Diane's in Silver City continues to live up to its reputation.
Almost since it opened in 1996, Diane's Restaurant & Bakery has been an exemplar of how Silver City differs from other small Southwestern towns. We have art galleries, coffeeshops — and Diane's. It has won raves from the New York Times and Fodor's, and whenever locals start recommending places to eat, Diane's inevitably makes the list.
With the restaurant branching out into the new Diane's Deli & Bakery (see below), it seemed like a good time to check in on the original. Is it still one of the best places to eat in town — indeed, in the whole region?
Walking into Diane's pleasant but unprepossessing space on Bullard Street, nothing suggests you're entering a culinary mecca. The space was a former storefront until Diane Holloway — a single mom and out-of-work pastry chef — used a $5,000 WESST Corp. microloan to cobble together a restaurant, "cooking for customers with a scavenged pizza oven and serving them on a half-dozen mismatched tables," as the Times described Diane's rough beginnings. Today the tables match and indoor awnings give a vague feel of a French sidewalk cafe, accentuated by the arty addition of Diana Ingalls-Leyba paintings on the walls. But ritzy it ain't — some customers don't even remove their cowboy hats.
Ritzy-ness starts, instead, with the menu choices. Any notion that this is a typical small-town eatery vanishes with the appetizers, which include "1 lb. of steamed clams or New Zealand blue-lipped mussels" and "Salt & Pepper seared Ahi tuna served with seasoned sushi rice balls, wasabi & soy sauce" (each $9). We sampled the jalapeno-cilantro crab cakes — three perfectly browned, coaster-sized cakes adorned with greens and mango dipping sauce — which were light on the jalapeno but also, thankfully, on the cilantro ($9). And we tried the spanokopita, which was delightfully spinach-y rather than merely cheesey-gooey ($5). Paired with a salad, either would make a meal in itself, and indeed the spanokopita is served as an entree at lunch.
Speaking of salads, the Shrimp Louie, Sunsational (spring greens and spinach topped with apples, dates and walnuts, with bleu cheese cider vinaigrette) and Caesar all come in meal-sized or side-salad portions ($3-$7). The Entree Salad, loaded with cheeses, fruit and veggies ($11) can be further enhanced with grilled chicken breast for $3 more.
Regular entrees, ranging from $12 for the Gourmet Burger to $26 for a full rack of Asian-style pork ribs, come with a salad or soup. (We can't resist Diane's signature creamy tomato soup with garlic croutons, even though we know it'll fill us up.) We were intrigued by the Seafood Thai Coconut Curry ($18) and the Roasted Duck ($24), also an Asian-inspired preparation. We know Diane's pasta prowess from the irresistible Green Chile Alfredo on the lunch menu, so we pondered the Shrimp Linguini ($19), Crab Fra Diavolo ($19) and Cioppino, served over linguini ($19). One of us wound up with the fresh pesto over orecchiete pasta, topped with grilled chicken ($17) — big pesto flavor without tasting too "green," and enough to take a box home for lunch the next day.
Every evening brings a different filet mignon preparation and a fish dish (both market price). The filet involved crab and a dreamy-sounding sauce, while the fish was black cod. But we resolved to test Diane's renowned hand with steak, ordering the 14-ounce ribeye with roasted garlic mashers ($22). Even though the steak was a tad beyond our requested medium, it was tender — and divinely decadent with the accompanying roasted-poblano creme fraiche. As we knew we would after that soup, we had half a steak to take home.
All of which meant we were too stuffed for the best part of Diane's dining experience, her fabulous pastry cart. But our waistlines were already all too familiar, from other recent experience, with Diane's addictive chocolate brownies, her airy-light cakes and the other creations you can ogle in the pastry counter that greets you at the entry.
Often overlooked in this caloric frenzy is Diane's varied wine list, which offers choices by the glass mostly in the $5 to $9 range and bottles from about $15 to $45. We're not talking Wine Spectator here, but you'll have no trouble finding something good to sip with your meal.
Holloway takes special pride in her staff (shown in the photograph here), whom she mentors and in whom she instills a friendly professionalism. As they serve Diane's fresh, inventive dishes, the staff will make you subtly aware you are indeed enjoying a big-city-caliber dining experience — without the least bit of snootiness to detract from the fact that you are, nonetheless, in small-town New Mexico. — David A. Fryxell
Diane's Restaurant & Bakery, 510 N. Bullard, Silver City, 538-8722. Lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, 11a.m.- 2 p.m.; brunch, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30- 9 p.m. Major credit cards accepted.