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Unconventional Diner -- Chef David DeShaies, Formerly of Central, Takes on Elevated Diner Food at the Convention Center

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My girlfriend, friend and I checked out Unconventional Diner last Friday.  They plan on serving breakfast and lunch soon, but for now are just serving dinner.  The space itself was modern looking and bright--not "cozy" but more "clean" and "trendy".   At 6:30, the place was only half-full (more on that later), but it filled up by the time we left.  We were seated near the semi-open kitchen.

The cocktail menu was okay.  Like a lot of places, it leans toward the sweeter side, which is not my favorite taste.  I don't remember which drink I ended up ordering, but it was good and fairly priced.

As for starters, we ordered the following:

  • chicken pot pie poppers -- the kitchen seemed to be churning these out.  Think rillettes, but with chicken pot pie ingredients.  Fun presentation and tasty (though not incredible).
  • everything lox -- this is basically a deconstructed everything bagel with cream cheese and lox, which is one of my favorite foods.  Unsurprisingly, I liked this a lot.  The lox was tasty and a good portion, and I enjoyed the bagel bites that it came with.  Chef Deshaies, who was expediting not too far from us, noticed us looking around for a serving spoon after this was dropped at our table and had a waiter grab one for us, without us having to ask.  Then, he noticed us still having a bit of trouble serving it, he grabbed us another spoon himself to make it easier for us.  We were impressed by his ability to do so many things at once. 
  • wheat berry & butternut squash salad -- none of us cared much for this.  its dressing was too close to mayo.

For entrees, I ordered the crab linguini with squid ink pasta in and crab bisque.  This was decadent, with a good portion of crab and well-cooked pasta.  My friend ordered the steak and eggs, medium rare, with chimichurri and sunny side up eggs.  This was beautifully presented on a large plate (picture from the restaurant's website below) and tasted as good as it looks.  My girlfriend ordered the fried chicken, which was a half-bird that came with a biscuit, gravy, cole slaw and homemade hot sauce.  Even though it was only a half-chicken, this was a TON of food because the breading makes it look bigger.  We loved this as well. 

Our only complaint was that the food came out too fast.  We had all our appetizers within 10 minutes of ordering, and our entrees not too long after that.  Next time, i'll ask them to pace it better.  The GM and chef came to our table to ask how everything was during our meal, which was nice.

On another note, I worry about how this place will do long term.  I think many people will go thinking it's diner food at diner prices, which it is definitely not.  Those looking for higher-end food probably are not interested in elevated diner food.  Those interested in diner food don't want to pay $25+ an entrée for it.  I hope they find an audience, because the food is good and Chef Deshaies is clearly quite a talent.

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On 1/22/2018 at 11:59 AM, funkyfood said:

On another note, I worry about how this place will do long term.  I think many people will go thinking it's diner food at diner prices, which it is definitely not. 

Anyone that goes into a place that's called "Unconventional Diner" thinking that it's normal diner food deserves whatever they get.

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On 1/23/2018 at 12:31 PM, mtureck said:

Anyone that goes into a place that's called "Unconventional Diner" thinking that it's normal diner food deserves whatever they get.

First of all, I disagree and think the name is a bit misleading.  "Unconventional" could mean anything.  If I told you to describe to me an "Unconventional Diner", would you describe this restaurant every time?  I think an honest answer would be "no".

Second of all, they may "deserve whatever they get" but that will be cold comfort to the restaurant's bottom line.

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On 1/23/2018 at 12:46 PM, funkyfood said:

First of all, I disagree and think the name is a bit misleading.  "Unconventional" could mean anything.  If I told you to describe to me an "Unconventional Diner", would you describe this restaurant every time?  I think an honest answer would be "no".

Second of all, they may "deserve whatever they get" but that will be cold comfort to the restaurant's bottom line.

I'm pretty sure the name is a play on the words "Convention Center"

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They're open for brunch now.  Met some friends Sunday to give it a try.  The place was busy at 12:30 and a few folks without reservations were given an approximate time to come back plus texting notification, but there wasn't a line out the door, and there was still some room at the bar for singles & pairs if they didn't want wait on a table.

About 8-10 craft cocktails in the $12-$16 range, and among us we tried 4 of them.  They were all riffs on classic cocktails but with fancy names to match their fancy prices-- but basically a spicy Margarita, Bee's Knees, Gin Rickey, and I don't know what the last one was supposed to be, but it was very bitter, as if it was made from the pith of a lemon rather than using lemon rind to flavor it.  That one was ignored and another Bee was ordered.  Other than the clunker, the drinks were tasty and balanced and not too sweet.

Entrees ranged in the $14-$18 area.  Two of the group ordered the pancakes with a side of bacon, and the pancakes came with a berry compote topping, whipped butter and a crumble.  One person didn't finish, although it was a big plate of food, but mentioned it was like eating a double helping of dessert.  Another got the posole, a very homey looking liquid-y stew with a quarter of an avocado floating in it as a garnish.  It smelled wonderful and my friend finished every last bit and claimed it was perfectly paired with his spicy Margarita.  I got the lamb merguez and grits.  The grits were extremely tender and buttery, almost fluffy, and a huge portion.  Came with about a tablespoon of foamy spiced mayo (toum?) and garnished with pickled radish and with a runny fried egg on top.  The grits were so creamy that they tamped down any spice heat of the sausage.  It was tasty but I would reduce the grits by about a third to a half .  It was all served in one bowl, so it wasn't really possible to just avoid them.  That, or  the kitchen needs to find a spicier merguez to stand up to them.

Overall, it's a fun, buzz-y place -- pretty hard to hear if you're in the middle of the room, but easier on the edges -- and the food was cooked properly, and large portions.  It's too far away for me to hurry back. 

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@eatruneat and I decided last minute to go out for dinner and were hoping to try a new place that we could walk in to.  We decided to see if we could get a table at Unconventional Diner thinking we could always go to the bar at Corduroy for their wonderful 3-for-$30 deal if the wait was too long.  We walked in and were greeted by the nice hostess who informed us it would be about 20 minutes for a table and that we could wait at the bar.  We headed over to the bar and after waiting on one of the bartenders to finish his pontification of the state of craft beer brewing in the US we were able to order glasses of wine from their nice selection.  Not long after we received a text saying our table was ready, so we settled up at the bar and sat down at our table.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

After waiting what seemed like a long time our waiter appeared out of nowhere and dropped off the menus.  He then dashed off to another table where he proceeded to talk their ears off and then scurried back to our table to see if we were ready to order.  Barely having enough time to go over the menu we said we needed a few more minutes, which caused him to start rambling on about what things on the menu were his favorites and then disappeared again to another table.  He reappeared at our table, wrote down our order at a feverish pace and bolted for the terminal to put in our order. 

Soon after we received the our order of shiitake spring rolls appeared along with the waiter and his inquiries of how the food was.  Since we hadn't had a chance to sample anything I said 'great'.  The waiter smiled and took off.  The spring rolls actually were great and @eatruneat's favorite dish of the evening.  Next came the iceberg salad which has a wonderfully savory bacon jam and the Everything Lox, my favorite, and a little reminiscent of getting bagels and lox in NYC. While waiting on the next I remarked to @eatruneat that the waiter seemed like his was bouncing between tables like a high velocity pinball considering he only had a booth, a four-top, and our two-top in his section. He appeared again, refilled our water and then took off to do the same for his other tables. After our three appetizers, we were pretty full, but ventured on as our next two items then arrived at the table: stir fried okra and broccolini and the meatloaf.  The okra and broccolini were cooked well and had nice heat to them, but the sauce was overwhelming and the dish had way more rice than the description alludes to. The meatloaf had a sriracha glaze that could have used more sriracha. The morel gravy that was served with the mashed potatoes was great. We ended up packing most of this dish to go, but looking back, I'm unsure if it was worth the $25 price tag.  

The waiter then appeared out of nowhere again and asked if we were done.  We said we were and he scrambled to get our check as fast as he could. I gave him my card and he darted for the terminal once more.  Returning our check, he thanked us for dining with them and sped off to one of his other tables.  In all, the food was good and the service was okay. Not our favorite place in the neighborhood, so we are unlikely to go back unless we can't get a seat elsewhere.

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It's a really great place for lunch. Not crowded and quiet, the food comes quickly. The lunch menu has so  many good things on it. 

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Had a truly delicious meal here a couple weeks ago, and the best service I've had in years (I told the waitress that and she was so glad to hear it - new in town - she was fantastic, anticipated every need, went out of her way, etc.).

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Also, I forgot to mention that the coconut "pie" cake was the best coconut dessert I've had in ages. The hazelnut crust was incredible. I will most definitely be going back, but especially for that cake (which apparently I could order directly from the pastry chef as an entire cake - may do that for my birthday).

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I ordered their chicken parm as takeout this week.  I think it was the best I've ever had.  Two incredibly crispy pieces that somehow seemed to have gooey cheese inside them.  It came with a side of standard plain spaghetti.  Expensive at $23, but wow

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41 minutes ago, funkyfood said:

I ordered their chicken parm as takeout this week.  I think it was the best I've ever had.  Two incredibly crispy pieces that somehow seemed to have gooey cheese inside them.  It came with a side of standard plain spaghetti.  Expensive at $23, but wow

OMG. Noted. I LOVE chicken parm.

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Went for dinner with my brothers this week. We all enjoyed it. I had the meatloaf - which was delicious. I had some of my brother's french fries and I liked those a lot. I had the Pot Pie Poppers and they were quite bland and boring. My one brother really enjoyed the Fish Sticks and their take on aioli/tartar sauce. Other brother liked the Mujaddara but found the falafel over fried and unappetizing. Service was very good.

Still there is a lot to explore on the menu and I'd be happy to head back and try more.

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3 hours ago, Pool Boy said:

Went for dinner with my brothers this week. We all enjoyed it. I had the meatloaf - which was delicious. I had some of my brother's french fries and I liked those a lot. I had the Pot Pie Poppers and they were quite bland and boring. My one brother really enjoyed the Fish Sticks and their take on aioli/tartar sauce. Other brother liked the Mujaddara but found the falafel over fried and unappetizing. Service was very good.

Still there is a lot to explore on the menu and I'd be happy to head back and try more.

I had dinner there last week. I loved the gougonettes (fish sticks). The poppers were a take on a Michel Richard standard : Cromesquis. Originally filled with duck broth and foie gras, I thought they were fun. The chicken parm was outrageously good, but I couldn't finish it. Go for lunch. Its much quieter. The meatloaf sandwich is great. 

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