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Dec 26, 2008 10:33 PM

In Photos: A Tasting Menu Report from Alain Ducasse's Adour

I had four nights to spend in Manhattan, and to me, that means four great dinners. The first was at Alain Ducasse's new place, Adour. This was to be followed up by Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, and finally, Per Se.

Ever since his eponymous 3-star restaurant at Essex House closed in 2007, Alain Ducasse had been missing from the New York culinary scene. But after a brief hiatus, Ducasse opened Adour (named after a river in southwestern France near Ducasse's hometown) in early 2008, along with his bistro concept, Benoit. The theme of Adour is somewhat unique, and ambitious: to develop a menu where the dishes and wine pairings are designed to complement each other right from the get go.

Since my dining companions weren't drinking this night, I decided to forego bottles and do it by the glass. What's unique about Adour is that each night, a number of jeroboams (3.0L bottles) are opened and wine from them sold by the glass. I didn't order the following wines specifically, but rather, let our server decide:

• Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes, Bordeaux 2001 [$35.00] - Though of one my dining companions thought this tasted like cough medicine, I rather enjoyed it. I noted a nose typical of Sauternes of honey and apricot, which continued on to the nicely acidic palate. The wine was a lovely complement to the foie gras dish.
• René Monnier, Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy 2006 [$32.00] - From a jeroboam. This was a classic white Burgundy, with a full, rich body and plenty of minerals on the nose as well as palate. Dry, refined, and well-balanced, it went beautifully with the lighter dishes of the meal.
• Icardi, Parej, Barolo 2001 [$48.00] - From a jeroboam. Juicy aromas here of raisin and berries, which seem to disappear once the wine is actually tasted, transforming to loads of spice and smoke, with light tannins. Was not a huge fan of this one.

The wines were solid; what shocked me were the prices. Castelnau de Suduiraut is the Château's second wine but was priced like the real deal. I was at Le Bernardin the following night, which had the same wine for only $18 a glass, half the price. And $48 a glass for the Icardi? Yikes.

Now onto the food:

Amuse Bouche: Butternut Squash Soup with Chive Cream
I seem to be having quite a few squash soups as of late, after having examples at both Coi and Manresa recently. I'm not a huge fan of squash, and generally, I find such soups to be a bit on the sweet side for me. Fortunately, that wasn't the case here. The soup was just savory enough, and was further accented by the addition of chives and bits of crouton-like pieces, which added a tinge of saltiness and a lovely crunchy texture to the dish.

Supplement: Sweetbread "Meunière," Egg Purse
Wild Mushrooms, Brioche. Overall, this was a very strong presentation of sweetbreads. The sweetbreads themselves were richly and intensely flavored as expected, without being too gamey, and were well-accentuated by the earthiness of the mushroom. I especially appreciated the creamy yolk of the egg purse, though one of my dining companions did think that the egg white was too firm--I rather liked it. As for the brioche, I found it acceptable but unnecessary; however, some thought it was "eggy," "sweet," and even "stale."

Supplement: Duck Foie Gras Terrine, Quince Chutney Gelée
Huckleberry / Duck Vinaigrette, Toasted Brioche. I quite liked the presentation here, with the foie and chutney sandwich looking somewhat like a slab of bacon. In any case, the foie itself was fairly strongly flavored, and thus the quince did well to temper the muskiness of the liver. It was a wonderful accompaniment to the crunchy toasted brioche.

1: Cucumber Vinegar Marinated Hamachi
Avocado, Granny Smith, Long Pepper, Green Apple Mustard. The hamachi, taken alone, was rather plain despite the cucumber marination, and was served a bit too close to room temperature actually. For me, the key with this dish was to eat everything in one bite, which resulted in a somewhat "tropical" flavor and an interesting textural mélange of the fish, toasty bread pieces, and crisp cucumber and apple. My dining companions preferred to eat the fish with only the mustard, which one likened to tasting like a "gummy bear;" I personally thought it was more akin to a Jolly Rancher!

2: Glazed Multicolor Vegetable Composition
Natural Jus Reduction. When I saw the name of this dish on the menu, I pictured something in my mind along the lines of the "Into the Vegetable Garden" dish at Manresa or the "Garden, Late Fall" at Coi. Rather, compared to those more free-form presentations, this course was purposefully arranged and structured. The vegetables (I identified carrot, celery, leek, chestnut, beet, and apple) were thoroughly cooked, which did indeed make them lose some distinctiveness compared to a more au natural presentation. The vegetable jus, meanwhile, lent a slightly sweet backdrop to the entire dish.

3: Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Pasta Impression, Zucchini Rings, Tomato Petal. The zucchini was the crux of this course. It was clearly the most dominant flavor component here, and easily overpowered the delicate flavor of lobster if not taken in careful amounts. The pasta was fairly bland on its own, but added a great textural contrast when eaten with the rest of the dish. The lobster itself was well-cooked, though one of my dining companions did note a few overcooked pieces.

4: Duck Breast Fillet "Au Plat"
Creamy Polenta, Shallots, Radish, Niçoise Olives. The duck here was perhaps a tad overdone, giving it a bit of a tough, chewy texture. The sauce was a touch monolithic, and was dominated by the tartness of olive. I would've liked something more subtle and more complex, to let the natural flavor of the duck shine through. As for the polenta, we all thought it was some of the best we've had, though admittedly, we rarely eat it; one of my dining companions even thought it tasted like Chinese tapioca!

5: Apple Sablé
Granny Smith Sorbet, Calvados Emulsion, Vanilla Cream. "Sablé" means "sand" in French and the name comes from the crumbly nature of the cookie. Here, it formed a wonderful base for the cool, tart apple sorbet, rich vanilla cream, and light, airy Calvados foam. The crispness of the sorbet hits your first, then the other parts of the dish come into play one after another. The dish was a multilayered interplay of tastes, temperatures, and textures that resulted in a superb dessert experience. Humorously, one of my dining companions was afraid to eat the bit of gold foil on top of the ring (she was also concerned with the gold on my last trip to Urasawa); I was more than happy to eat it for her!

One of the initial criticisms of Essex House was that the place was too complex, too extravagant, too over-the-top. I've heard stories of a dozen different pens being provided to sign the check, and a similar number of knives that diners had to chose from to cut their perfectly roasted squab. Ducasse was well aware of this, and thus wanted his next restaurant, Adour, to be simpler, more straightforward, both in terms of food, and experience. But perhaps the pendulum has swung a bit too far here.

Overall, I liked most everything I ate, but I kept wishing for a little more boldness, a little more lavishness, a little more "wow factor." The place is close, and has potential, and perhaps the experience was affected somewhat by the recent change in head chefs, but Ducasse and company do need to step up their game to the next level if they ever want a shot at that third étoile Michelin.

Has anyone else been recently? For those who have been to Adour under Tony Esnault's helm, does his replacement by Joel Dennis represent an improvement?

Full details with photos:

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  1. Thank you for the beautiful report and pictures. Will look for your reporting on the other restaurants.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gyppielou

      Thanks! The reports take quite a bit of time to craft, and I'll be interspersing some lower-end places as well, so look for Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, and Per Se in the coming weeks!

    2. Nice review. Excited to hear your Le Bernardin and Per Se reviews as I'll going to those along with a few other legendary NY restaurants!

      9 Replies
      1. re: cgervais45

        Thanks Chris. Which other places are you going to besides Le Bernardin and Per Se?

        1. re: kevin h

          I'll be going to Gramercy Tavern, EMP, WD-50, Sushi Yasuda, Prune, and all the others you mentioned besides Adour. While I orginally had resvervations for GR at the London AND Adour AND WD-50 for the same night, I decided on WD 50 for a more unique experience. I want to experience Ducasse but not in the U.S.. I feel he expresses his true self out of U.S.. He is one of the best Chefs in the world but I don't think he expresses himself in the U.S. like he should but its because people don't understand him here.

          1. re: cgervais45

            Yeah I see your point about Ducasse. I think I read an interview with him somewhere where he expresses basically what you're saying.

            I was considering WD-50 as well, but it was on the same night as Per Se. We were on the waiting list for Per Se, and it came through at the last moment so we went. If only I had more time there...

            1. re: cgervais45

              cgervais, we have discussed this before but I think your comment about how we dinners here in NYC don't understand Ducasse needs to be questioned. I don't get him I guess ... what are we missing? I believe his record here proves he just doesn't get us.

              His record in no particular order:
              - ADNY - couldn't compete (particularly with Per Se) - Closed
              - Benoit - is just not good on so many would seem it's days are numbered.
              - Adour - perhaps, it's the ecomomy but it is usually not full therefore unlikely to see 2010 (the hotel may provide life support, but only for so long)
              - Mix - anybody remember Mix? whoa, that place was so terribly disjointed and bad - Closed (or perhaps put out of it's misery)

              A classic (delusional) Ducasse quote:

              "We (ADNY) were one of the first gastronomic fine dining restaurants in New York. We paved the way for restaurants like Per Se and chefs like Thomas Keller. Maybe when I die, people will realize what I did here"


              ....if visitors bring Franco sensibilities to NYC you end up at Adour, Daniel or Gordon Ramsey instead the likes of Momofuku Ko, Corton, Degustation, 11 Madison Park (and several others) and ultimately missing essential NYC food...

              1. re: Cpalms

                I am one who enjoyed ADNY. Ducasse tried to bring a "European 3* dining experience" to the US and in many ways he succeeded, but he certainly miscalculated. He went too far and some of the affectations (pens, waters, etc) were just silly. People (critics) used those things to trash the Parisian invader. He gave them too much to use against him. I have to say there were many excellent things about ADNY, esp. the food... but these things were overshadowed. The way he came into town, with pens ablazin, was too much for us to handle and he could never recover from it. There is something to be said for first impressions. I had many wonderful meals there.

                I am not a fan of the "lower end" places he runs... and wish that he didn't expand as he has in that direction. I don't frequent those places. I do like Adour and think this place will have a following. It's a small restaurant and it should be no problem to keep it above water being in NYC and in the St. Regis. Obviously this a better fit than the Essex House where he was previously.

                If you want a hedonistic treat. Go to Paris in white truffle season and order the white truffle menu at his Ducasse's place in the Plaza Athenee... continue after dinner... go up to your room/suite and order a bottle of Cristal, a nice Pomerol or the like. In this crazy world we live in (and seemingly getting crazier by the minute) it's a nice way to forget about all the problems out there... Ducasse plays nicely with white truffles.

                1. re: Cpalms

                  Why is it that when i eat at Adour it is full or nearly full and I eat early.

                  1. re: sethd

                    Was full when I went... So sethd were you happy with the amt of whites they shaved for the $?

                    I love white truffle and am too often disappointed with the slim pickins a lot of places provide. I like places that will sell you a truffle (by weight) and you can shave away till your heart's content... usually in Italy.

                    1. re: sethd

                      We never managed to get to ADNY and have not eaten at Adour, but walking past the St. Regis this afternoon, we looked at Adour's menu and were surprised to see that the tasting dinner is $110. Presuming the quality of the cuisine truly is as high as you fans say it is, I think that's a quite reasonable price when compared to costs for tasting menus at other high end restaurants around town and could be one reason you have found Adour full or nearly so when you've been there.

                    2. re: Cpalms

                      I'm simply saying I feel he expresses his true self at his restaurants in his country and feel he plays it safe here in the U.S.. When you have great chefs like Daniel Boulud saying that Ducasse is one of the best chefs in the world that means something. Thats simply why I don't want to dine at Adour, even thought its tempting, I want to experience Ducasse cooking elsewhere.

              2. FIrst, it it evident that Ducasse will never live down the pen and knife issues at ADNY. In fact, the choice of pens was discontinued within the first year the restaurant was open. In fact, I ate 51 meals at ADNY and never was I given I choice of pens or knives....Second, ducasse has never been known for a "wow" factor or "boldness", but for simple food elegantly and perfectly prepared. I will be happy if Chef Dennis keeps the superlative level of cuisine achieved during the time Esnault manned the stoves at Adour and at ADNY.
                I did have the opportunity to eat at Adour this week when it was under the direction of Joel Dennis. I had the first two dishes off the white truffle menu, including the scallops and pasta dish. My main course was the lamb which I have had many times and didn't notice any difference between the two chefs. My desert, the new chestnet suffle, further exemplified why I think Sandro is one of the best pastry chefs in New York. I washed the meal down with a glass of Dom, a bottle of 1998 premier cru Meurseult, a glass of Barolo, and a glass or two of 1977 Madeira. All in all a wonderful meal.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sethd

                  Thanks for the informative reply. I'd never had the chance to dine at Essex House, though from what you're saying, it sounds like you're not giving up too much at Adour in terms of the food.

                  In any case, I totally agree about Sandro, as the dessert was truly one of the highlights of the meal.

                2. Thanks for the detailed report.

                  I agree that those wine prices are shocking, especially given that those are very young and quite possibly not at their drinking best. Yes, I also agree that $48 for a glass of an 01 Icardi is quite obscene.

                  I'm curious as to whether your wine experience at Per Se was shocking as well, especially as their wine are prices are much higher than at Adour.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: RCC

                    Here's what I had at Per Se (in addition to cocktails and other beverages):

                    Rudi Pichler, Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel, Wachau 2007 $22
                    Peay, Pinot Noir, "Pomarium," Sonoma Coast 2006 $32

                    High, but I wouldn't necessarily say higher than Adour. Also, since I picked the wines myself, I wasn't surprised with the prices.

                    What I was shocked by at Per Se was the corkage, at $90. And I thought the $50 at French Laundry was steep!

                    1. re: kevin h

                      Yes, the corkage at Per Se are high. We've BYO'd at FL a few times and it feels much more reasonable than perusing their very high marked-up wine list for a few bottles. Both Per Se and FL are those restaurants where you should BYO with the big guns if planning to bring your own.

                  2. Thanks for the detailed report. My meal at Adour about 4 weeks ago was excellent. Had the same tasting along with the pork dish. The pork add-on wasn't my favorite and I wasn't blown away by the lobster dish.. just ok. Everything else was superb... plenty to carry the meal and an excellent evening. I enjoyed the room, service, and the wines. I'll return to Adour... it's very much in the Ducasse way. As our resident Ducasse expert stated... simple food elegantly and perfectly prepared.

                    Im looking forward to your other reports. Thanks for the time you put into them.