When the Diplomat, a small Greek restaurant in Bethesda, opened a few years back, it was warmly greeted by residents yearning for alternatives to the area's surplus of hamburger places.
The Diplomat met with quick success not only because it offered something different, but because its Mediterranean meals were good and surprisingly low-priced. One critic, in a burst of enthusiasm, even called it the Sans Souci of the suburbs.
My husband, children and I went to The Diplomat recently to see if it is still living up to its early reputation. Overall, it is. Most of the dishes are appealing and cost hikes have been conservative.
The Diplomat looks like a restaurant. That is, it has resisted the trend to look loke a Yorkshire pub, a hayloft or the Botanical Gardens. It is a nice, clean place with white cloths on the tables and a few reproductions on the walls. Emphasis is on eating, not atmosphere.
My husband and I each ordered full meals - appetizers, salads, entrees, dessert and coffee - for $5.45 each. The item called a "Greek appetizer" turned out to be a hot pepper, anchovy, tomato, stuffed grape leaf, Feta cheese and green pepper carefully lined up around a spoonful of dip on a small plate.
I made a mistake when I ordered just a cup, not a bowl or two, of Avgolemonon. Conceding that I like lemon on anything short of corn flakes, I still feel that ordering this smooth, tangy egg-lemon soup should be compulsory.
One of the girls got lobster bisque, (85 cents), but she didn't fare as well with this soup. It was too thick and the lobster flavor was indistinguishable.
The praises of The Diplomat's mussaka have been loudly sung for years, so it was a tough choice between that and the Spanakopita. I decided on the latter and was well rewarded. This dish includes spinach, eggs, onions and cheese wrapped in miraculously thin pastry and lightly browned in the oven. It is served with rice pilaf.
Kotakebob, a shish kabob made with marinated chicken instead of beef or lamb, was my husband's choice. As he unskewered the last chunks of vegetables and meat, he was muttering about "trying it out on the grill" at home, a statement The Diplomat is free to take as a compliment.
Our children preferred to stay with the American meats. One had chopped sirloin ($2.25) with a baked potato, from the children's menu. The portion was immense. The other child had London broil in a mushroom sauce ($3.95) served with a rice pilaf.
We all had salads that were hunks of iceberg lettuce. The cheese dressing was fine but the house dressing, on oil and vinegar mixture, was overpowered by oregano.
The disappointment was overcome by the baklava, which was superb. This popular pastry was the best we've had anywhere recently - it oozed honey and the nuts were chunky instead of ground to powder. Other desserts include cheese cake, rice pudding and cream caramel. They cost between 80 cents and $1.
The Diplomat offers six specialities for $4.95. These include roast leg of lamb, scallopine alla marsala, shrimp santorini (shrimp baked with a special sauce and Feta cheese), veal-spinach-mushroom pie, chicken and vegetable pie and a lamb casserole. Most of these are served on Friday and Saturday nights only.
Several wines are available. We had a very satisfying domestic Greek white wine - a half bottle was $3.25.
Our total bill with tip came to $28.96. Credit cards accepted. Luncheon, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Dinner 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Reservations advised on weekends. Persons in wheelchairs can be accommodated.