From Laetitia Brock. Email her at laetitia[AT]borderstan.com. You can follow her at @FrenchTwistDC and on her own blog, French Twist DC.
The writers here at Borderstan have been tracking the progress at Le Diplomate pretty much since it was announced that Stephen Starr was taking over the former Laundromat building at the corner of 14th and Q NW. Well, it’s finally here!
The 260-seat brasserie soft opened last week and it’s been swamped every night. We’re talking a good hour wait unless you show up right at 6 pm (or even better managed to get reservations). That didn’t stop me from stopping by twice last week to check it out.
So far my first impressions are really positive and Le Diplomate gives out a truly authentic French vibe. I guess you could argue that it’s easier to get it right when you have the full weight of a large restaurant group like Starr Restaurants behind you, but Cuba Libre shows that it’s doesn’t always work out.
Oh, and it helps, of course, that Stephen Starr already owns a very successful French restaurant, Parc, in Philadelphia. But let’s get back to Le Diplomate.
The Space: Bright, Open, Spacious
Starting with the space. I’m not a fan of the very scantily clad ladies on the walls of the women’s restroom (if I want to see boobs, I have two of my own.) The men’s restroom has pictures of half-naked women. So why can’t the women’s restroom have pictures of half-naked men, like Estadio, for example? But that’s pretty much the only negative.
The restaurant is bright, open and spacious, with a large bar area and a great patio. I love, love, love the Ricard tables, though I don’t love the $10 price tag on a glass of a pastis as much (in France, it’s more like €2). I love the bistro style tables on 14th Street, and can’t wait to sit there, a cup of La Colombe coffee in hand, reading Le Monde (they have copies of international newspapers and gossip magazines inside) and munching on a croissant once Le Diplomat starts breakfast service soon.
And I adore the “blanchisserie de chemise” (that’s French for laundromat) green room. What a nice way to pay hommage to the building’s previous life!
The Food: Spot On
Now let’s talk about the important stuff: the food. So far everything I’ve had has been spot on. I had to ask for extra bread (the bread is really good by the way) to soak up all the flavorful broth from the moules frites. I pretty much cleaned out the little dish of homemade mayonnaise. It’s so rich but so good.
I devoured the steak frites AND the hand-chopped steak tartare. I believe you can tell a lot about a restaurant by its raw meat, especially when it’s topped by a raw (quail) egg. I loved tasting the lamb shank and the tête de cochon and I can’t wait to try more!
So far, I haven’t felt like trying any of the desserts. I’ve just had the most amazing Cherry Clafouti at Café du Parc the other day, and quite frankly, my sweet tooth and I have pretty high expectations when it comes to French desserts.
Crème brûlée, tarte tatin, baba au rhum, pot de crème, those are all pretty typical French bistrot desserts but they seem a little basic to me and I want something different. I’ve seen their pastry chef post some pretty pictures on twitter though, so I have hope there’s more coming…
If I’m not impressed with the dessert menu, I do love the wine, beer and cocktail selection. The wine list isn’t too intense or long, but there’s something to pair with every dish on the menu as well as carafes of house wine (from La Vieille Ferme). There’s also original cocktails with French names that are kinda hard to pronounce but sound really fancy.
I mean, who wants to order a pressed grapefruit or a head to head when you can ask for a pamplemousse pressé and a tête-à-tête? It would help though if they could train the staff to understand them when people like me pronounce them with French accents.
Finally, I love that they have Kronenbourg en tap, pastis and coffee from La Colombe Torrefaction. Like Stephen Starr, La Colombe’s homebase is Philadelphia, though the owners (a Frenchman and an American) met in Seattle. They too will be expanding into the D.C. market soon when they open a coffee shop at the end of the year at 922 N Street NW, next door to Rogue 24. I’m looking forward to that, too!
I headed back to Le Dipomate for brunch on Sunday so I might have some updates. In the meantime, have you been to Le Diplomate yet? If yes, what did you have? What did you think?