For my last review for Paris Update for the foreseeable future, my editor treated me royally to the only Alain Ducasse restaurant in Paris (apart from the Jules Verne) that I hadn’t yet tried: Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée. The astronomic prices were largely to blame for my never having tried it, and I fear that my gentle editor had to remortgage before we went.
Interested readers can check out the palatial dining room on the Web: the beige color scheme doesn’t push my buttons but was untaxing on the eye. The seating is rather odd, being a combination of a traditional bergère-style chair-back and armrests, and a pouffe. There’s a neat, handy, pullout shelf for your Birkin bag midway down the pouffe component. The only really interesting decorative features were the traditional crystal chandeliers, which had been expanded by adding hundreds more crystals dangling from the ceiling around them. Reflected in the many mirrors, they twinkled beautifully throughout the meal.
We were cooed and shooed to our places by a regiment of staff in super-elegant black uniforms. When the dust had settled we were presented with water and then a little amuse-bouche of two toasts, one topped with thin slices of ham, the other with slivers of smoked fish. After menu choices were made, that was quickly followed up by another amuse-bouche of frog’s legs cooked Eastern-style, in a crispy, spicy batter that boded well for things to come.
I won’t tire you with a blow-by-blow account of the meal – that would entail describing about a dozen dishes in all, and we were sharing, so I tasted the lot, but the standard throughout was, well, stellar.
Some worked better than others. We were a bit underwhelmed by the steamed langoustines served cold with caviar – four mini makis topped with a perfect dome of caviar. We were expecting a much bigger flavor hit, although the large thimbleful of bouillon served with it was delightfully perfumed with ginger.
Truffles were scattered through the menu as if they were potatoes. They were in the guinea fowl pie and in the generous swathe of jus poured around it. The pie’s pastry was unlike any I have ever tasted – water-based like that used in English pork pies, but thin, crispy and with superb taste, complementing the filling of guinea fowl and a touch of foie gras (what else?).
The other absolutely standout dishes, if we set aside the spring lamb served three ways with more truffles and artichokes, were the “vegetables and fruits,” an amazing concoction of the two, with a sauce that had us gasping with pleasure; and the lobster with pommes de mer. Those sauces again, with melting slices of a floury potato that had been given the time to soak up the flavors of the lobster sauce. Bewitching.
After the cheese came the signature Ducasse rum baba. The sommelier came round with a tasting cart of a half-dozen rums, which I was invited to taste before choosing one to pour over my dessert. Thinking of my liver and not wanting to put myself in alcoholic harm’s way before my imminent move, I played safe, going with the sommelier’s suggestion of an “elegant” Cuban honey.
I could go on and on. Instead, I’d like to say what a wonderful, privileged time I’ve had doing these reviews. Readers’ feedback and responses were always welcome, too. Perhaps my editor will allow me to guest an occasional one on my hopefully frequent return visits to the City of Light. In the meantime, enjoy your food!
Editor’s note: Click here to see the farewell messages sent to Richard by Paris Update readers.
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée: 25, avenue Montaigne 75008 Paris. Tel: 01 53 67 65 00. Métro: Alma Marceau. Nearest Vélib station (are you kidding?). Open for lunch on Thursday and Friday, and for dinner Monday-Friday. www.alain-ducasse.com
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