There is perhaps no chef in the world whose reputation is as carefully cultivated—or as easily ridiculed—as Alain Ducasse’s. Although his entry into the US market, at New York’s Essex House, actually lasted seven years before going under, the consensus is that he was pretty much run out of town by the city’s sophisticated skeptics.
At least you can’t call Ducasse a quitter. He’s determined to figure out the Americans yet, so he’s reinvented himself yet again by opening two Adours, in swanky St. Regis hotels in New York and DC. Thankfully, prices are well below Essex House levels, and after some initial bumps in the road, the food is currently delivering as promised. The atmosphere is as slick, moneyed, and unselfconsciously trendy as you’d expect, with wine walls glowing in the posh darkness and irritating continuous bench seating for the less valued guests.
That’s not to say that the maverick chef is actually hanging out in DC, because he’s got another new project going too. In case two St. Regis hotels weren’t touristy enough, he’s just opened a restaurant…drumroll please…inside the Eiffel Tower. There, for a mere 200 euros ($263), you can rub elbows with some of the world’s most gullible and/or price-insensitive diners and gaze out over the City of Lights.
So if you thought that $26 was a lot for the starter of pressed chicken and foie gras with black truffle condiment and leek vinaigrette—a lovely indulgence with unexpected textural diversity—consider that at Le Jules Verne, the Eiffel Tower restaurant, the almost-identical starter costs 54 euros ($71), making Adour’s prices seem like Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Seared foie gras has been excellent, too, as has light, zippy cucumber-marinated yellowtail with radish and green-apple mustard, and creamy sunchoke soup cleverly matched with bacon foam. Magnificently indulgent ricotta gnocchi are like the comfort food of the upper class, with sautéed lettuce, crispy prosciutto, and earthy mushrooms. Adour is also turning out the city’s most consistently brilliant preparations of lobster, often paired with some version of reduced shellfish stock.
There have been service issues—pomposity, and worse still, incessant efforts to squeeze more money out of customers: pushing bottled water, upselling wine. A bit of trivia to keep in mind: this is not quite a carbon copy of the New York Adour. On one visit, the waitstaff admitted to us that the DC menu was “less interesting,” with “less focus on organ meats and such,” because the palates of DC diners were “less adventurous.” The white-coats are coming! The white-coats are coming! Revolt, good District citizens, revolt!
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