Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Greco-modern, relaxed.
Price range: Main courses at dinner range from $4.50 to $9.50; children's portions available.
Reservations: Recommended weekends or with groups of five or more.
Credit cards: American Express, BankAmericard, Central Charge, MasterCard, Visa.
Special facilities: Wheelchair access; booster chairs and highchairs; ample parking in the evening on street and behind cafe.
We often find ourselves going to Greek restaurants, particularly when we take our daughters along, because the prices usually are reasonable, the atmosphere pleasant, and the food different -- but not too different. We decided to give the Diplomat a try when we heard that it offered all the usual enticements plus children's specials.
The Diplomat is indeed a pretty restaurant -- much nicer than most Greek restaurants. It's probably a little fancier than it should be, however: the decor raises your expectations too high.
Tables placed far apart, mirrors along one long wall, and a skylight overhead add to a feeling of spaciousness in an oddly shaped room with nooks and crannies made festive by such touches as a tall tree aglitter with tiny lights. Some elements of the decor don't work as well as others -- the Tiffany-style lamps probably would be out of place on a Greek island -- but, physically, the Diplomat sets you up for a nice evening.
The service was warm and helpful -- to the point of bossiness. Because we can never get enough taramosalata, we ordered a full serving of the carp roe spread ($2.50) and were glad we did. We got a liquidy smooth and tasty version that went down very nicely -- not on pita bread, which the restaurant doesn't carry, but on slightly stale French bread.
Knowing how much we can tuck away on a hungry evening, we also ordered the cold Greek appetizer plate ($3.75), but our waitress wouldn't even write that one down. "It will be too much, all that," she insisted, and we took her word for it.
When it came time to order the main course, our 10-year-old said she would like a children's portion of spanakopita, or Greek spinach pie.
"That would not be enough," the waitress pronounced, "-- only enough for an appetizer," so we ordered the adult-size portion for $6.25. It was too large, and too spinachy. The avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup that had preceded it ($1.25 a cup) was not lemony enough.
"The stuffed flounder ($7.95) is one of our best specialties, really good," our waitress encouraged us, so we ordered it, despite mixed feelings about stuffing such a mild-tasting fish with spinach, feta, mushrooms, herbs and mornay sauce.
It was dreadful, not so much because of the main ingredients, but because a heavy hand with the herbs gave the fish a flowery taste. We gave up after two bites of that one, and shared the exochikon ($7.45), on which the waitress offered no opinion, which proved very good. The same spinach, feta, mushrooms and herbs that had flopped in the fish tasted very nice mixed with veal and baked in a crust.
Two small Greek salads at $1 each, fairly standard but nicely priced, helped fill the gap left by the uneaten fish.
Skeptical by now, we decided to share an order of baklava ($1.50) for dessert. Moist with honey, the pastry was full of nuts and yummy enough that we would have ordered more if the waitress had not by this time noticed us jotting prices down and told us, "I don't think that's allowed. It's like taking the recipe."
If the Diplomat's prices were a bit lower we might have overlooked the weak spots on the menu and the misguided efforts of the waitress who served us. At $40 for the three of us, tips and a half carafe of house wine included, we felt more than a little resentful at having been steered away from our usual practice in Greek restaurants of ordering heavily from the appetizer menu, which is usually reliable and in this case could have included a melted salty cheese dish called saganaki, and ordering lightly from the entree part of the menu, which is rarely worth stiff prices.
Had we followed our usual practice at the Diplomat, where the decor is clearly more successful than the food, we would have spent less and had a more pleasant evening.