie, and The Bowery Diner’s desserts and coffee would merit a stop on their own. Fruit pies, like homemade plum, banish coffeeshop memories of sweetened glop in chemical crust. You can taste the fruit here, balanced beautifull­y against rough-hewn pastry. Moist red velvet cake, its hue vibrant, boasts smooth, subtle frosting and appealing density.

Possibly the most decadent dessert on a Manhattan menu, the New York cheesecake milkshake ($8) whips a slab into an irresistib­ly lumpy mess as addictive as cake batter. If that’s not enough too-muchness, a juiced-up version adds Cointreau or Grey Goose ($12). Portland-based mega-roaster Stumptown supplies its signature bottom-heavy brew ($2.85). That’s a compliment, by the way.

In a neighborho­od with few friendly or fairly priced options, The Bowery Diner makes a welcome addition. But it’s not quite yet the dependable, go-to spot it’s aspiring to become. Treat it like any other diner: Stick with the basics, steer clear of fancier fare, and you may walk away sated.

 ??  ?? Diner’s nostalgic appeal attracts locals and visitors.
Diner’s nostalgic appeal attracts locals and visitors.
 ??  ?? Greek salad (above) has a giant wedge of feta; Mac + Cheese (r.) is a molten masterpiec­e.
Greek salad (above) has a giant wedge of feta; Mac + Cheese (r.) is a molten masterpiec­e.
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 ??  ?? At left, the New York cheesecake milkshake. Below, peach pie
At left, the New York cheesecake milkshake. Below, peach pie

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