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Mao & Vivin in Paris(3): Ducasse

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This was the greatest dining experience, though not meal, of my life. My facial muscles are still recovering from the 4 hour grin. Almost everything was done superbly. I have never had any particular desire to be king, but the entire experience at Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenee convinces you, at least for the duration of your stay in the room, that you are indeed in control of much of the universe, and that this is your right. For me it was a tremendously transformative dining event for the simple reason that it was so educational—quite frankly I never knew that superb food, wine, service and “overall great vibe” for lack of a better description could be integrated into a meal that pleased the heart, head and soul. For me, it simply hadn’t happened before. Call it the loss of virginity if you like. For the realization what a truly astounding experience a meal can be that I give total credit to ADPA. I will also admit the place has some minor flaws—the bread was only OK and the cheese cart was very good but not superb, and I thought the cooking lacked the astounding sensitivity that I enjoyed at Le Grand Vefour—but its almost a waste of time and energy to dissect the experience of eating at Ducasse, because the whole is so much more than the sum of the pieces. And the whole is great.

The list of superlatives related to this meal could go on and on.

The wine that we had was the greatest Chardonnay I have ever had—a 1997 Chassagne-Montrachet Baron Chenard. It elevated a sublime meal to another level in a way that I have never experienced with wine and food before. Its color, fragrance, taste and finish were aristocratically confident. But it was also perfectly mannered and in no way overpowered the meal. It simply danced in perfect accompaniment with everything we eat, adding and making a great experience much richer.

The use of truffe noir at Arpege and Lucas Carton had been on occasion brutal and heavy handed, however, it was perfectly and delicately handed at Ducasse. At one point early in the meal they brought around a box of truffles and gave you whiff—some kind of demonstration of confidence that they had the best truffles in town (in my opinion they did). For a while I thought that I was just a bit of a ignorant bumpkin for not fawning over the things, but Ducasse rather abruptly changed my mind, and allowed me to love their fragrant virtues.

Here’s what we eat:

Amuse Bouche 1 - softly cooked spinach in a flaky pastry crust.

Amuse Bouche 2 – scallop dolloped with caviar in cream sauce. Balance, poise, wonder. Everything worked sublimely, though the caviar would have worked brilliantly as a thing in itself too, as it was light and soooo delicate.

Marmalade of Potatoes, Black Truffles & Sea Salt-Now I have been eating mashed potatoes most of my life. And they are good, homey stuff. The perfect starch launching pad with an accompanying amount of fat or cream for any number of spices—rosemary, cumin, thyme, garlic [insert herb here]. Or if you like insert black truffle chunks and then cover a tiny thin bowl of the truffle potatoes with black truffle shavings. Whole thing was a truffle revelation that worked particularly well with the Montrachet. Our entire table was oohing and ahhing for the better part of 20 minutes. I mind melded with the truffe noire.

Lobster with Black truffles in buttery sauce-this dropped the meal back to earth a bit but was still excellent.

Chicken breast from Bresse covered with aromatic green herbs and on the side some finally shopped duck liver steamed inside some spinach. The server then poured some rich black truffle sauce I a self-conscious way around the chicken. This dish started off too truffly for me and then after a minute or two the juices from the chicken breast began to run off into the truffle sauce; and that’s when the magic happened--everything started yining and yanging together and the great show began. I don’t think I have ever eaten chickn that was this good before. Again the Montrachet was, of course, perfect with the chicken. At this point in the meal the whole world felt perfect.

Cheese course

Range of wonderful desserts.

But in way no actual description of what was had or eaten can describe the wonder of the total meal. This may be the most civilized way to spend 4 hours of earth. I go to ADNY in 2 weeks. It will be interesting tosee if it is even comparable. I pray that it is. NYC is sorely missing a total dining experience like this.

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