Sunday, February 17, 2008


St. Regis Hotel
2 E. 55th St (5th Ave)

I expect big things from Alain Ducasse. Anyone who holds Michelin’s top three-star rating for restaurants in three cities at the same time, as Ducasse did for Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, the Plaza Athénée in Paris, and, until its closing last year, Alain Ducasse at Essex House here in New York, is clearly, to say the very least, a highly capable chef and restaurateur. So the prospect of visiting Adour, Groupe Alain Ducasse’s new venture, located in the St. Regis Hotel, bred visions of gastronomic ecstasy of the sort rarely encountered outside my dreams.

The restaurant seats 72 in an open central area and a handful of smaller rooms around its periphery. A separate tasting room can accommodate up to 12. We sat in one of the round satellite dining rooms, which held four tables and was decked out in various shades of gold. Our server was solicitous almost to the point of awkwardness, thanking us each time we thanked her. Thank us? What did we do? Perhaps the prospect of the tip she would receive on such a pricey meal explained her advance gratitude.

Our first starter was the Delicate Cauliflower Velouté with Dubarry Bagel and Comté Cheese ($17). I thought the Comté cheese with the Dubarry bagel was a cute, if possibly unintentional, play on titled nobility, since comté is the French word for “county” and Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, was also known as the Comtesse du Barry. But a Dubarry bagel? In “BITE,” the online journal portion of her Insatiable Critic website, Gael Greene calls the bagel “a Ducassian wink at New York,” further quoting executive chef Tony Esnault as saying: “‘I am sure if she were alive and in New York, Madame Dubarry would love it.’” Really? I suppose we can attribute anything we want to the tastes of 200-year-dead courtesans, but I have my doubts. On the other hand, there is a place called Barry’s Bagel Boys on Fort Hamilton Parkway in Brooklyn. Might Monsieur Ducasse be a secret devoté of their schmear above others’...? But I digress. The most educational aspect of the dish was the fact that it contained braised purple, green, yellow, and white cauliflower. Who knew that the ol’ Brassica oleracea came in so many colors? Despite the rainbow of its contents, I found the velouté itself over-delicate. The bagel and cheese were a tasty, but incongruous, accompaniment that overshadowed the velvety soup. The Foie Gras Tapioca Ravioli in Sunchoke Broth ($23, plus an optional $22 supplement for black truffle) was a fairly successful undertaking, sweet and light, but the tapioca pearls within inevitably brought to mind bubble tea. Kudos to Esnault and his team for trying something different, if slightly odd.

I should have read between the lines and known that Adour Lobster Thermidor ($48) is not the same thing as Lobster Thermidor, and so I had no business feeling let-down at the absence of cheese, cream, and mustard. The Adour incarnation, served with Swiss chard fondant, featured a succulent lobster claw and tail, and a small lobster shell filled with chopped lobster, carrot, onion, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, Cognac, and we surmised, a touch of Pernod. The large pieces of lobster meat were fresh and a treat, but the whole was not what I was expecting, and so I couldn’t help being a bit disappointed. The Beef Tenderloin and Braised Ribs were said to come with a contrast of carrots and foie gras-black truffle jus. I think I would have a better chance of evaluating the dish effectively if I had the first idea what a “contrast of carrots” is. A combination of the classic orange with its complementary blue? Sometimes menu wording goes over the edge. The reports of foie gras and black truffle in the jus were, to our palates, greatly exaggerated; it tasted more like an ordinary red wine sauce. The ribs were rich and meaty, but the tenderloin, while properly pink on the inside, lacked the flavorful crust of a perfectly prepared piece of beef.

Dessert was a step above the courses that preceded it. Pastry chef Sandro Micheli has, as the kids like to say, mad skills. The Gala Apple Soufflé ($16) was at once light in texture and deeply, intensely appley. The homemade vanilla ice cream that sat beside it was a celebration of all that bean’s many possibilities, nearly blinding in its fullness of flavor. The Pear Clafoutis ($16) was not a clafoutis in the traditonal sense—that is, it was not a pancake-like custardy cake—but, unlike the Lobster Thermidor, the distance between what it was and what I thought it would be was exciting and enjoyable. I was delighted to find that the caramel “croustillant,” on top did not shatter when I sliced my spoon into it, but rather cut obediently with the rest of the well layered structure beneath it. The lavender honey ice cream was a gentle whisper of tastes, intelligently chosen alongside the pear and caramel. What dessert had that dinner lacked at times was a willingness to go far enough with flavor, rather than stopping short of what could—or should—have been.

Adour’s tagline is “Cuisine Designed with Wine in Mind,” and while the offerings by the glass are fewer than we would have liked, they have some seriously snazzy technology for one’s oenological edification. There is a list of wine categories projected on the bar, and merely holding your finger over your desired selection produces a trail of pixie dust that serves as a virtual click on the options available. Want something by the glass? Red or white? From which wine-growing region? Each choice produces a visually pleasing rosette of light reading about the varietal, the country of origin, and the vineyard.

On the whole, this is a good restaurant—but just good. Like a teacher with higher standards for her more capable students, I expect nothing short of excellence from Ducasse. Perhaps with time, imperfections will be ironed out and we will be regaled with an experience that is as Michelin-constellation-worthy as its predecessors.