May 2, 2013 | by Jonathan Howard
Bon Appetit
Le Diplomate, dining, food, French cuisine, gay news, Washington Blade

Everyone expects rough spots when a new restaurant opens but Le Diplomate is off to a surprisingly smooth start. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

My excitement for Le Diplomate (1601 14th Street NW) has been building from the moment that I heard that Philadelphia’s “Brilliant innovator” Stephen Starr was opening a French Bistro similar to his hugely successful Parc, just feet from my house. Once this 6.5 million dollar renovation was completed, and I heard that reservations for the restaurant’s preview were available I was on the phone and secured one immediately. At the end of our first meal our waitress let us know that brunch service would be starting on Sunday, I made a reservation instantaneously.

Part of the joy of going to a restaurants “soft opening” is feeling the frenetic energy coursing through the space. The staff is a bit nervous, mistakes will be made, you see people running to the kitchen and at least one tray of food is dropped filling the restaurant with the cacophonous symphony of dishes hitting the floor; but that is all expected, and adds to the charm of a restaurants first service. A “soft opening” allows the restaurant to work out the kinks, but as a foodie it is an exciting night to be in a restaurant, you don’t expect perfection, you don’t even really expect all diners to get food at the same time, all you expect is excitement.

When I walked into Le Diplomate I was magically transported to another place, a beautiful Parisian bistro has transformed this forgotten corner of 14th and Q.  We were seated in the center of this bustling dining room. Our waitress approached moments later to take our drink orders and explain the menu. As I sat, instead of looking at the menu I found myself looking at gorgeous surrounding and smiling faces. When our waitress returned with our drinks I was caught off guard, but I knew that I couldn’t pass up a cheese plate at a Parisian bistro, so I ordered that and allowed the waitress to select the three cheeses that would be placed on it. We also ordered the Onion Soup Gratinee and the mushroom tart. Everything on the menu looked so good that I was finding it hard to decide what to dine on.

When she returned to take our order, I had narrowed it down to the steak au poivre, the wild boar, or the duck breast, but I was once again distracted when she placed the cheese board on the table. Three perfect, rich and powerful cheeses were all I could think about so I immediately dug in and began trying them with the in-house baked baguette. When she asked what I would be having I was caught off guard and haphazardly selected the Wild Boar pappardelle. At first I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision, but when it arrived I was pleasantly surprised by the perfectly al dente noodles and the rich succulent pieces of boar, it was truly satisfying. The beef bourguignon was the standout dish of the evening with the tender cuts of beef simply melting in your mouth. We were stuffed when it was time for dessert but I couldn’t break my rule of always trying something from the sweets menu, so we elected to share the chocolate napoleon, which was a sweet sweet and sweet flavor combo, that I particularly loved.

Brunch did not disappoint either, like many brunches in the Logan area do. Service was once again impeccable, the cheese plate (with three different cheeses) still fully captured my attention, and the must try breakfast breadbasket constituted the best carbohydrates I have eaten all year. For my entrée I ordered steak and eggs, a dish I regularly order and am generally disappointed with. The story was different at Le Diplomate however; a juicy cut of steak accompanied my eggs with their warm and runny yolks just as I like them. I didn’t even need hot sauce.

Le Diplomate has gotten off to a very strong start. In a neighborhood that now has new restaurants opening every couple of weeks, and in my opinion, will see many close; Le Diplomate is here to stay. Overall, it is probably one of the best restaurants in the Logan Circle area and I can see myself being a regular there, especially as they add breakfast and lunch to their daily offerings. If you haven’t been one of the hundreds gathering on the corner this past few weeks, give Le Diplomate a try, I doubt you will be disappointed. Kudos to Stephen Starr and head chef Adam Schop for astounding me with one of the smoothest restaurant openings I have witnessed.

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