(For the Sep 20, 2013 Review, click here.)
One thing you have to say about Le Diplomate is that it’s often open. Not only is Le Diplomate often open, it’s also often expensive – deceptively so, but in fairness, no more so than any of the other higher-end restaurant that have sprouted in 14UP over the years.
The bread, ah, the bread – it’s so good, so authentically good, and so’s the butter – creamy, yes, but perfectly salted (creamy butter without salt, hell, *any* butter without salt) is like drinking a glass of pasteurized milk, but with just a crystal or two, good butter becomes great butter, and so it is with Le Diplomate: What a *fine* calling card this bread and butter before the meal is, and what a luxury this heretofore expectation has turned out to be. Honestly, I’d like to take this moment to *thank* Le Diplomate for offering such excellent bread and butter, gratis, to their diners. It’s a shame our culinary world has gotten to that point, but it has, and I’m grateful to the torchbearers of tradition and excellence in dining, this bread and butter course being representative of that.
And if you think *that* was overkill, you ought to see me when I find a quarter on the sidewalk!
I wanted to relax before dining, and asked for a Gin and Tonic ($10) with plain old Bombay. No Sapphire for me; plain old Bombay is just fine as a mellow, neutral, everyday gin – the scary thing being that if you look up Bombay Gin on the web, nearly all you see are webpages for Sapphire. This is what you get when you search the web for “Bombay gin website”:
Unfortunately, the G&T (which I actually got before the bread came out because I hadn’t ordered yet) was ten-dollars worth of awful. It was made right in front of me, and hurt to watch: the glass was absolutely filled with ice, to the point where the bartender had to scrape some off the top. Then the tiniest of pours (C’mon guys! This is Bombay; not Louis XIII!) followed by … (bartenders know what’s coming next) … “the squirt gun.” It was as if a loony tune spray-shot my liquid relaxation, murdering my simple little cocktail. Ten dollars for this non-drink was just silly – please learn to make a Gin and Tonic, and at these prices, please dispense with the squirt gun.
It had been the better part of year since I’d been here, so I decided for a smattering of small plates rather than one of their tempting nightly specials. I began my meal with Pea Soup ($13), not even knowing whether it would be hot or cold when I ordered it, and not really caring – either way was fine; as it turns out, I was delighted with what was placed in front of me: a white bowl, with a little crab meat, some peas (if I recall), and a crescent of crème fraîche sitting in the center, awaiting the pour-over. I adore pour-over soups – they add a touch of class to the simplest of meals. The liquid was a pleasantly hot pea purée, and my only regret was one which you also have, but you’ll never admit to having: pea broth tends to cling to the side of the pitcher from which its poured (peas being somewhat granular on the inside, thus forming micro-lumps when puréed, and leaving trace amounts in their serving vessel). You know you want every single drop of this broth just as much as I do, and you’re miffed when you don’t get it. Admit it! And what a fine soup it was, too – when that bowl went back to the kitchen, it probably confused the living daylights out of them, because, thanks to that delicious bread, it was swabbed cleaner than a sailor’s bathroom floor with a toothbrush.
After this soup, a piece of bread or two, a little butter, and a G&T, I was in such a happy place. Sure, I was still hungry, but that had taken the edge off, and I knew more was coming – in fact, I knew *two* more things were coming, so I ordered a Half Carafe of House White Wine ($16) – a La Vielle Ferme Luberon Blanc (a blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Vermentino) poured from magnum into what was probably a 10-12 ounce carafe (I should have peaked, but I didn’t – figure two small, modest, glasses-worth). La Vielle Ferme is the mass-market wine controlled by the Perrin empire – the folks that own Château de Beaucastel – so while you’re not going to be getting anything memorable, you’ll be getting something safe, palatable, and food-friendly. This is a good house wine to have because it’s not expensive at all, but is in balance and “correct,” so diners will tend not to balk at a healthy mark-up. This is wine to drink, and not to savor, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Next came my Roasted Beets ($13.50) with Cloumage cheese (don’t feel bad – I had to look it up too), hazelnuts, and ice wine vinaigrette. This was a Salad, not an Appetizer, and was presented as such – in retrospect, I would have asked for it pre-soup, but this is of almost no importance. It was attractively plated, pleasant, and held no surprises – just what I wanted – and it went beautifully with the wine, too. My hunger was dissipating, and I was eating extremely healthy food.
So of course I had to do something about that and ordered the Fromage de Tête ($12). Let me tell you something: this was served with marinated chanterelles, apple, and mâche, but ignore all that – if you order this, you’re getting head cheese, and a version that takes brass doo-dads to serve in a restaurant such as this – this was real, honest-to-goodness, walk-into-a-delicatessen-in-Germany, gelatinous, piecemeal, unidentifiable, pig-ear, jowl-ridden, snout-filled *head cheese*, and you had better *really* be in the mood for it because this is for adventurous diners; not people out for a medium-well steak-frites at a safe little neighborhood Brasserie. Kudos to Le Diplomate for having this on their menu – this was the real McCoy, and it makes me wonder if I’m underestimating the dining public, or if timid patrons will force this recipe to change. Let us hope it remains as-is, because this is a conversation piece of peasant filler.
The price of my dinner snuck up on me – with tax and tip, it was $84 for 3 appetizers and drinks – and it made me realize that, man, this place isn’t cheap; yet it’s *always* crowded. This was a very good dinner, and Le Diplomate rests comfortably in Italic, and even snuck up a couple of slots in the 14UP Dining Guide. Well done, Starr Restaurants – I hope you’re investing your money wisely.