French Cuisine Falls Flat
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 8, 2013 14:09
Le Diplomate, the European brasserie on the 14th Street corridor, is every bit of the cliche its quasi-French name implies. Among the foreign attaches and locally baked baguettes, the atmosphere of Le Diplomate makes for an endearing downtown bistro. I was hopeful that Le Diplomate’s dishes would be the kind Parisians rave about, but its predictable recipes left much to be desired.
Rustic almost to a fault, Le Diplomate does not attempt to be anything it’s not. The decor gives off a French country-house ambience, and the utensils look like they are out of a Le Creuset catalogue. With furnishings as predictably French as the name of the restaurant implies, I expected the food to be similarly traditional and high quality. I wished for flavors to be as big and bold as the eye-popping font featured on the menu.
Only some of the food lived up to my expectations. The macaroni au gratin appetizer was piping hot and oozing with rich, creamy cheese, leaving me feeling stuffed midway through the course. The sheer heaviness of the dish distinguished it from its American Kraft cousin. The mushroom tart was sent out completely burned, and although the staff was more than happy to promptly bring a new one, their efforts did little to improve its lackluster taste. The highlight of our appetizers — and frankly the entire menu — was the chicken pate. Although chicken pate gets a bad rap for being the poor man’s version of foie gras terrine, this dish was the star of the menu. This smooth pate had a strong, pleasant aftertaste that left me wanting more.
Considering how heavy the appetizers were, I was not prepared for the sheer volume of the entrees. The lamb shank and beef bourguignon were both technically well prepared and presented, but neither was tasty enough to inspire me to finish my plate. While the cous cous was a nice addition to the lamb shank, the presence of yogurt made the dish too thick, and the salty taste made the portion overwhelming. The beef bourguinon was more of the same. There was simply too much going on the plate, and the beef was overdone, leaving a lackluster taste.
Unfortunately, the desserts were another mixed bag. While classic French apple tarts are known for having thin slices of apples, the thick chunks found in the tarte tatin were more reminiscent of an American apple pie, which I found disappointing in such an authentic atmosphere. This dish was obviously catering to a more mainstream crowd and ultimately detracted from the experience.
For the mediocre quality, the price point was a bit expensive. With appetizers priced in the mid-teens and entrees approaching $30, Le Diplomate has to compete with a lot of high-end competition, and I don’t think it compares favorably. Had the restaurant been a little bit lighter on the wallet and lighter on the dishes — which were often too heavy in terms of richness and creaminess — I would have looked upon Le Diplomate more favorably. The entrees, like many cliches, were too familiar to enjoy. Le Diplomate lives up to its name, but not for the right reasons.