Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Jul 7, 2013 06:59 PM

Le Diplomat: Starr's Successful translation of French Bistro

Though this is a place I would think about on return trip to the states more so than while within, I can easily understand a critic's excitement with this place when he said he couldn't stop thinking about LG while he was in Paris. Whether this is a brasserie, a bistro, or a cafe is an interest of discussion less important (there's a nice read on CH on this very topic ,and LD's website writes that it is a "homage to french cafe culture") as Starr translates the best of bistro experiences in winning combination: our anniversary dinner here a last week and recent wknd lunch was exciting in ways we haven't felt in a long while. And the key to this success, IMO, is the thought behind choosing Adam Schop among the obvious french chefs in their applicant pool as their executive chef.

Certainly they have their decor and ambience detailed to the point of "wood floors creaking just so" is what I read on the web, but the same effort for duplication isn't the part in their food or the service. While the menu reads as typical as any bistros (purpose of visiting different bistro is to flirt with the kitchen of the other twin sister), the cookery here adds some degree of breaking the "rules" to infuse Schop's alchemy from past experiences in south american and japanese cuisine as well as french: thicker cuts of the meat that transform what's norm (and usually boring) to special, ceviche of razor clams or the baby scallops on their respective shells (subtle enough to not offend anyone ; ) that harmoniously joins the fruits de mer plateaus that is well-sourced and of variety (snow and king crab, sea snail/whelks cooked just right, east and west coast oysters shucked correct, proudly large prawns, plump lobster in half, flavorful smallish mussels) or the gutsy bite of black pepper in steak au poivre, and in general more attended seasoning which is more at par american than french. We didn't order, but it would have been in sync with Schop's vision to prepare the escargot with locally sourced live ones in shell rather than a canned version imported from Burgundy. Beef tartar here has a spicy attack on the palate, and my wife thoroughly enjoyed her onion soup. Again, the foie parfait is a pungent, sweet and salty in-your-face kind (excellent) rather than the delicate french counterpart. The thoughtful wine list also include matching sections of "interpr├ętations internationales" inclusive of even local ones from Virginia. So, while their menu seems a copy of other renown bistros their food definitely is not, and their service isn't a 3MS experience (you don't want or need that here) but comes quite close in number of servers and how well this busy place runs only several months into their opening. To comment that the chef here does a "dead-on impression of a french chef" is unfortunately missing the point, and is a comment I can imagine Schop and his kitchen staff having a good laugh with Romarins (addictive) in their hands.

Most if not all of my meals in French Bistros in the states left me with varying degrees of regrets and unfulfilled wishes as they attempt (and many don't even try hard) to mimmic the logistical impossible. Whether one is an experience diner or otherwise there's certain expectations that comes with the title that make it nearly impossible to fulfill, and LD won't fulfill their dream either if the cut of the steak frites is to be "just so." But if you come here with similar level of expectation to see an American chef's take on old-guard french bistro you will be delighted, and I am looking forward to returning here routinely to go through their menu - a flirt that has already turned serious.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I recently had brunch at Le Diplomate. I am blessed with a good appetite, thus I ordered razor clams in curry sauce ($13), foie gras parfait ($14), frisee salad with duck confit ($16 vs $14 online menu) and a side of boudin noir ($8 vs $5 online mneu), and 2 mimosas ($10) each. To be able to enjoy a variety of well executed non-egg non-porcine focused dishes at 10 a.m. is one thing I must applaud Mr. Starr for bringing to DC. Too bad it comes at the cost of $95 per person, after tax and tip. On the other hand, the food's too rich to eat on a regular basis.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Worldwide Diner

      That's a huge meal! The foie gras parfait is especially filling. My wife and I can share the foie gras parfait, get two mains and share a dessert and feel pretty full afterwards. The $95 per person is a little inflated compared to what I've experienced in several meals at Le Diplomate.

      I agree it's a little pricey but not ultra expensive.

      1. re: Worldwide Diner

        WD, I like your choices for brunch; one of the luxury of weekend lunch IMO is having what's on for dinner instead : ) and LD options certainly allow it. Glad to know that their boudin noir is good.

      2. Perfect treat and a dinner for 4 is to have the Grand Plateau as the meal. I think it will be really very hard to find the likes anywhere especially considering the PQR.

        In addition to the items in the petit version, there were scallop ceviche in passion fruit marinade (delicious even if you are an addict for peruvian savory kind), a nod to local flavor heads-on steamed jumbo prawns in old bay seasoning (eat this last), and king crab claws. Belon oysters were better than last time and can't imagine it being any more freshier less on the shore. Smallish raw clams and mussels were sweet and delicate. Very good bread basket and their baguette with butter accompanied the meal nicely, and as always great and friendly service (cleared shell bowels timely, rearranged to clear one of the tower at midpoint, steamed towel at the end).

        1. Brunched at Le Diplomate for New Years Day. The petit plateau seems to be bigger - we had shrimps, mussels, clams, whelks, lobster, snow crab legs, king crab legs, scallop ceviche, and dungeoness crab meat. The first time I ate here, I ate the petit plateau by myself and then some. This time, two of use didn't finish the petit plateau. We also ordered some fries and a mushroom tart. Everything was good but we didn't get any bread (not sure if that was a service oversight or bread is no longer complimentary).

          3 Replies
          1. re: Worldwide Diner

            Funny, I was also there today. Saw the petit plateau, maybe it was your table! We focused on the brunch items - I had a very good boudin noir. Also, the Napoleon dessert was fantastic.

            1. re: Worldwide Diner

              " Everything was good but we didn't get any bread (not sure if that was a service oversight or bread is no longer complimentary)."

              Mention this when you return WD, and I am sure you will get extras and then some (and maybe some for the morning even : )

              1. re: Kurtis

                Yes every time I've been (including brunch) it's been complimentary. I am totally obsessed with that raisin walnut bread. It's out of this world especially with their creamy sweet butter.