Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle
After months of circling it, and fresh off a Book of Mormon performance at the Kennedy Center, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I, along with Official Friends of DCWD Flo and Burgh squeezed ourselves into four seats at the bar at 14th Street hotspot Le Diplomate.
Le Diplomate is the first D.C. outpost by Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, and takes over for the former eyesore of a laundry building on the corner of 14th and Q. In its place is a gorgeous renovation, a full-commitment recreation of a bustling Parisian brasserie and/or a carbon copy of his successful restaurant Parc. I have a particular affection for restaurants that offer a variety of seating options, and Le Diplomate offers just that: a thin row of outdoor seating along 14th Street, with a much larger patio on Q Street; a sun-room style wing bathed in emerald green tiling and an equally vibrant tiled floor; a bustling bar area that arcs off the vertex of the restaurant; and the main dining area, a wood-paneled traditional cafe-style room replete with faux aged beige ceiling trim, marble tops, globe lights, and French paraphernalia. One thing you can't say is that they didn't go all the way.
A round of cocktails was ordered: mine a Pompidou (Bulleit bourbon, creme de cacao, and a coldbrew punt e mes), Texas's a gin cocktail with St. Germain and cherries. Neither was a knockout, but both were sharp.
To start, the table shared two appetizers: tuna carpaccio, and escargots in hazelnut butter. In what is quickly going to become a theme of this write-up, there's probably three as much tradition hanging around this menu as there is innovation. Each was pretty par-for-the-course as far as preparation went, the carpaccio topped with sea salt and chives and a thin layer of olive oil, tender and flavorful. The escargot were few and far between, and the hazelnut flavor was a little muted relative to the butter portion (though again, I suppose that's to be expected), but still quite nice.
The second round of food was perhaps more superlative, though faded a bit more with each bite than we would have liked. My duck breast, roasted with hints of lavender and honey and complemented by bits of artichoke, fennel, and almonds, was very good, but was perhaps a bit chewy on the tenderness spectrum; other duck breasts have melted in my mouth more convincingly than this one, and this one took a bit more heft to tear into than I would have liked. Texas's skate grenobloise, topped with capers and drizzled with lemon and a beurre noisette, was also a wonderful presentation, though a shade heavy on the salt. Flo and Burgh's country duck terrine hewed closest to tradition, fatty and packed with flavor.
A dessert round of Le Diplomate's version of a chocolate mousse/napoleon and a creme brulee yielded similar results: flavors that were consistent and could have rolled right out of any Parisian patisserie's.
A very good brasserie bite, a wonderful experience, but perhaps not as on point and as amazing as its expectations portended.
Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: A dinner this classy deserves to be nightcapped with some drinks at the rooftop of the Donovan House, especially before the pool closes for the summer.