It's still strange to see the chrome, 1950s-style diner empty and in disarray. Since 1983, the vintage box on Biscayne Boulevard looked from the outside like it offered little more than burgers and shakes. But inside Gourmet Diner, a meal could begin with a half-dozen tender escargots roasted in fragrant garlic butter ($7.95) or poached asparagus with a hefty vinaigrette for dipping ($8.95).
Then it was gone. Perhaps things had been slowly spiraling out of control. A health inspector ordered the place briefly closed in late 2013 after finding live roaches in the kitchen and prep areas. In May 2014, the restaurant moved about a mile north and reopened as Petit Gourmet Diner (15975 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-947-2255).
The new location, tucked into a Biscayne Boulevard strip mall, is hardly as conspicuous as the original. Still, the menu is almost unchanged. It continues to offer the classic French bill of fare, with options like trout meunière ($18.95) alongside more continental choices such as pork chops ($16.95) and snapper Francese ($19.95). The lunch crowd packs in for more bistro- and spa-like items such as salad topped with skewers of grilled shrimp, and churrasco alongside a mound of white rice.
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The half roast duck ($19.99) hints at why the diner sticks with safe options. The bird's lower quarter was roasted into near oblivion. It was all but impossible to pull the skin off the thigh, and whatever meat remained was in chalky threads. Things got better higher up, but mostly because the rich, fatty skin cloaking the breast helped return some of the lost moisture.
Whether you opt for the duck or something else, be sure you request the vegetable soufflé, even if there's little hint of any greens. The dish won New Times' Best Soufflé in 2014, and for good reason. The rich, eggy concoction offers all the warmth of the finest quiche Lorraine without any of the requisite heaviness.
Now the kitchen just needs to get the rest of the menu up to par.