Seize the Space 

With more elbow room and less bar hum, Cafe Diem is a new reason to head to the "Devil's Triangle."

The bar scene is alive and well at Cafe Diem, judging by the two-dozen-or-so denizens who were playing the mating game on a recent convivial Saturday night. But another dozen sat in the large booths behind the bar for the more immediate gratification of food.

The dining area is rather basic but comfortable, the most obvious feature a color scheme that suggests the Miami Dolphins or perhaps an episode of Don Johnson's "Miami Vice," but the booths are widely spaced, and unlike in many similar establishments, the noise factor doesn't interfere with conversation.

The straightforward offerings of the menu suggest Cafe Diem isn't aiming for the cutting edge or even to follow the trends, but to offer the tried and true, which is what most neighborhood eateries are all about in the first place. It's food for fuel rather than food to savor, running the gamut from nachos and cheeseburgers to a Cafe Diem chateaubriand.

To go with drinks or to start a meal, you can choose from nachos exalted by crab and crayfish ($9.50), and several other seafood starters including coconut shrimp or oysters Rockefeller, spicy wings, or baked brie ($4.50 - $9.50). I have a very short list of fried foods that I enjoy, oysters being one of them. As is so often the case, the batter won here, leaving not much room for the oysters to let their briny goodness have a voice — crisp and hot though, with a routine cocktail sauce on the side.

Lots of dishes bear the name "Diem" here, another way of saying "du jour," I suppose. A salad so named was, at least on a Saturday, Greek, with feta, olives and onion to prove its pedigree ($6.50). Other salads and soups range from $3 to $8.50.

Those who want a more casual meal will find a half-dozen sandwiches to choose from ($6.50 - $9.50), served with fries or a house salad.

Dinner entrees ($11.50 - $17.50) range from penne pasta with Gorgonzola sauce to a 10-ounce New York strip steak. Two crabcakes sitting atop a mound of rice with a melange of vegetables was adequate, if not special. Chateaubriand Diem comprises thin medallions of beef, which are cut from the large end of the tenderloin then sauteed and served with ubiquitous mashed potatoes and the melange of squash, peppers and onions. What was described as bearnaise sauce seemed to be a distractingly watery mayonnaise splashed over the potatoes. Other choices include a vegetarian selection, shrimp scampi with linguine, or Catch Diem (which we hope one day, for reasons not culinary, will be carp).

We chose warm apple cobbler with a couple of scoops of ice cream ($5) for a nice finish.

Cafe Diem is pleasant and the food adequate, a nice neighborhood upgrade in a couple of blocks known more in the past as a place to drink than to eat. S

Cafe Diem

600 N. Sheppard St. at Patterson Ave.

Dinner Tuesday - Saturday 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.

(or earlier, depending on crowd)

< br p>Sunday Brunch 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

< br >Live music Wednesdays



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