February 4, 2008 | BITE: My Journal
Falling in Like with Adour

 Bubbles and bravura make Adour feel like it’s happening.  Photo: Steven Richter.
 Bubbles and bravura make Adour feel like it’s happening.  Photo: Steven Richter.

        I am surprised how moved I am by the deep-rooted emotional traumas Alex Morris documents in L'Obsession (New York 1-14-08). “Only one thing stands between Alain Ducasse and world domination: New York,” the drop deck reads. Did I feel a tiny ping of guilt as possibly the first restaurant critic to declare the emperor has no toque? I called him robo-chef after a sadly lacking dinner at Louis XV in Monte Carlo and two shockingly flawed early outings at Alain Ducasse in Paris on Avenue Raymond Poincaré. (Michelin took away a star from Louis XV that year because the global gallivant deserved a wakeup.) Then my front cover pan, Gold Plate Special, came long before his arrogant stumbles at the Essex House in August, 2000.

        If Alain Ducasse seems obsessed with New York's failure to fall on its knees in his presence (or to be more accurate, lack of presence), since he long ago declared, “I will never touch another casserole,” it might also seem that I am obsessed with Alain Ducasse.  I guess I'm so old-fashioned and un-upgradable I sneer at star-bundling chefs who hire consultants to come up with recipes. “Research and development” they call that in the fast food industry. Yet when Ducasse got into resurrecting old bistros, I was wild about his affectionate rehab of Aux Lyonnais in Paris, sending countless gourmand players there, while hating Mix, Manhattan in all its incarnations.

 Does this man seem buoyed by his bubbles?  Photo: Steven Richter

        What I want to confess is that I desperately hoped to love Adour.  In a newly confident bid to woo the local bourgeoisie he thinks he now understands, Ducasse had tapped as designer David Rockwell, my longtime friend whose work almost always
 A triumph of hamachi. Photo: Steven Richter.
inspires raves from me. (Yes, even he has felt an occasional nip.)  I knew from David that the jet streamin' mogul touched ground often enough to be deeply involved in the design and installation. That impressed him. That impresses me. I think to myself, I will love Adour if I possibly can.

        Now dinner: Hard-to-book table reserved in my name and for the Food Arts duo, Ariane and Michael Batterberry. Nothing can be done, it seems, about the essential and unappealing trek through the St. Regis Lobby in search of Adour. A device that would catapult the Adour-bound from the sidewalk, or a ceiling tram disgorging pilgrims at the restaurant entrance, would likely be deemed too risky, insurance issues and all. So we walk carefully on St. Regis  marble - it's wet and wintry, moving from hotel cool to instant heat, sexy dimming of the lights. A welcome from the podium. There are delightful glass bubbles in odd places, illuminated wine vitrines, many little nooks with tables for two.  We can wait at the bar -- interactive tutorials by touching the counter I can live without -- or go immediately to the table.

        This must be the room to sit in - the crowd is as gold-and-silver-leafed as the gorgeous coffered ceiling, pointed out to us with innocent enthusiasm by Gwénäelle Guéguen, stunningly statuesque, metallic herself in bronze lame pants - Ducasse's petite amie, companion, interpreter, very recently his wife.  “I decided I knew him well enough after so many years to marry,” she says with a smile.

        Those of us who remember the little embroidered
 Send this dish to the Met.  Photo: Steven Richter
stools for our handbags at Louis XV may find contemporary improvisation - a wooden shelf pulls out from under the chair - a compromise, brilliant or a bit shabby, depending on how attached you feel these days about petit-point stools for hand bags.  (Probably a fully loaded $2800 Birkin with small dog would tip the chair over.) I am not sure why there is music.  I cannot believe there is music at Alain Ducasse in Paris. And it's cliche hotel music, not sophisticated jazz to go with the delirious bubbles and the brilliant silverleaf-strewn scrim stretched over walls that blurs but does not try to hide the architectural details of the old Lespinasse. And the captains and waiters constantly asked if we were happy and how we liked every dish.  I am sure that is thought to please New Yorkers too.  Maybe so, but not me.  Still those bubbles. I like thinking Ducasse is ready for bubbles. Not one but two creamy puff pastries amuses for each one of us is also endearing. And the very good olive bread with olive butter for those who believe more is more.

        At this first tasting, what we are eating is good and even very good, appetizers $19 to $29,
 The egg purse and I.  Photo: Steven Richter
main courses $32 to $49, chef's tasting a charitable $110. (You got that distinction, “appetizers” not hors d'oeuvres?) Cucumber marinated hamachi and goeduck, that odd looking clam, paved with radish discs and napped with green apple mustard is not just picture-perfect, it's full of flavor. And I feel a frisson of joy trying to imagine what it took to produce the amusing egg purse without destroying the precious essence of egg, though the sweetbreads and mushroom meunière underneath are not transporting. And I loved Dubarry's bagel dotted with comté cheese - a Ducassian wink at New York. “I am sure if she were alive and in New York, Madame Dubarry would love it,” exclaims executive chef Tony Esnault.  Alas, delicate is the operative adjective for Madame Dubarry's “delicate cauliflower veloute,” a modern, healthier potage with a modicum of brown butter, chicken stock and lemon confit, minus the lyrical, classic haunt of heavy cream.

        As for the multicolor vegetable composition - it is exactly that. 
 Raspberry spectacular.  Photo: Steven Richter 
A colorful composition. Possibly the most beautiful vegetable dish I've ever seen. Put it in the Metropolitan Museum. And perhaps the turnip is a paragon of turnipness. But its natural jus reduction is a shade too natural.  For me, purity can be too pure.

        My lobster is a triumph of proper cooking and I am sure some will fall for this defatted, Armagnac-flamed Thermador-manqué on a nest of swiss chard that is good but not transporting.  I can't remember the last time I tasted a classic lobster Thermador - it's likely I've had a few weirdly perverted versions in the days when America's young chefs and housewives everywhere cooked Frenchish.  And the Colorado lamb is perfectly fine also, two fat little chops with diamonds of piquillos pepper and half-preserved apricots, but not the triumph I want from a Michelin all-star.

        Indeed what I hoped to experience was lobster and lamb as brilliant and thrilling as tonight's desserts.  The raspberry composition, not just beautiful to gush over but also to eat, with its clarion yuzu sorbet, its giant berries and crème brulée in a basket, a flutter of gold leaf on the handle. And all the ceremony of the waiter pouring molten chocolate on the cocoa-powder roof of the chocolate sorbet with coffee granité hidden inside a big bowl, and then spooning on caramelized croutons is totally justified in the first thrilling taste - and the second and the third.  I don't really want to pass it along. I comfort myself with sensational macaroons and luscious little chocolates, ending the evening on a sugary high.

     At the St. Regis Hotel, 2 East 55th just east of Fifth Avenue. 212 710 2277


I Can't Believe It Tasted That Good

        It's been decades since I thought about Orwasher's, the old fashioned Jewish bakery at 308 East 73rd Street.  We eat out so often there's never a deep psychic need for corned bread in my house anymore.  But tasting the soft pitiful excuse for rye at the new Second Avenue Deli a few nights ago made me wonder if real rye bread even existed any more.  Well. It does. And so does Orwasher's. The rye comes plain or with caraway seeds in a giant round you can buy by the chunk.  Some eternal verities are eternal. At least for now.


Brooklyn, Come Hungry

        I was taking a break for my usual lunch time salad when the messenger arrived.  It was a shipping bag from my friend Shelly Fireman, radiating heat - inside a large plastic food keeper with a new creation from the Brooklyn Dinner:  The Brooklyn French Charcroute Platter (that's how they spell it in Brooklyn).  I tossed my salad, literally, and tasted a bite of each ingredient: the Diner's famous 15-bite hot dog sausage, “Kasseler” smoked pork chop, fennel sausage, chicken sausage, thick sliced corned beef and boiled potatoes alongside a mound of juniper berry sauerkraut.  Audacious and delicious.  I took it home and rewarmed it for dinner.  The Road Food Warrior gave it three forks too.


Garlic Parmesan Temptation

        An eager publicist thought I might want to know that Archer Farms had removed trans fats from its entire product line, "a first for any company," she wrote. It didn't sound like a story for the Insatiable Critic. But I suggested she send some cookies and I would try them against other company’s cookies and if they were really fabulous, I would write about it.  Her package came.  It included dried blue berries and cherries and other products that had never been near a transfat.  And the cookies were so sweet I didn't even bother to look for a competitor.  But I think you'll want to know about Archer Farms “kettle cooked” parmesan garlic chips -- thicker than most chips, not outrageously salty, subtly garlicked.  Every one who passed through the office got a taste and yes, it was impossible to eat just one.