January 1, 2014 | by Jonathan Howard
Best of the batch
Le Diplomate, dining, food, French cuisine, gay news, Washington Blade, resstaurants

When you walk into Le Diplomate, you are magically transported to a beautiful Parisian café. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This year saw an amazing number of new restaurants popping up in the District, some established restaurants celebrating major milestones; others with new chefs taking the reins.

Some of these new endeavors were huge successes like Range, Le Diplomate and Red Hen while others like Kapnos and Petworth Citizen did not quite live up to the high standards set by the leading establishments. There is always some place new to try and fantastic meals to be eaten, keeping this foodie and friends happy for an entire year.

I kicked off the year by visiting the comfort food hub Satellite Room (2047 9th Street N.W.). The “boozy shakes” are what brought me in the door, but the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and mac and cheese were all excellent dishes that kept me coming back.

My next stop was planned around my mother’s visit to D.C. Mexican tapas were right up her alley so we made a reservation at recently renovated Jaleo (1480 7th Street N.W.). Jose Andres and his team were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Jaleo in D.C. and that night they showed why they had been successful with delectable bites and friendly service.

The next stop was a new spot in Chevy Chase that diners were flocking to, with good reason. Bryan Voltaggio’s, Range (5335 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.) was delighting the diners who were lucky enough to get a reservation with outstanding food, impeccable preparation and goat cheese seamless ravioli that was to die for.

This spring I paid a visit to SEI (444 4th Street N.W.) as part of the 10th anniversary celebration for restaurant trio OYA/SEI and SAX. I was pleasantly surprised with the sushi I was served that evening at SEI; although not groundbreaking, it was quite good.

Jardenea (2430 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.) prides itself on its farm-to-fork concept sourcing fresh ingredients from local growers. Lindsay is a talented chef who turns these fresh and local ingredients into culinary gems.

Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken (1308 G St.N.W.) is co-founded by Elliot Spaisman and Jeff Halpern and they brought on gay pastry chef Jason Gehring to help them deliver fun interpretations of these two well-known comfort foods. The crème brulee doughnut and the maple bacon doughnut were the two standouts.

The soft opening of a new French bistro on 14th Street in May marked the true arrival of the 14th Street strip as a dining destination. Le Diplomate (1601 14th St. N.W.) is similar to Stephen Starr’s hugely successful Parc in Philadelphia. When you walk into Le Diplomate, you are magically transported to a beautiful Parisian café complete with breads, cheeses and fantastic French cuisine. This is one of those establishments that was expected to be a standout, and it is living up to those lofty expectations.

In May I visited RIS (2275 L St. N.W.) for an opportunity to experience gay pastry chef Sean Sasser’s creations. Sasser stole the show with an endless parade of sweets that were impeccably prepared. That was the last time that any of us had a chance to experience Sasser’s culinary genius. Sadly, on Aug. 8 at the young age of 44, Sasser, a long-time AIDS activist, died.

Sixth Engine (438 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.) delivered some great American classic dishes while Oyamel (401 7th St. N.W.) offered the “Oyamel Experience” menu, essentially a culinary tour of Mexico that did not disappoint.

The next stop was Teddy and the Bully Bar (1200 19th St. N.W.). The same visionaries who brought Lincoln Restaurant to the area bring this restaurant to D.C. This (very) small plate style restaurant serves up some fantastic bites of food inspired by Roosevelt. The standout dish was the crab and avocado with its rich sweet crab and cool avocado, which was perfectly balanced, flavorful and refreshing.

Every year, I seem to be faced with a meal I am not quite prepared for. This year that meal took place at Zengo as part of its “Test Kitchen: Hong Kong to San Juan.” While I had tried to prepare myself mentally for a whole fried fish to be placed in front of me, nothing could have prepared me for that beautiful-yet-terrifying dish. Six months later, I still see the menacing teeth in my dreams, but I can also still taste the bold, rich and tender flavors.

Table (933 N St. N.W.) has gotten lots of buzz and has a great space. While the food was tasty, it seemed to be lacking the overall “wow” I was expecting. I did, however, find the entire wow factor at Doi Moi (1800 14th St. N.W.). The stars all aligned for this meal and what Mark Kuller and his head chef Haider Karoum delivered blew me away. Quite honestly, this Tuesday evening meal was the best meal of the year.

I ended the year with another stand out meal at Red Hen (1822 1st St. N.W.). A meal full of perfect pasta, extraordinary wine and delectable dessert.

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