Bread, loaves and loaves of it, greets you at the entrance and then follows you to your table in a burlap-lined basket. The baguettes have an authentic crackle; the lightly salted butter is whipped for easier spreading. Slices of rye-wheat bread and cranberry-walnut boule (picture a squashed ball) round out the best carbo-load in the city. Take a bow, baker Lawrence Kilbourne.
Seafood launches the printed menu, and oysters (at a minimum) should be your entry point. While the $65 petit plateau sounds extravagant — “The whole ocean just rolled in!” cried a friend when the fruits de mer landed on the table — the arrangement breaks down to a fair $16 or so if four of you are fishing from it. Staged on a bed of shaved ice strewn with seaweed are plump gulf shrimp, glistening Belon oysters, sparkling scallop seviche, a fan of mussels, pleasantly chewy whelks and the lone disappointment in the ocean picnic: lightly poached and underwhelming lobster. No sooner are you looking for a place to rinse your hands after the feast than hot towels follow.
Attentive service, it turns out, is another hallmark of Le Diplomate. Desotelle says the dining room staff was hired based on “nice personalities,” but an initial week of food training also had recruits sampling the entire menu. Throw in regular pre-shift quizzes, and you’ve got a team that doesn’t have to make up any answers.
Adam Schop does a dead-on impression of a French chef, although he was born in New York and grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., before going on to beat out a bunch of Gallic names to get the position he has now. No matter which path you take on his menu, you encounter something you can’t wait to eat again.
A pale green soup of asparagus captures the essence of that harbinger of spring. Salade verte brings a soft stack of Bibb lettuce interspersed with perfect green beans and minced shallots, a fetching construction splashed with an assertive red wine vinaigrette. Someone at the table needs to get the mushroom tart — and be willing to share the appetizer. It won’t be easy. The base is crisp, flaky and rich with butter; the topping of mushroom duxelles, celery root and cheese fondue is scrumptious. In sum, you don’t have to eat meat to dig Le Diplomate.