Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I had a less than stellar dinner at Le Diplomate last week.
Three of us stopped in for drinks and dinner (I wonder how often that happens, see later in this post for why I ask), sitting at the bar and ordering cocktails and “snacks” (ha ha). One friend ordered a couple bottles of Kronenbourg; the other, a Negroni ($10), making a prune face upon first sip (yet, she ordered two more); I started my post-traumatic parking recovery with a glass of 2012 L’Estadon Côtes de Provence Rosé ($10).
I was super content to nosh on Le Diplomate’s world-beating bread-and-butter, with a basket of crusty sourdough white, sourdough wheat, and cranberry-nut bread to go along with their ramekin of incredible salty-creamy butter. I’ve always said that a great tomato salad, picked at the height of tomato season, and simply sliced, dressed with sea salt and olive oil, is one of the greatest individual food items in the world; and so it is with great bread and butter. There are better bread baskets in this town, but not many, and the ones that are, tend to be more elaborate, sometimes charging for them, at least for the second basket; not here. I’m sure they get annoyed when people stuff themselves silly on their wonderful bread, but it’s hard not to do. This is wonderful bread and butter.
My friends were in a free-wheeling mood, and wanted some shellfish. A Dozen Oysters ($34/dozen: 6 large Atlantics; 6 deep Pacifics), and a Half-Dozen Littleneck Clams ($10) – they went to town, while I took one clam, one oyster, sipped my wine, ate my bread, and was happy as a, well, clam.
When we ordered dinner, I strongly advised my friends to put the brakes on the individual drinks, and go with a bottle of wine. A 2011 Laurent Martray Brouilly “Cuvée Vielles Vignes” ($35), a cru Beaujolais, had none of the green stalkiness certain bottlings of 2011 Beaujolais are showing right now (see my donrockwell.com post under Béarnaise for details), but came across as somewhat chaptalized and acidified. Pleasant enough, and the price was fine – it got us through the rest of the meal, which was comprised of small plates – but there is much better Beaujolais to be had than this.
My prune-faced friend, upon the first bite of the Gazpacho ($9) with tomato, cucumbers, and croutons, said, “This tastes homemade.”
“Great!” I replied.
“No,” she added. “Like you made it at home. And threw some vegetables in a food processor.” And she was right – it was chunky, granular, and bland.
Escargots ($14) was right at the price where you weren’t sure if they were frozen or not. Although these were served in shells – a beautiful, dramatic presentation – unfortunately, they weren’t the shells in which the snails were born; they were just empty shells, purchased separately, and used as a serving vessel. The snails were inserted along with parsley and butter, and honestly, I couldn’t tell if they were frozen or not (frozen is not necessarily bad, and you can still have frozen, but wild-caught, escargots). Something tells me these weren’t crawling around in the flower boxes earlier in the day (*).
Like last time, the Radish Crudité ($6.50) with sea salt and butter was a table favorite for its simplicity. The radishes weren’t quite as good this time – they tended to “bend” more than “snap” – but it’s very hard not to like this dish, especially as a palate cleanser.
Country Duck Terrine ($13) was the dish of the night, and made us realize that, other than the escargots, this was the only animal protein we had in the main courses. We ordered several dishes, but kept things toward the healthy, vegetable-skewed side (he says, after downing about four pieces of bread and butter). Although this is pricey at $13, we all felt it was money well-spent.
Pommes Frites ($8), okay, not healthy, but vegetable-skewed, came in a paper cone, and had been salted to death. And I mean these were the saltiest pommes frites I can ever remember having. In all seriousness, we used them to salt the duck terrine which was slightly under-salted, so the two together in the same bite were just about right in terms of salinity (that’s one of those words that make you sound like an intelligent critic).
My “home made gazpacho” friend picked up the tab, and let out a shriek when the check arrived. With all of our nibbling and sipping, the total, with tax and tip, came out to about $250. This is very easy to do here if you come for happy hour and end up eating and drinking a bit more than you had planned. This time around, I was somewhat disappointed in Le Diplomate – while it remains strongly in Italic in the Dining Guide, I can no longer keep it at the top of the heap in 14UP – there’s just too much competition. The problem? Now, I’m not quite sure what is. How can you say Cork is better than Etto is better than Doi Moi is better than Kapnos is better than Estadio, unless you’ve been to each ten times? The simple, and inconvenient, truth, is that you can’t – there could be any of seven restaurants on a given day that might be “the best” – but that’s not going to stop me from trying.
I suspect Le Diplomate – now that it’s gotten past review season – is settling into being a good, reliable, but unspectacular, all-day, multi-purpose brasserie. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and as long as the bread is this good (and believe me, it is quite good), and I can get a decent bottle of wine in the $30s? They have a friend in me.
(*) Poivrot Farci’s fascinating addendum about snails and other gastropods here (well worth reading).