Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée - 2nd visit

My meal at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (ADPA) in the early Spring 2006 ranked among the best I’ve ever had, easily at the top 3 or 5. It was not a difficult choice when I decided to return here in the Fall 2008. I arrived closed to 8:00 PM and was seated in the middle side of the spacious dining room. The restaurant was more than half-filled by the time I got there. The décor and interiors are nothing less than best: Jaune de Chrome/Bernardaud’s China, Andrew Hartley’s Carpets, Christofle and Béard’s Flatware just to name a few. In short, the dining room designed by Patrick Jouin is indeed magical, perhaps only the magnificent décor at Le Meurice’s elegant dining room can top this.

I only started the meal with still water, yup that simple. As I browsed the menu, several fabulous small appetizers were already served such as the airy and crunchy spinach feuilletes, Colonnata lard and even the famous Lucien Tendret-crushed pate served in small portion. Generally, I ordered the best that the restaurant could offer to its patrons, but this time was different. ADPA’s collection menu was very similar to my meal before (e.g. the coconut curry sauce was served for Breton lobster instead of seared scallops); hence I opted for the ‘cheaper’ degustation menu this time - Plaisirs de Table. While many perceive Ducasse’s food to be superficial and boring, I actually love his cuisine. His cooking, usually involving only two or three seasonal elements, is comfortable and easy-to-read, yet authentic. Equally important is that such meal was only made possible under the leadership of the Head Chef – Christophe Moret, a highly skillful chef who consistently delivers and interprets Ducasse’s imagination. I believe Moret rightfully deserves more credit and attention than what he has received right up to now.

Menu Pleasures of the Table

Caviar Osciètre d’Iran, langoustines rafraîchies, nage réduite, bouillon perfumé (Brittany langoustines served with court-bouillon reduction and Osetra caviar from Iran) - One of the restaurant's classics; both the langoustines' (firm texture) and bouillon's (fragrant) flavor were light and balance. The only 'explosion' taste came from the fine caviar - a bonus dish as I did not order Menu Collection

Araignée de mer décortiquée en chaud et froid, émulsion coraillée (Spider crab served hot and cold in coral emulsion) - An interesting dish: great technique and beautiful presentation, focusing on the temperature contrast and crab's versatility. The hot part served with tomato cream and a coat of foam while the cold one is more like salad served with avocado and vegetable jellies.

Sole de petit bateau, marinière de coquillages, suc de persil (Dover sole served with clams/cockles and prawns in parsley sauce) - The sole as the main ingredient has good texture; the supporting elements such as: the exotic goose barnacles and prawns also shine. Combined with delicate parsley sauce, the mixture of these sea creatures produces satisfying savor to the palate.
Accompanied by wine: 2006 SANTENAY Champs Claude Domaine Lucien Muzard

Foie gras de canard des Landes, en fins ravioli, consommé aromatique (The ravioli of Landes duck liver served in aromatic clear soup with cepe mushrooms) - Another generous gift from the kitchen: the luscious foie gras served in strong truffle consomme; the fine cepe mushrooms balance the dish. The white truffle was weak as it's a bit too early for the season

Veau fermier clouté et rillons confits à la florentine (Free-range veal studded with lard and caramel in its juice and creamed spinach) - Veal prepared in 2 ways: the one with colonnata was a bit too firm to my taste; the other one (caramelized), on the contrary, is sweet and tender. The onions and carrots on sides are also tasty - an excellent dish, my favorite for this meal
Accompanied by wine: 1990 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Château Mont-Redon

Fromages affinés pour vous (Cheeses refined for you) - I had Fourme d'Ambert, strong cow's milk blue cheese; 4-year old Comte, good texture with a hint of sweetness; Abbaye de Citeaux (I forgot the last one). In ADPA, the cheese is also served with divine Olive brioche and salad (with cepes this time)

Barre choco/framboise, soufflé fort en chocolat (Chocolate raspberry ganache served with chocolate souffle) - The chocolate souffle is rather dense and thick, the sour sorbet is refreshing after a heavy meal. Above all, the chocolate 'bar' is delicious and rich, yet not overwhelmed
Accompanied by wine: 2006 ROSTEAU Délices Château de la Gardine

As expected, the dessert will be accompanied with a variety of confectioneries and candies. I had chocolate and coffee macarons, bugnes and other pastries followed by different kind of chocolates, marshmallow and nougat as I ended my meal with an infusion of Verveine and Mélisse tea served with Australian honey. I was really full and literally struggling to enjoy these mignardises towards the end. Previously, except for champagne and dessert wine, the restaurant does not provide any wine by the glass. I guess ADPA tried to adapt to the customer's demand with not so deep pocket, such as myself. The sommelier's choices were not bad at all. For instance, my white Burgundy's richness and complexity worked quite well with both the crab and sole. The full-bodied red from Southern Rhone Valley I had was fully mature and it complemented my veal nicely.

A great meal here is more than good food; the overall experience matters. In the industry, Alain Ducasse would describe himself as “A merchant of happiness and pleasure”. I could not agree more with such claim based on my experience here, at the Essex House as well as at Le Louis XV. In addition to chairs made of Corian and Bresse poultry, the attentive and impeccable service lead by Denis Courtiade, possibly the best Dining Room Manager among 3-star establishments, link everything so smoothly that it actually possible to create a ‘perfect’ dining experience. My maitre d’ was friendly and attentive without being obtrusive. In fact, nearly all staffs were warm and convivial; there’s no such thing as only Mr. A took care of my table, even Denis himself served and stopped by to my and other guest tables in several occasions. Inside the couture uniform designed by George Geghaly lays a brigade who put their souls into hospitality - the team executed the service effortlessly and ensured guest to be at ease all the time. I know that I will have a good time dining here and it did not disappoint. The food I ate this time was tasty, though it was not as delicious as the one I had 2 years earlier. The service, nevertheless, was as good as it gets. Follow the link below for the dishes' pictures,

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 97 pts

Overall: 96.5/100