Friday, 11 October 2013

Le Diplomate

This past week was a whirlwind.

After finally landing in The Land of the Free (and having restrained myself from hugging the nearest overweight, pleat-front-acid-washed-jeans-wearing capital-A American I saw), I made a mad dash up and down the east coast seeing family and friends and generally basking in the glory of being home, home at last.

I drank in New England's autumn colors, consumed pumpkin spice everything, got overwhelmed and almost had to leave Trader Joe's... it was good to be back.

One thing I had especially missed was that special brand of Francophilia so unique to America - although we pretend to turn up our noses (ironically a highly French gesture) at those whom I have heard referred to as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", we seem to relish constructing gastronomic temples to French food more camp than an outtake from Moulin Rouge. Like other person who is from, has been to, or has heard of New York, I hold Keith McNally's two such faux 'stros, Balthazar and Pastis, as perennial favorites, but you can't say they're not almost parodies of French originals.

While down in DC, I got to try the city's new version of a McNally bistro-by-way-of-Brooklyn classic, Le Diplomate. It is American-French as French can be, from the haughty waitstaff (who are well aware that they have a hit on their hands, thank you) to the designed-to-death menus. But, as at a McNally, it is saved both because of its undeniable ambience and the fact that the food is fantastique.

After a delicious Negroni (disappointingly served in - my mortal enemy - The Martini Glass) while hovering by the buzzy bar waiting for our table, we were ushered out onto the terrace to enjoy the last of summer's swelter. The green subway tiles along the wall made you feel as though you were in a greenhouse, while the deco script payed homage to the building's origins as a drycleaner. Wherever we were, it sure felt like Paris.

As we sampled the excellent and super-fresh bread selection, we ordered a mix from the menu, including a salade verte, steak tartare, scallops, and, naturellement, le burger americain.

Everything was exactly on par - nothing in any way more than expectedly satisfying French fare. (My only quibble would be, strangely, with the salad as I had hoped for many more of the mentioned green beans, a vegetable seemingly only celebrated by the French with the respect they deserve). To misquote chère Madeline, the meal was just right.

But then came dessert.

Although I could have ordered the entire menu, I had been stuffing myself like a foie gras goose since I had touched down on American soil, and so we settled for a single chocolate napoleon to share.

With almond dacquoise sandwiched between what tasted like a cookie dough sponge and crisp chocolate wafers, bitter chocolate ice cream over crunchy somethings, and a puddle of salty caramel "jam", the confection could not have been more perfect finale. It took the meal from merely fittingly French to vraiment exceptionnel.

Vive Le Diplomate!

Le Diplomate
1601 14th St NW
Washington, DC

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