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Wasn't so sure what to expect going into Empire Diner last night. There hasn't been much talk since it opened a few weeks ago, but apparently the word is out. The place was packed at 7 o'clock, with waits being quoted at 45 minutes, and was spilling over by the time we left.
The space takes a moment to appreciate, as the main dining room still looks very much like a diner. I had to question if I'd be as charmed by it all had I been in some unnamed greasy spoon outside of Manhattan. Probably not, but with the anticipation of Amanda Freitag's interpretations on typically modest dishes, I was willing to suspend any doubt.
When dishes hit the table, any concern was immediately alleviated. The pork on pork, one of Amanda's signature dishes, was a thick chop with crumbled pancetta served over beans and kale and was every bit as good as her tv colleagues' at Del Posto and Butter. The lemon chicken with carrots and ricotta was moist, flavorful and bright in a way that roasted chicken rarely is. The Brussels sprouts with chili jam showed that there's every reason for their current popularity and that there's still the possibility to be reinvented. The menu is well priced and portions are generous, which left us with no room to try desserts. We'd very gladly return for a second attempt.
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