Le Diplomate

Image: Bread Basket

Last Updated: 7/5/21

Current Status:  It open for sit-down service and is taking advantage of its large, bordering on iconic, streatery.  Reserve via website and Opentable.  It continues to do Take-out and Delivery.  Tom Sietsema wants everyone to know that the delivery option is very good.

Gift Cards – for all Starr Restaurants

Before Times Review:

Last Visited: December 2019

Le Diplomate dropped on 14th Street in 2013.  Someone drew up a movie-set ideal of a French brasserie, bought a big space in a gentrifying neighborhood, and then built it.  It marked the end of the transitional phase for the neighborhood.  It was the restaurant Uber was meant for, as people far and wide flocked to the cool, new thing (and dreaded finding parking).  Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr brought his successful model to D.C. and the District took to it filling the large space night after night.  The French word for factory is l’usine, and make no mistake this is une usine de cuisine.

The food is a version of classic French.  It is almost a caricature of French cooking that is unsparing with salt, cream and butter (recently opened Brasserie Liberté is explicitly trying to be a lighter version of Le Diplomate, and not doing a bad job of it).  Pate a Choux is put to many uses, including gougères, mushroom tart, and some version of vol au vent on most nights.  The mushroom tart underlines its decadence with heavy dusting of not just pecorino but truffle pecorino.  There are lighter options like salads, tuna carpaccio, and grilled loup de mer.  Although one of the salads is the classic Lyonnaise with lardons and a poached egg.  The heart of the menu is reliable versions of hearty French classics:  steak frites, trout amandine, beef bourguignon, and duck à l’orange.  Though, note that the duck is a leg confit not breast.   Other stand outs are the veal escalope and the burger “Américain” that has a cult following.  For grazing there are also raw seafood options, charcuterie, and cheeses.  Plus, one of the most divine versions of whipped foie gras you can find in the area.  The kitchen has rolled over many times since opening, but the formula provides stability.  Desserts also fit the classic, decadent spot: apple tarte tatin, chocolate pot de crème (with crunchy pearls of chocolate and whipped cream on top), crème brûlée; and profiteroles.  In addition to evening dining, brunch is is a huge revenue-generator here.

A word must be said about the bread basket.  It is reason alone to go.  There is baguette and a country loaf with a hard crust and soft interior.  There are also a couple slices of cranberry nut that can be held in reserve and fill in for a dessert course at the end.

The wine list leverages the fact it is part of a larger restaurant empire based in Philadelphia that cares about wine.  A sommelier of some note, Eric Segelbaum, built the list before moving up in the Starr system, then out.  The bottles range from under $50 to more than $500, but concentrate between $70 and $120.

In the summer, an entire side of the building opens up to plein-air dining.  At peak brunch, it is packed.  The scale of the place makes service occasionally inconsistent, but generally good.  The noise can also be overwhelming.

Anton Ego might condemn it to “the tourist train,” but Mr Creozote would find much to enjoy before the wafer-thin mint.   It is too heavy to eat there frequently but is a fun indulgence on occasion.  As a crowd-pleaser, however, when you need a good spot for a group, it can work magic.

Other Guidance:  Attire here runs the gamut from t-shirts to pre-theater formal. GF and vegetarian options are available, but not the strong suit of the place.  Pescatarians fare better.

Rating: Worth Taking a Walk
Cuisine: French
Neighborhood: 14th Street
Address:  1601 14th St NW, Washington DC
Website: https://lediplomatedc.com/
Reservations: Via website and Opentable

Other Critics/Voices:

Washington Post: 3.0 Stars.  The booze and butter of this place tickles Tom’s preferences.  He started out at 2.5 stars but moved up quickly.

Washingtonian: #29 in 2020; #23 in 2019; #1 in the 2019 Readers’ Poll. #22 on the 2018 Top 100; #17 in 2017; 2016; #14 in 2015; 2014.

DonRockwell.com – divided opinions.

Lori (Been There Eaten That): Positive take from 2013.

Rick: #16 in his Spring 2019 Top 25.  #14 in his Spring 2018 Top 25. “Start with the stellar bread basket and then tuck into any of the bistro classics or one of the best burgers in town.”

Michelin: Of the 7 French restaurants listed in the guide, this one does not make an appearance.  Which could be a brilliant snub or an indication of Michelin’s weakness. Considering the hodge-podge of places that did make the cut it could be a combination of both.  Michelin’s list has no starred French restaurants, despite the fact Marcel’s clearly qualifies.  Other than Marcel’s, the ones that did make the cut are Primrose (Bib Gourmand), Convivial (agreed), DBGB (agreed), Chat Noir (who knew?), Mirabelle (should also have a star), The Pembroke (not going to fight it). On Michelin’s partner site TripAdvisor Le Diplomate is #22 for all D.C. restaurants.  Curious to see if Michelin blinks on this now that they have joined forces.