Metro Weekly

Savor: Le Diplomate’s “Streetside Chateaus”

Vaunted French-inspired restaurant offers one of the nicest outdoor dining options in town

Le Diplomate -- Chicken Milanese
Le Diplomate — Chicken Milanese

From the start, Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr set out to make his first venture in Washington “an idealized bistro experience,” to quote a Washington Post profile from 2014 that reflected on the banner first year of Le Diplomate.

All these years later, the French-inspired restaurant remains a top-rated favorite and one of the region’s buzziest, chiefly because it is committed to offering a notable, high-quality experience with each visit — even in the midst of a pandemic that has upended the dining out experience. No doubt you’ve seen or heard about the makeshift “Streetside Chateaus” set up in the parking lanes framing Le Diplomate’s building at the corner of 14th and Q Streets NW.

Two semi-enclosed, centrally heated structures partitioned into several stalls with table seating for two to four. These are the fanciest, best-designed “streateries” in town, estimated to have cost in excess of $50,000, give or take the $6,000 Winter-Ready Streatery Grant the restaurant received from the D.C. government.

Freezing rain falling on the chateau’s metal roof was part of the soundtrack to a recent evening at Le Diplomate. A server answered questions and took orders while standing just outside the stall, a good six feet or more away from guests perusing the menu accessed by a QR code on their smartphones. When prompted, the server sagely steered a diner toward that evening’s Plat du Jour with the logic, “You can always have the Steak Frites.”

That is, on any day you can opt for the French bistro staple of herb-seared strip steak and fries, which Le Diplomate executes with particular finesse. And on any day you could also go with what still stands as one of the best cheeseburgers in town — the Burger Américain. Or the light yet rich Warm Shrimp Salad served with avocado in a lemony white butter sauce.

But only on Wednesdays can you bask in Bouillabaisse, the classic French seafood stew. It’s a warming, comforting midweek reward, all the more so when consumed in a “chateau.” Built to help weather the storm, in more ways than one, the makeshift structures also serve as a present-day respite. As good a place as any from which one can seize the day — especially if that day is Wednesday.

Le Diplomate is at 1601 14th St. NW. Call 202-332-3333 or visit www.lediplomatedc.com.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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