My wife and I arrived at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée near 9 PM. We were a bit late as we unexpectedly met our good friend coming from Newcastle; he happened to be on an assignment in Paris the following day. Denis Courtiade, the charming maitre d' maison, greeted us near the restaurant's entrance. Then, we were escorted to our table in the middle. The interior design of its lavish dining room has been transformed into a less formal and lighter space. As I was walking into my seat, there were a few novel & outstanding things that caught my attention. 1st, the gargantuan chandeliers garnished with Swarovski crystal dangle from the high ceiling were still there. They were suspended closer to the dining tables and now guests would enjoy the sparkles from the small crystals throughout the evening since the restaurant does not dim the light anymore as the night passes. 2nd, there are three circular banquettes whose outer design having convex shapes and made of polished silver shells that would elegantly reflect the multicolor 'rain' captured by the crystal pendants from the chandelier. 3rd, to the left of the dining room, there was a table topped by a big structure that looks like a boat's hull enveloping a table for four. Lastly, in the back of the room, a tall cabinet stands covered with great panels that fade as the night falls. Inside, I was told that there were plenty of silver pieces and crystal wares provided by Christofle and Saint-Louis; these two were the oldest and most prominent arts and craft houses in France. I did not feel the current decor to be less luxurious than before. On the contrary, I loved this new concept designed by Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku who were bold enough to remove the traditional starched & pristine tablecloths in favor of clean and solid oak tables. The distance between tables is spacious. The attention to details is amazing. Under the wooden table, it's connected by leather material. The new chairs are very comfortable with fluffy cushions covered by high quality leather. The white folding stool for ladies' bag is cool and prior to the meal, diners would found a delicate, twisted but suspended organic shaped ring (similar to a Möbius strip) sit at the dining table. There are simply too many unique and special table wares to mention here. In short, the new dining room is awesome!
As soon as we sat, the parade of food began. Instead of the standard and predictable champagne as aperitif, we drank refreshing and healthy juices (a mixture of carrot, apple, celery and a touch of ginger) in glass tumblers accompanied by dense cereal toast. After that, we're given mullet fish in 'sashimi' style with bottarga. Then, come a ceramic bowl containing sorrel, salsify and chestnut; at the same time, there was a rice bread (supposedly gluten free) with salted butter supplied by Frederic Leroux from Cauville-sur-Mer. A decent beginning. After having a short conversation with Monsieur Courtiade, he proposed to create special menu for us that will combine masculine (M) and feminine (F) elements for me and my wife respectively and we gladly accepted the offer. I've been here twice, so I was very confident that we would be well taken care of. The amuse-bouche did not finish yet.The kitchen brought us . Finally, we were relaxed for several minutes before the main show started.
Le menu Jardin Marin (Menu Garden - Marine)
2007 Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon (Pale yellow & smokey white wine with complex minerality; sweet honey notes on the nose with a long finish)
2012 Domaine Marc Colin & Fils Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Le Charmois (White Burgundy made with chardonnay. Fruity, good body, and long finish - not bad)
2010 Clos des Brusquières Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Elegant with layers of sweet & spice; medium tannins with cherry finish - should develop better in the next 5-10 years, a bit too young now)
2011 Maison Chapoutier Le Coufis Vin de Table de France Doux (Lush, sweet and fruity with good clarity and decent finish, quite nice)
The mignardises have been reduced. We only had chocolate with praline inside as well as sweet & seedless muscat grapes - both of them were excellent though I still prefer the old 'unhealthy' petit four trolleys and macaroons. For digestive, both of us opted for tea infusion. My spouse had lemongrass & mint whereas I had rosemary & lemongrass plus a little bit of honey; it was great. A little comment on the wine list: it's entirely new and presented in different ways. For instance, the menu arranges the bottles (from various origins) by generation, varied from five, ten to fifty years - if I recalled correctly. The price and the mark up were pretty steep, but they had more reasonably priced options for wine by the glass, such as what I drank above. They were not that remarkable, but paired quite well with the food. I was pleased with the quality and it's directly proportional with the cost of Parisian fine dining standard.
Both of us very much enjoyed this food symphony; it was delicious and excellent throughout although a bit short of my first meal here. In spite of this, the main star of the show was ADPA's hospitality lead by the capable and amiable Denis Courtiade. We experienced the pinnacle of what 'perfect' service was like/supposed to be (it was a very busy evening and all seats were taken). Denis always paid full attention while being discreet at the same time; he could be humorous when necessary but knew exactly when not being obtrusive. I felt to be treated not just like royalty, but as an 'old' friend coming to his place. Staffs were respectable to guests, yet they were not intimidated and made diners felt very comfortable. Our "femme maitre d" named Cecile also did a wonderful job. She was professional and friendly. My wife loved talking to her about many things and you could see the small details such as an eye contact and body language that she really engaged and enjoyed the conversation as well as doing her job. As a matter of fact, the special part of the whole dining room brigade was the smooth flow/movement, gestures and postures as well as the flair. Their performance was sensational. They're well supported with elegant uniforms designed by George Feghaly - mostly in white and grey that beautifully matched the overall ambiance. Even the sommelier when not discussing about the wines, also delivered fine service. Monsieur Courtiade shared that it was his aim to give guests an unforgettable experience and for us, Denis absolutely achieved that goal with flying colors. On top of that, I comfortably declared that it was the finest and most fun service I've ever received in any restaurants. I doubt other place could do better job than at Ducasse's main Paris establishment.
I respected the effort of Alain Ducasse who keeps challenging himself, even when he's nearly 60 years of age. It shows that even though he is no longer active in the kitchen, his brain was still very much active to re-invent himself by taking an initiative and leadership role in this innovation. He decided to distance himself from traditional ways among French 3-star places in terms of who can make the best foie gras, albufera sauce or truffle dishes. For Chef Ducasse, this made sense since he has the expertise and ample of resources to materialize his ideas. It was not as easy as it looked; the new ADPA with its 'zen' revolution has cost him a (Michelin) star. He experienced this before and I'm confident he will be able to regain the red guide book's highest honor at most in two years. Overall, I had another exceptional meal at Plaza Athénée. The dishes were delicious and balanced, the wine list was a dream, the interior was elegant and detailed, and above all the service was amazing. The meal lasted nearly 4 hours and we generally felt engaging most of the times especially by the food and sometimes by the restaurant's hospitality; there's never a dull moment. Come with an open mind and curiosity, you will surely be rewarded here. You're welcome to see the pictures: Ducasse Plaza Athenee in Nov '14
Food (and Wine): 97 pts
Service (and Ambiance): 99 pts