Sunday, August 20, 2017

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée - 4th visit

Alain Ducasse understands the importance of overall experience when diners having meals especially at his eponymous restaurants. He has been successfully applying such concept and I could testify from my own experience spanning a decade or so at his Plaza Athénée restaurant. Comparing my 1st meal here in 2006 vs the latest one in 2017: many things have changed (such as the food, interior design/decor, chefs de cuisine etc.) yet the general impression I had after each dinner has always been terrific. Great chefs are never afraid of taking risk to reinvent himself and managed to accomplish that goal in the end; Alain Ducasse is certainly one of those chefs. However, to attain this objective, it is impossible to do it alone. From my observation, the most essential glue and most reliable factor for such triumph here is no other than - Denis Courtiade, the restaurant director. Mr. Courtiade, the recipient of numerous prestigious service awards including the world's best maitre d'hotel, has been leading Ducasse main Paris restaurant since 1996 (at 59 Poincaré). Denis ensures the kitchen and dining room staffs work together in harmony; he has been working with 4-5 different head chefs and each time the transition he oversaw has been smooth. Moreover, many of his apprentices have become the restaurant managers at 3-star Michelin restaurants / 5-star hotels worldwide. For my case, whether I dined here with my parents, with my wife, or alone - all experiences have been consistently excellent.

Close to 9 PM, as I was walking out of my hotel room to the Alain Ducasse restaurant. Denis Courtiade had been waiting in front of the restaurant. After he saw me, he looked at his watch, smiled and escorted me to my table, located all the way in the back near the cabinet filled with opulent culinary objects. We greeted each other, had a short chat and discussed what I wanted to eat that evening. Looking at the menu, eating amuse-bouche then anticipating my meals for the next few hours - this was usually one of the happiest moments in my life. Not long after that, the waiters served plenty of things on my table: cereal & gluten free bread with butter and salt, fresh juice (a mixture of green peas, lemon, & ginger), smoked sardines on peanut 'pancakes' as well as chickpea moose with sea bream tartare, the latter was the best among the amuse-bouche items. The current table was made of an artisan oak wood without the usual pristine tablecloth to cover and it only had a single decorative item. a glass candle holder. My table might be 'humble', but the rest of the interior design, in white-woody/golden theme, was celestial with high ceiling, luxurious chandeliers, circular banquettes and its polished stainless steel backs and so on. Let's go back to the food and my menu was like the following,

Le menu Jardin Marin (Menu Garden - Marine)

Pois chiches des Hautes-Alpes, vésiga tiède-chaud, caviar doré (Chick-peas from Hautes-Alpes mountains served with sturgeon bone marrow and golden caviar) - Denis recommended me this dish and it was my first experience consuming dried Vesiga (the marrow from sturgeon fish's spinal cord). It was gelatinous and uniquely chewy, a very pleasant delicacy actually. The vesiga was a wonderful contrast to the nutty, tasty and grainy chickpeas. The high quality caviar was briny, pop-in-the-tongue, a bit sweet and salty flavor oozed into my mouth. Interesting variations that worked very well together. Once again, Alain Ducasse showed his mastery in creating excellent caviar-based dish 

Chanvre de Bretagne, morilles brunes et blondes, asperges vertes (Hemp seeds from Brittany served with brown and blond morels, green asparagus) - Chef Ducasse loved his "cookpot" dishes and they're almost always provide a balance of being tasty and healthy. Hemp seeds (mostly at the bottom) were known to be nutritious and tasted like sunflower seeds / pine nuts with rather soft texture. The morels and their creamy sauce were indeed delicious while the thick wild asparagus was somewhat crunchy and displayed Springtime flavor and aroma. Although it's a 'vegetarian' dish, it was quite heavy and rich ... nevertheless very good

Accompanied by wine: 2005 Savennières Clos de Saint Yves - Domaine des Baumard (Dry, medium body, pale gold, moderate finish, plenty of minerality; not bad but nothing spectacular)

Turbot de l’Île Vierge, concombre de mer, petits pois et févettes (Vierge Island Turbot served with sea cucumber, green peas and broad beans) - This perfectly seasoned and cooked (with its bone) Turbot was fabulous; one of the best I've ever had. The flesh was succulent, juicy and flaky. Moreover, it was rich, gelatinous and deliciously fatty. I would be happy to savor this fish as it was by itself. However, the kitchen would rather integrate this impeccable Turbot with fresh & a bit sweet peas and beans, slightly acidic green sauce and chewy sea cucumber. My favorite dish of the night 

Homard du Cotentin, les œufs émulsionnés, navets primeurs (Cotentin Blue lobster served with shellfish eggs emulsion and turnips) - The lobster was really tender, fragrant and flavorful. The emulsion sauce was quite powerful but nicely absorbed and balanced by the turnips (with no bitter taste). I wish the portion had been larger ...

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet Lucien Muzard and Fils (Deep, long finish, smell of fresh grass & rose, vibrant acidity; decent and should be better in the next 2-3 years)

Fromages frais et affinés pour vous (Fresh and matured cheeses, served with toasted bread) - Selection of the day were
-Comte: sublime hard cheese with rich, creamy and nutty flavor
-Stilton: pungent having less aggressive flavor of the common blue cheese; unique taste (peppery, salty & intense)
-Salers: semi-hard cheese with complex taste (nutty & strong onion bite) but pleasant
-Sheep cheese: slightly sweet, earthy with relatively mild taste and aroma
Very good cheese indeed. Diners were welcome to select more from the cheese cart but these were good enough for me

Rhubarbe récoltée par Gisèle Taxil, au naturel et glacée, crème de fenouil (Gisèle Taxil rhubarb in natural and iced form with fennel cream) - The rhubarb has been refined in such a way that the tart acidic flavor was enjoyable in contrast to the sweet, versatile & aromatic fennel. The best part was the 'cake' in triangle form with good crust outside, soft and flavorful inside. Eat them together interchangeably to get the maximum experience from this dessert - better than I expected

Chocolat de notre Manufacture, orge toastée, sorbet cacao-single malt (Chocolate from our Factory served with toasted barley and cocoa-single malt sherbet) - The restaurant changes its chocolate desserts from time to time and they're usually awesome. This time was a decadent one for pure chocolate lovers (no milky stuff). The dark chocolate was intense & bitter and the toasted barley generated nutty flavor. The best part for me was the addition of rather strong whisky-flavored sherbet; the spirit helped to immediately remove any cloying flavor one might have from earlier dishes. Not often I liked a dessert with hardly any sweet flavor in it

Accompanied by wine: 2008 Vouvray moelleux 1er trie Le Mont Domaine Huet (Medium yellow, moderately sweet & a bit spicy, aromatic nose, good mineral, fruity)

Following Alain Ducasse latest tradition, after the dessert, the kitchen would serve the classic Baba au rhum - this sweet & light sponge cake soaked in premium rum and served with delectable vanilla cream was incredible. Every bite was still an indulgence even after having eaten it a few times. In addition, they also gave seasonal fruits and this time was fresh and sweet strawberries grown in the Versailles garden. Once again, Romain Meder delivered immaculate dishes with clean flavors. He made sure that the pristine and fresh ingredients shine even when food sometimes looked a bit complex. I was thoroughly satisfied with my meal. 

The service was professional, attentive and approachable. Dressed smartly in black now, the large number of dining room brigade meticulously performed their tasks. The friendship I had with Denis Courtiade certainly helped elevate the hospitality to another level. In the middle of the meal when I felt full and needed to take a short break, he gave me a brief tour of the hotel restaurants and bars. Furthermore, he came twice to my table and we had some conversations about many subjects. Closed to midnight, Denis informed me that he had to finish some administration works at the office and thus, he might not be able to bid farewell when I left the restaurant. Even though it was on Monday, the restaurant was full and I was the penultimate guest leaving the restaurant. Mr. Courtiade earlier told me that the inclusion of this restaurant in the 'the 2017 world's 50 best restaurants' - ranked no 13 - helped the restaurant attract more clients. For those who love the new and healthier approach of French cuisine here and do not mind having zero meat / poultry, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée is definitely one of the finest gastronomy places one should visit. You would feel special and important, at least for 3-4 hours. You can see the pictures of this meal at: Ducasse Plaza Athenee May '17

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 98 pts

Overall: 96.5/100