Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Le Diplomate - 14th Street NW, DC

Paris meets 14th Street?  Some aspects of the newly opened Le Diplomate, chef Stephen Starr’s first DC venture, could certainly fool you.  The chairs on the 14th street side that face the passing traffic, the blue and yellow tables on the patio with the “RICARD” across the top for the famous French liquor – which apparently is trying to make a comeback (Business Week - Ricard Comeback)  - I don’t know about you, but I’m ok with letting myself mentally escape to Paris for a few hours if I can’t be there for real.

Le Diplomate has been open for a couple months now and I’ve already managed to go twice, once for dinner and once for brunch.  I wasn’t disappointed at either.  I love the vibe, there’s sexy ambient lighting at night and during the day it’s bright and cheery with two full walls of windows and a garden room that opens to the patio.  Always packed, it’s best to plan ahead and put that OpenTable reservation in a few weeks ahead of time, otherwise expect at least an hour wait.

Main dining room
I had dinner there a few weeks ago.   I’m horrible at deciding on just one thing to eat, but thankfully one of my dining companions was willing to go splitsies (did I just say that? sorry!) on a few things.  First and foremost, don’t ignore the bread basket they bring you – its three different kinds of freshly made and very good bread including baguette, a rustic country bread and a cranberry-walnut variety.  Maybe it’s that mental escape I mentioned, but I swear even the butter is delicious…can anyone else who has been to Paris, or France in general, recall how amazing their butter is?  Salty and flavorful and so worth the calories.  Anyway, on to the rest – we went with the classics, gotta try them out on the first go-round, so onion soup, hanger steak and apple tartin it was!  Oh, and don’t forget the cheese plate for the table to start.  Delicious cheeses accompanied by apple slices, dried tart cherries, fig spread and some marcona almonds – can’t go wrong.  The soup was great, a definite close rival for my favorite onion soup in the city (thus far) at Bistro Bis.  The steak was a little tough, but still had great flavor.  Slightly charred crust, well seasoned and cooked as ordered – just wish it had been a little more tender.  By the way, another friend had the Norwegian Salmon and said it was really good – it certainly looked tasty, but alas, I didn’t try it.

The apple tarte tatin however, was perfect,  Sweet, slightly tart, baked to perfection so the apples were soft all the way through but still intact – mmm, I could have downed that on my own for sure, but probably definitely best that I didn’t!

Onward to brunch, which was this past weekend.  It’s always a struggle…eggs or French toast/eggs or pancakes/eggs or croque madame – hmm, well since eggs are at the forefront of all of those scenarios, that’s what I went with.  I make them at home all the time, but not like this – not with lots of that great butter, or with all of the yolks for that matter.  I had the gruyere omelet and I was not disappointed, it was salty and herby and cheesy and totally hit the spot.  Plus, that left my sweet tooth for actual dessert.  My friends and I split the fresh fruit tart, in this case raspberry with pistachio cream, and the chocolate hazelnut profiteroles.  Alright, if you like almond extract, you’ll like the tart, but I think it tastes like a fake flavoring so I took one bite and let out an immediate “Blech!”  The shortbread crust was rife with almond flavor, no thank you!  Come on, what about lemon?  Anyway, the profiteroles were more than enough to fulfill the sugar craving.  Even chilled, the dough was soft and delicate enough to cut through with just a fork and the cream was smooth with the perfect chocolate/nut balance.  Oh, and make sure to get their Mimosa Lorraine with peach and orange juice, yum.  Finally, if anyone gets the croque madame, I need to know how it is, I think that’s next!

All in all, I love this place so far.  Two great meals, excellent service and a fun atmosphere.  Unlike some places when they were new (ahem, Graffiato), Le Diplomate has your reserved table ready and waiting for you when you arrive, with your full party of course.  Well done.  (http://lediplomatedc.com/)