Is this really the only thread we have for Le Diplomate? (Well, it’s still relevant – they are trying to hire (get this) a total of FORTY servers.)
As I approached Le Diplomate from the south, two things struck me: 1) It is much more casual and unassuming from the outside than I expected from a Starr restaurant, and 2) Once you’re inside, you realize that it’s much larger than you thought it was going to be. The corner space is extremely deceiving, and there is outdoor seating both on 14th and Q Streets. Another first impression I got when I walked in is, “My goodness, there are a lot of people working in here.”
Do not let the aura of energy emitted by the staff fool you: they are exhausted from this opening, and if you go there, you’ll see why – despite its size, the place gets packed. For example, they just started weekend brunch last weekend, and it’s already fully booked. That is amazing, and speaks volumes for this community. Plans are in the works for an all-day brasserie which even includes breakfast – a neighborhood place where you can stop in anytime, open a book (when it’s not full!), and hang out. Other than Cork, this is the first restaurant to make me wish I lived in 14UP (well, okay, maybe ChurchKey too).
After taking a lap, I almost literally bumped into Celia Laurent-Ziebold, former GM of Sou’Wester, and one of the opening managers at Le Diplomate. Celia is one of my best friends, and she advised me to take a seat quickly because it was going to get full. I pulled up a stool at the communal partition in the bar area, and started to peruse the menus, and the French comic book she brought me to keep me entertained.
Almost $7 million went into designing this restaurant, and it shows – I read an article today that said the wooden floors were made to creak on purpose. That may sound pretentious, but pretense will be the furthest thing from your mind when you come here – Le Diplomate is as comfortable as a silk robe in springtime. They really knocked the design out of the park, especially in making the corner space work so well to everyone’s advantage.
While I browsed the menus, I enjoyed a large pour of NV Marquis de la Tour “Vin Mousseux” Brut ($9) from the Loire Valley. No, it’s not champagne, but unlike a lot of sparkling whites, this had character of its own that made it worth drinking, then ordering a second, and then a third, glass. This can’t retail for much more than $15 a bottle, and I’m going to go on a hunt for it, and use it as a house sparkler for awhile.
Celia recommended several small plates, one of which was the Steak Tartare de Parc ($15.50), a hand-chopped cylinder of filet, served with capers, a quail egg, small side salad, and crunchy slices of baguette. This was a fine steak tartare, and I didn’t realize that the slight zing I was tasting was due to bit a red chili sauce (tabasco-like) that I noticed had left a reddish complexion on the white plate. For me, there was no need to even touch the crispy bread (which I tend not to love in general) because Le Diplomate has its own bakery, and offers a wonderful bread basket with three types of bread, including the best baguette you’ll find on 14th Street.
I shunned Celia’s recommendation of the pommes-frites, and went instead with the Radish Crudité ($6.50) which lent the crunch needed to accompany the mushy texture of the tartare. I adore sliced radishes with sea-salt and butter, and that’s all this was, and all that I needed it to be.
For my final course, I stayed with another small plate, and ordered the Mushroom Tart ($11.50), a quartered circle of pioppini mushrooms and truffled pecorino. As beautiful as this looked, there was a heaviness to it that I didn’t care for. In particular, the crust had a shortbread-like aspect that (literally) weighed the dish down, and detracted from the toppings – you’d think that pioppini mushrooms and truffled pecorino could stand up to a heavier crust, but I think it will need to either lighten up, or become thinner, for this dish to survive the summer. I had met three charming gentlemen as I was dining, and shared this tart with them – one of them described the crust as being “pot-pie like,” and that’s exactly the texture it had (the difference being that a chicken pot pie soaks and moistens the crust; here, it remained dry and crumbly). I liked this dish well enough, but there’s way, way too much else on this menu to try for me to order it again anytime soon.
Thank you to the magnanimous GM Patrick Desotelle, who came and introduced himself, and also to Steve Uhr, who was previously at Bandolero. I suspect that over the course of the next few years, I will see many, many people here that I recognize from other restaurants. Le Diplomate is a goldmine, both for the owners, and also for the residents of 14UP.
Initialized in Italic in the Dining Guide.