30 June 2015

French cuisine, charm on the table at Le Diplomate in DC

In my many years traveling to Washington, DC for work, I’ve enjoyed many delicious French restaurants. I’d always heard good things about Le Diplomate but somehow never went there. It’s not that it’s out of the way. But I seldom had a need to stay in the Logan Circle neighborhood, and so just never made a point of eating there.

That changed a few weeks ago. I had a meeting downtown and got a good price for a room at a Kimpton Hotel (The Helix) near Logan Circle. So on Sunday night, I wandered over to Le Diplomate to see if I could get a table. There were plenty of people there on a Sunday night. But I didn’t have any trouble getting a table.

Le Diplomate has a very appealing menu, offering a wide range of items from small plates to classic bistro cuisine. It has a list of nightly specials. On Sunday night (at least this summer) the special is ‘coq au Riesling.’ I don’t usually order chicken at a restaurant. (We make chicken often enough at home.) And I’d never had coq au vin before. (My wife had it once in Paris. It was tough, tough, tough.) But my server made it sound appealing (braised for hours, meat falling-off-the-bone tender). Also, it was served with spaetzle. That was the clincher for me, so I decided to get it. IMG_1271

But first, I ordered radish crudité from the hors d’oevres section of the menu. Take a look how beautiful it was. And delicious … yum! The radishes were fresh and crisp, sprinkled with sea salt. They came with thick slabs of lightly toasted bread and a pot of butter. It was fabulous and a generous portion, enough for two people to share. Somehow, I managed to eat it all, however.

The coq au Riesling as good. Maybe not quite as tender as the server lead me to believe. But very flavorful. I loved the spaetzle. They were delicious.

The ambiance at Le Diplomate is friendly and casual. My table was on the edge of the outdoor tables, so I could enjoy the warm, humid DC air. (I did enjoy it. May in Minneapolis was quite dreary, and the weather in DC in early June was not oppressively hot yet.)

So I’m sorry that it took me so long to try Le Diplomate. I’m glad I finally did. It certainly lived up to the favorable comments I’d always heard about it.

29 June 2015

Dinner at Fiola makes a delicious trifecta

Almost three years after my first visit to Fiola for a staff celebration lunch, I finally made a return visit for dinner. It was as marvelously fabulous as our team lunch and fully lived up to my (high) expectations. IMG_1264

This was also the third dinner I’ve had at Fabio Trabocchi’s fantastic Italian restaurants in Washington, DC. And as the headline for this post implies, they were three grand events. I wrote about Casa Luca earlier this year (click here for that post). I reviewed Fiola Mare a year ago (click here for that post). And just for the record, here’s my original 2012 post about my lunch experience at Fiola.

My dinner at Fiola was on a warm Saturday evening. I debated whether to take an outside table, and finally opted ‘yes.’ The restaurant’s outdoor tables are on a wide plaza along a lightly traveled street, but just a block off of Pennsylvania Ave. It was very pleasant.

My server was great. Since I had just flown late in the afternoon, my reservation was a little later than the usual dinner time. I don’t know if that was a factor, but he was very accommodating and helpful in his advice and recommendations.

To start, I ordered a burrata on pesto topped with asparagus, a parmesan crisp, and beets. I almost didn’t order it, because I’m not particularly fond of beets. But it was delicious. (The beets, by the way, remained on the side of the plate uneaten.) As you can see in the photo, my server also brought me an ‘amuse’ from the chef, a demitasse of gazpacho. It was great. It has motivated me to find some gazpacho recipes to make this summer when vine-ripened tomatoes are available at the farmers market.

For my entrée, I ordered agnolotti stuffed with lamb and served with mushrooms. The house-made pasta was fresh and very tender. The agnolotti were served in a flavorful sauce. When I asked if it was a cream sauce, my server informed me that it was simply butter and little pasta water. Fabulous. (Something else I’ve got to try at home.) IMG_1267

I was tempted by dessert, but decided not to. However before I got up to leave, my server returned with a jug of limoncello. Only this limoncello was the color of blood orange. Very impressive, very good, much appreciated.

So the headline reference to ‘trifecta’ implies some kind of horse race and begs the question of what order would I rate them. Of the three Fabio Trabocchi restaurants, I’d rate Fiola Mare as No. 3. It would be tough, however, to choose between Fiola and Casa Luca. The food and service at each was equally impressive. Both are expensive even by DC standards. Because of that, I suppose either one would be considered a special occasion dinner spot. Luca purports to be a family friendly osteria. So to that extent, it’s somewhat more casual (though you would not feel over-dressed if you were wearing a suit). But for an over-the-top celebration dinner, I guess I’d opt for Fiola.