DINER DAYS are here again, with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, milkshakes and mid-century lingo such as Wet Hen -- a sauced and cheesed chicken sandwich, of course.
Club LT is the diner revisited, stretched across the top floor of The Shops at National Place mall rather than along a roadway. It combines the neon-and-formica look of a diner, though, with the burger-strong menu of the old Little Taverns, for which it is named. Add to the mixed metaphor such modern inventions as potato skins and Chocolate Chambord Cake, and you'll see that the spirit is more authentic than the flesh.
It is a menu for hankerings from the good old days: Tuna melt and Greek salad, fried chicken and London broil are on the menu, and for kids there is even a peanut butter jelly club -- with fries (ever seen pb&j with fries before?). Some are authentic in name only: the mashed potatoes are instant, and the gravy tastes like brown tinny liquid salt.
One modern lapse, though, is welcome, as well as astonishing: Under the appetizers are Three Little Tavern Burgers, "made the original way," for $1.50. It's the best bargain in the city. Not only does the waitress ask how you want your burgers done (the real Little Tavern never did that), the kitchen actually cooks them to your specifications.
The three burgers are bigger than the old LT originals -- about two inches in diameter and nearly a half inch thick -- and lightly formed by hand rather than machine, which makes them also better than any fast-food burgers on the market. They miss the old LT's minced onions and pickle slices which add a flavor punch, but why nitpick when you are offered three little burgers of excellent caliber, each of which probably outweighs a single McDonald burger. Add a breezily friendly waitress and a decent cup of coffee, and Club LT could make its own place in diner history.
THE UNSPOKEN PRICE --
For years I have been complaining about restaurants where waiters don't tell you the prices when they recite the specials, and recently many restaurants have begun to do so. Some still complain that it is undignified to mention prices. However, the most expensive restaurant in New York, The Quilted Giraffe, has managed to find a way around it. The menu is fixed-price, but a couple of dishes such as the Beggar's Purses and foie gras have a supplemental charge. So when the waiter recites the specials he says something like, "with the same supplemental charge as the foie gras." No Victorian lady ever went to greater lengths to circumlocute such delicate issues.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING --
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the January/February advertising supplement by Museum & Arts magazine. Often advertising supplements look and read like normal editorial copy, with a tiny "Advertising" designation at the bottom. This culinary arts supplement, however, came right out front and headed its "Favorite Menus" sections as "Recommendations from our Advertisers."
GARCON, YOUR BEST TABLE --
A reader sent a saying from his "Quote of the Day" calendar which I consider sage advice: "In a restaurant, choose a table near a waiter."