Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée - 1st visit

Thursday, April 20th, 2006 marked my visit to another Alain Ducasse’s top restaurant located inside the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, an art nouveau marvel. This time I brought my parents to experience a meal at 3* Michelin restaurant for the first time. Before coming there, I briefed them on what to expect and what it is like to eat at this kind of place so that they would not be overwhelmed. Actually, I am also relatively new to the world of haute cuisine, just started around November 2005 and then I find it difficult to resist this temptation. After having a marvelous meal at Alain Ducasse New York (ADNY) in the Fall 2005, I came here with a high expectation as many people told me that Ducasse’s Europe establishments – here and Le Louis XV are much better than the one at the Essex House.

After doing a window shopping along avenue Montaigne for the whole afternoon, we arrived at the restaurant 10 minutes later from our initial reservation at 8 PM. The restaurant is actually located not too far from the main entrance of the hotel. Once our reservation was confirmed, we entered the restaurant by passing through discreet engraved glass doors. Our table was at the front corner, so we had a very good view of the restaurant’s ambiance without involving ourselves in the middle of the crowds. The décor’s style is a combination of classic and modern with the most notable thing being the chandelier with 10,000 crystals pendants dangling that alters lighting into a hologram show. Everything here is designed with careful details, for instance: the pink-colored chairs had pull-out plastic trays where ladies can put her bags, and the dining tableware seems to be customized for the restaurant (some are engraved with ADPA). Perhaps the decoration itself is one of the reasons why many people are curious about visiting this place. However, no matter how good or grand the restaurant’s design is, what served on the plates matters more above anything else.

The meal started with the pre-appetizer – something like gougères containing spinach with concise saltiness, I still prefer the cheese cream puff at ADNY. Following this, a waiter came with champagne cart. I opted for a glass of 1998 Henriot Brut Rose Champagne Millesime, the Rosé offers smooth texture and firm structure – a refreshing aperitif indeed. One thing a bit surprising to me is to find the limited bread selection; this is not typical of Ducasse’s top restaurant; whereas the butter, both salted and unsalted, is soft. The menu in ADPA is very interesting where the restaurant provides a holder and thus the guests do not need to hold the menu with their hands. Alain Ducasse always offers dishes made of rare, fresh and precious ingredients. Since I rarely go to Paris, I decided to order the best that the restaurant can offer. All of us ordered the collection menu and here what I had.

Menu Collection

Langoustines rafraîchies, nage réduite, caviar osciètre - bouillon parfumée - (Brittany Langoustines with Court Bouillon Reduction and Osetra Caviar from Iran - served warmed) – The restaurant’s main signature dish. The langoustine is firm, the caviar is one of the world’s best and they are both enhanced by a cup of shellfish broth containing some subtle ginger flavors. Comparable to Passard’s Carpaccio de langoustines - personally, I slightly prefer the latter one

Coquilles Saint-Jacques snackées coco/curry (Seared Scallops served with Coconut Curry) – This dish is arguably the most delicious scallops appetizer I’ve ever tasted (the other is Esnault’s Saint-Jacques Poelees with shaved white truffles). The scallop is very fresh and juicy, with the combination of delectable fruity curry sauce. There are many colorless sago that seduces the overall experience of the dish

Homard de Bretagne, asperges vertes de Pertuis, jus de la presse (Blue lobster of Brittany served with “chez blanc” green asparagus) – A very high quality (as well as generous portion) of lobster (has some sweetness in it and cooked to the right texture) that makes Maine’s lobster pale in comparison. The asparagus is fresh, combined with the sauce make this dish extremely wonderful.

Volaille de Bresse en fricassée, morilles à peine crèmes (Fricassee of Bresse chicken served with mushrooms and crayfishes) – I’m blown away with this chicken dish (a perfect 20/20 - unbelievable to eat 2 perfect dishes within 4 days). Just when I thought that L’Arpege’s chicken is the best ever, ADPA tells me I have yet tasted the best one. The seafood, carrots and mozzarellas etc. do not actually interfere the overall harmony and balance of the succulent chicken. All of the additional ingredients in fact complement the chicken in many different positive ways. This dish has a little Chinese influence too I suppose.

Fromages affinés pour nous (Refined cheeses) – If I could recall correctly, the comte is 3 years old and it’s good, the blue cheese smell is very strong, yet tasty. The cheese, served with special knife and fork, also comes with salads and marmalade as sides. Last but not least, finally the soft olive brioche shows up - served hot from the oven.

Caillé de brebis, caramel-poivre, miel d’arbousier (A very light, fresh goat milk cheese in yogurt-like texture served with pepper caramel sweetened and Corsican honey) – I have a hard time on how to describe this exciting and adventurous dessert. The saltiness of the cheese is reduced with the sweetness from the ice cream, honey and caramel and vice versa. The dessert is accompanied by a glass of light and sweet wine – 1996 Chateau Coutet.

Our multi course meal was accompanied by a bottle of 1999 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, this almond and flower-scented white Burgundy is tight with tangy acidity. Furthermore, it has a medium-bodied with excellent density and depth to its white fruit. I find the wine to be well-balanced and harmonious; it goes well with our dishes since it does not dominate the food’s taste. The pre and post-desserts, such as chocolates and candies are not inferior compared to the Ducasse New York’s establishment. The home-made assorted chocolates is very good and macarons, both chocolate and coffee, are very crunchy (outside) and soft (inside). I did not have a chance to sip in a cup of tea here as my mother would like to go back to the hotel (it’s closed to 12:30 AM and we had to fly for Barcelona the next morning). Here, the herbal tea infusion is presented in pots on a cart.

There are two things that I do not particularly fond of the restaurant. In my humble opinion, the head sommelier – Laurent Roucayrol is a bit arrogant. It is no doubt that he’s very knowledgeable about the wines, but he’s not willing to listen to the customer’s opinions. He usually forces the diners to always follow his suggestion; this could be a problem had he encountered a short-tempered guest. Another thing, the restaurant’s restroom, located outside, is shared with lobby and tea guests, for me it is not very convenient. Moreover, it is not very clean given the level of both the hotel and the restaurant.

While many people are worried when Jean-François Piège moved to Les Ambassadeurs, the food qualities here will be dropped, I could boldly assure that this will not be the case. Christophe Moret, the former Chef at Paris’ Spoon food and wine, may not be the most creative chef, but he really understands and fully capable of executing the dish with a very high precision the way Monsieur Ducasse wants it to be. The service, lead by Denis Courtiade – the dining room manager, is very courteous and efficient. This should come to no surprise since the staffs are actually outnumber the number of diners. Despite a full dining room, they provide seamless service and there are no certain waiters assigned for particular tables (except one person who assisted us for the menu-ordering, he was very patient to accommodate our needs). Furthermore, the staffs never misstep or collide with each other. Overall, I am extremely delighted with our dinner, one of the best I’ve ever experienced (only my dinner at L’Arpege is slightly better than this). Alain Ducasse Paris could be the best place for people who would like to try the 3* experience for the 1st time at Europe. One could enjoy pretty much everything – from an elegant dining room with an extraordinary service to a wonderful French food accompanied by a wide variety of wine selection. Click the following link for the pictures,

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97.5/100