Sunday, December 22, 2013

Birthday Dinner c/o Le Diplomate

When we established that we were going to spend the holidays in the Maryland/D.C. area there was the matter of a birthday dinner. Dad and I talked a bit about it at K. and A.'s wedding and then I began my research stage to consider the options. At first I was limiting myself only to the Silver Spring/Wheaton/Rockville area, but the conversation with Dad made me broaden it somewhat. I considered this Top Chef guy's place, but honestly the reviews were a bit mixed on Yelp. And I don't take Yelp very seriously, but if the overall message is 'some of the food was really good, but it was kind of weird and service wasn't awesome,' you still need to ask yourself if it's worth the hassle. I did think that a French meal of some kind would please me and also be in Dad's comfort zone, so I began honing in on French restaurants in the D.C/MD/VA vicinity. In the end, and not without at least a little Facebook input, I suggested we try a reservation at Le Diplomate. This is a relatively new restaurant in D.C. and is actually part of the Stephen Starr umbrella. Stephen Starr has a definite stake and reputation in the Philly area as one of the 'big-time' restauranteurs. I have not been to all his establishments, but I have been to a hand full. And whatever the formula is, they generally seem to work. Le Diplomate certainly did. Due to not planning many more weeks in advance, the only available times were either around 5 or 10 PM. Dad went with the earlier of the options, which I think was a very good idea. I started off the meal with a pamplemousse cocktail, which I can't find on the website to more fully tell you about. From my own recollection it did the balance between sweet and tart quite excellently. Refreshing but not cloying, with just a little effervescence in the mix.
I will admit that the lighting in the restaurant was better for the actual moode and place than for the photographs I tried to take. They also had very neat/old school tiled bathrooms with sinks that one child I encountered called "really cool." So please forgive the photographs, is really what I'm saying. So the Starr restaurants, I think the thing that really is down to a science is how to put together a relatively effective and professional team. Our server never got flustered by our delays in actually making a decision about the meal, laughed at our jokes, asked the right questions and knew most of the answers to ours. Basically I have zero complaints about the service. Though I will say that we pretty much stumped one newer employee when we asked for more detail about some of the accompaniments to our first round of dishes. But when he didn't know the answer he made the effort to go find out and come back, so that was nice.

I debated on what exactly I would order quite a lot in the days and hours leading up to this meal. I had a few concrete ideas but didn't know what combination would make the most sense. In the end I showed very little restraint. Here is the foie gras parfait...this was the fluffiest, spreadiest, heaven-on-earthiest of foies that I've had in quite some time. The thick toast and fennel aigre doux were the perfect texture and flavor to accompany this rich piece of manna. Seriously good stuff.
I also couldn't resist the frissee salad with duck confit, poached egg and potatoes. Variations of this salad have been my favorite for quite a number of years. The way the yolk mixes in with the existing dressing just makes a magic meal, especially if you add duck into the equation.
Then there was the deliberation of what to actually eat. Ultimately I chose to go with the roasted scallops with red wine salsify, truffle sabayon and black trumpet well as what I recall as being some kind of legume or potato? I kind of forget that detail. I thought the scallops were well prepared and executed though I thought they were perhaps just a tad salty...that might actually be a reaction to my father's dissatisfaction with the grilled loup de mer he ordered, which he found too salty. His dish did come with tapenade, so perhaps it should have been expected. Meanwhile when I tried his dish I thought it wasn't that salty and, in fact, though my own dish was moreso. Dad didn't agree on his own comparison testing. In the end I wasn't too bummed about the salt level and was pleased with the tenderness of the scallop and the savory elements of its rich butter sauce magic topping.
We had this wine with our entrees.

Above, the photoshopped version. Below, the original. It's bascially like I did nothing, except I spent 15 minutes trying to do something. Alas. The main change is that Dad's country terrine and lettuce accompaniment turned a very different set of colors. Blue lettuce is de rigeur, don't ya know?
We opted for coffee and Armagnanac instead of dessert, in large part because we did have a secondary appointment for the evening and I felt that we were going to be too late if we had any additional courses. When we exited the restaurant we both took a moment before looking around for cabs, and during those moments I noticed a guy standing a few feet away that looked vaguely familiar. After a few surreptitious glances, we met eyes and I finally just asked him if his name was H., which it was, and he asked me if I was me, which I am. H. and I went to high school together! I was quite amused by this random run-in and asked whether we could have a photograph taken in order to prove that it ever happened. Dad and I were both a little punchy, so this is actually the photograph that he took for us. H. is pretty tall and clearly Dad's main goal was getting the sign in the photo. Still, a funny ending to a great meal. 
Big thanks goes out to Dad for the birthday dinner!

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