Tucked away inside the renowned Bel Age Hotel, Diaghliev was named for Russian impresario Serge Pavolitch, who founded Ballet Russe in 1909. It recalls the rich and glamorous days of Europe at the turn of the century, when the Russian aristocracy flocked to Paris for uncompromising luxury and elegant Franco-Russian cuisine.
These were the people who knew the importance of heavy silver and fine crystal, who could appreciate the salty burst of fine caviar and felt the necessity to dine among formal gilt-framed paintings, dazzling floral displays and artful lighting that made everyone look interesting and rich.
The Diaghliev has succeeded in recapturing the glory of those days. Entering the room, you will feel a hint of intoxication from the soothing sounds of acclaimed Russian pianist Natalya Koren along with harpist Margarita Maslennikova from the Bolshovik Theater in Moscow. Together their melodious sounds will serenade you all evening long. And as you sink into plush, velvet tapestry brocade love seats soaking up the warmth and intimacy of this lovely room, you know you are in one of the most sumptuous dining rooms in the city.
Everything about the seductive setting spells romance, from the formal tables adorned with long stemmed roses that bloom so gracefully from crystal bud vases to the soft pearl-gray hues that soothe the soul and create a timeless quality of pleasure. And while the tariff is by no means inexpensive, you can't help but feel you'd gladly give up two dinners in a lesser restaurant for the pleasure of dining here just once.
We were no sooner seated than two Cossack-shirted waiters descended on our table. With silver thongs in hand we were offered wonderful crusty black Russian walnut and sun dried tomato breads. A second waiter quickly set five iced-crystal decanters of infused vodkas on our table - a Diaghliev trademark - lime, strawberry, vanilla, orange and peppercorn. Still others appeared, watchful, attentive to our every need, gliding almost silently through their duties, their superb service synchronized by award-winning maitre d' Dimitri Dimitrov who knows all too well the essentials of delivering "perfect service." In fact at the Diaghliev everything to do with the pleasures of the table is capably in the hands of this city's highest regarded maitre d'. And like the quiet beauty of the setting, Dimitri's gentle sincere manner is especially refreshing.
To begin in the proper vein, you might try the soul-stirring borscht made with short ribs. An alternative would be the cold yellow-beet borscht with a splash of lemon. Duck foie gras beautifully fanned on a plate and a warm lobster salad were along the appetizer specials that evening. But better yet, you might want to pass it by to sample the traditional Zakuski, a tasty sampler platter of many Russian favorites; among them cabbage rolls set in a pool of deep red tomato coulis, Pelmieny, delicate ravioli-like dumplings surrounding a filling of sumptuous veal and duck in a saffron light emulsion, a traditional potato salad, a perky endive salad and smoked Norwegian salmon. Entree specialties include a tender Chicken Kiev sliced and stuffed with morels and truffles dressed in a light port wine sauce, Kulibiaka, the renowned Russian salmon, wrapped in a light pastry with sturgeon mousse, tender duck breast in a light honey calvados jus, filet mignon with green peppercorn and Armenian brandy, and braised veal chop with cepes mushrooms and raspberry vinegar sauce. And all the sophisticated Franco-Russian flavors are tempered for the California palate.
While luxuriating in the delicious afterglow, expect your senses to be awakened once again with some marvelous dessert choices. But remember to save room for the traditional Russian Pashka, a dessert that was as much savored in the era commemorated as it is here today at the Diaghliev.
Tel: (310) 358-7780.
Open for lunch and dinner.
Dinner for two $125-$200.
Carole Valentine, December 1999