First Bite: Le Diplomate in Logan Circle


Le Diplomate in Logan Circle puts you in a French frame of mind with its ambiance and its food. (Marge Ely/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
April 30, 2013

I recently spent three days eating around Paris, yet I can’t stop thinking about the food I dispatched before takeoff: at the new Le Diplomate in Logan Circle. In significant ways, the sweeping brasserie from Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr speaks with a more convincing French accent than much of what I encountered abroad.

Starr’s 30th establishment isn’t even a month old, but already many of its 200 inside seats are claimed on a regular basis. Part of the allure is its design, which puts you in a Parisian frame of mind with a bakery’s worth of fresh breads on display, curved lipstick-red banquettes, golden lighting and a zinc-topped bar. The Garden Room, off the main dining area, lets you pretend you’re dining alfresco, thanks to a tented glass roof and shiny green tiles. (The French script on the wall translates as “the whitening of the shirts,” a reference to the dry cleaning service the building once housed.)

Less Gallic is the service: knowledgeable and brisk, genial and efficient.

Are competitors nervous? They ought to be. The garlicky steak frites at Le Diplomate alone is worth a detour. The beef is thick, ropy and juicy; the twice-fried french fries taste truly of potato.

There’s more where that came from. Foie gras “parfait” brings a fluffy scoop of emulsified chicken liver, foie gras, butter and spirits served with thick toasted brioche and a spread of prune and fennel on a slender board. The starter is tres bon. Grilled loup de mer comes with strips of silky-soft bell peppers that are so good, the grace note ought to be offered as a side dish. Plats du jour run from lavender roast duck (Monday) to Dover sole meuniere (Saturday, and count me in).

Only a small cast-iron pot of flat-tasting snails interrupts one night’s dream of a dinner, which ended with a light and lovely grapefruit sorbet dressed up with cinnamon whipped cream and lacy cookies.

Executive chef Adam Schop, 37, was one of a dozen cooks interviewed for the top job. He beat out three French chefs in the process.

Poor them. Lucky us. And good luck landing a table.

1601 14th St. NW. 202-332-3333. www.lediplomatedc.com. Main courses, $12 to $27.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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