Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee: An Exquisite Extravaganza
PARIS, FRANCE, July 4, 2017 – Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee is one of the most acclaimed dining pleasures in all of Paris, a 3 Michelin starred culinary institution with one of the most notable names associated with modern Haute Cuisine, Alain Ducasse.
Located in the majestic Plaza Athenee on legendary Avenue Montaigne, it has retained its renowned 3 Michelin stars with an audacious new look, a refined approach to fine dining, and a fierce determination to break new ground in one of the most competitive and closely watched culinary centers in the world.
Alain Ducasse himself is one of the giants of Haute Cuisine, a disciple of the towering figure of Joel Robuchon, who he has now notably replaced at the pinnacle of the international culinary world.
The Plaza Athenee is one of the most legendary hotels in all of Paris and one of the premier properties of the Dorchester Collection of 5 star luxury hotels.
The restaurant there is the flagship of a worldwide empire of restaurants including Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London with 3 Michelin stars, and Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, also in Paris at the legendary Meurice Hotel, with 2 Michelin stars.
Thus it was that when the Plaza Athenee underwent a significant renovation and closed in Oct of 2013 to reopen in September of 2014 that the restaurant underwent a total renovation and reinvention itself.
The result has been a spectacular success, an innovative reimagination of both cuisine and presentation, of both concept and atmosphere, of both the menu and the approach to cuisine and ingredients.
It was an audacious move. The easiest course would have been to play it safe, maintaining the look and menu that had catapulted Ducasse to culinary stardom. But playing it safe was never in his playbook and his gamble that Paris was ready for a new approach to cuisine has been richly rewarded and acclaimed.
With Executive Chef Romain Meder at the helm since its redesign and reopening, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee has emerged as a leader in the initiation of cleaner, healthier, and spectacularly innovative approaches to cuisine.
Chef Meder has instituted the use of a broader range of farm to table ingredients, the use of a wider palette of vegetarian dishes, and challenged the concept that Haute Cuisine must always be served in grand ballrooms of beaux arts style or art deco treasure houses.
To be sure, the Plaza Athenee remains an Art Deco treasure, and Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee is certainly grand in both artistic design, presentation and cuisine, but with a manner that has delighted and surprised critics, interior designers, and discriminating foodies alike.
The interior design of the room, created by Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, is a modern, sleek, almost spaceship like production of gleaming chrome banquets at the entrance, wooden tables without tablecloths, and modernist designed chairs.
Touches of artistic whimsy are everywhere from the cutlery and silverware to the small tableside settees for women’s purses, or critics cameras.
Situated just off the lobby of the entrance to Plaza Athenee, the doors open to reveal a trio of gleaming chrome covered banquets, creating a futuristic mode from the first moment of inception.
The room is spacious and airy, with 25 foot ceilings. The only structure remaining from the previous incarnation are the stunning Swarovski chandeliers, a collection of 3 massive structures containing thousands of Swarovski crystals that are dazzling, but also lend itself to the futuristic motif of the restaurant, combining the old and the new seamlessly.
The ceiling retains its art deco plastering with gold beaux arts touches, and the contrast is appealing and seductive, as if the statement being made is “you are about to experience something you have never seen before”.
This audacious renovation is further contrasted with what appear to be casual blonde round wooden tables that immediately create a relaxed mode, that project there is something serious but not snobby taking place, putting the diner at ease while enticing him with intoxicating décor and a sense of adventure.
In that regard a giant banquet to one side of the room resembles a giant open clamshell, its backing arching over the table for 6 with plastered clamshell patterns, capped by wooden edgings that make it stand out as both whimsical and as a stunning artwork.
Indeed, it is dining as a work of theatre in presentation and appearance, but definitively fine dining as a work of art in food, service, concept and taste.
The innovations do not end with the interior design. The menu has been redesigned to emphasis vegetarian entrees, the use of local holistic ingredients including vegetables and herbs grown in their own garden at Versailles Palace.
The use of creams and sugar in the deserts has been reduced, the favoring of natural flavors and clean cooking has been emphasized, the combination of vegetable accents to traditional cuisines has been added, all to stunning and delightful effect.
In short, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee has taken fine dining to new heights of culinary wonder while never sacrificing the joy and stunning delivery of amazing food concepts, combining the traditional with the new in ways that are both awesome and beautifully incendiary.
Some things never change, however, like the quest for excellence under long time restaurant Manager Denis Courtiade, the intricate precision of service, the concept of Haute Cuisine as art, and the Sommelier, Laurent Roucayrol, who has been with Alain Ducasse since 1996.
Indeed, we begin lunch as Laurent graciously presents us with a lovely glass of pink champagne from Duval-Leroy as we enjoy several enticing amuse bouche.
The atmosphere is electric as the experience begins, with one menu selection accented on seafood, the other expressing the vegetarian emphasis that is now increasingly common in high end fine dining.
Legumes de jardin du chateau du Versailles, a selection from their proprietary garden at the Palais du Versailles accented with beeswax, dandelion and buckwheat, is a fabulous mélange of vegetables and salad in a delightful sauce.
Langoustines from Brittany with golden caviar is sensational, the richness of caviar an explosive salty counterpoint to the creamy textured langoustine, the sauce enrapturing, the combination of ingredients intoxicating.
Sumptuously beautiful brown and blond morels with green asparagus is a taste triumph, along with a golden pitcher of delightful sauce that is a hallmark of many of the dishes and presentations during lunch.
Gamberoni San Remo with a grilled avocado and sea urchin is extraordinary, the prawns zesty and firm, the light sauce delicate and rich.
The Sommelier, Laurent Roucayrol, has selected a perfectly lovely Gevrey-Chambertin 2010 to accompany the meal, and it opens beautifully over the course of several hours.
A fixture at Alain Ducasse for over 20 years and presiding over the essential wine adventures at the peak of Parisian culinary establishments, he is a genial, confident man who never ceases to wrap himself up in the joy that comes from the continual embrace of the knowledge of wine.
Sete harbor John Dory with artichokes and chili pepper is simply delightful, the fish firm and flaky, the flavor delicately understated, the artichoke a wonderful taste counterpoint.
Homard du Continten, or blue lobster with shellfish eggs emulsion and turnips is sheer perfection, transcendent tender morsels of lobster with a rich sauce as a fitting climax to a culinary wonderland of a meal.
As a palette cleanser the server presents a small bowl of fresh salad greens, as in freshly cut, as in cut from the box in front of you and served at your table.
It is a sweet whimsical moment, and a very engaging way of emphasizing what farm fresh to table can truly mean.
A lemon sorbet in the shape of a rose is an exotic, beautifully crafted desert that is devoured like Buddhist art, too beautiful to eat and too delicious not to.
A flurry of deserts, including a crème brulee, a rhubarb tart, and fresh strawberries from Pernes-les-Fontaines is rounded out with a tasty selection of French cheeses including a magnificent shaved blue cheese.
A serenity lays hold as the meal begins to come to an end, the room a quieter whisper of the flurry from hours before, the gentle hum of contentment and cognitive joy filling the senses.
The staff has guided us through the entire afternoon with a beguiling enthusiasm for the theatre and art of fine dining that is deliciously contagious.
Chef Romain Meder has brilliantly established a truly compelling experience, on the cutting edge of both presentation and cuisine, and has earned three Michelin stars each of the three years he has been here.
The creation of genuine sensation in art, architecture, or Haute Cuisine is all about the search for the combination of genuinely special moments, in this case the eye awakening, soul enriching, all-encompassing culinary experience.
At Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee they manage to do that each and every day.
As we exit the dining room a harpist is playing in the grand hallway, the music effervescent, soothing notes filling the ears, serenely enthralling in a moment of time, as the bustle of this grand hotel goes on around her.
The Plaza Athenee, an extraordinary presence in the history and culture of modern Paris, and proud flagship of the Dorchester Collection of exceptional luxury hotels, holds many jewels in its crown. Alain Ducasse is one of them.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal
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