The first two weeks of May, I made a return trip to New York City (having lived there for two years). I ate at quite a few restaurants, and took notes on what I ate, planning to write a report on them here. What with one thing and another, I didn't get around to it until now. I realize that my experiencies are fairly stale by now, but with the help of my notes I still remember a great deal; and better late than never. I'll break my report up into several messages: this one is about Alain Ducasse.
The only super-expensive place I went to was Alain Ducasse. I'd decided that since there were those who raved about it, I wanted to go and make up my own mind. I make it a policy to order the tasting menu at an expensive restaurant if it's offered; and here it was even more of a no-brainer, since the tasting menu was the same price as the three-course prix fixe and only $15 more than the two-course prix-fixe. But I think in this case it was a mistake. The trouble was that it was an aspearagus and morel tasting menu, which meant that practically every (non-dessert) dish had asparagus and morels in it in some form. And while I love morels, and it was good asparagus, it did get pretty monotonous after a while. That said, everything was very good, and a couple of dishes were excellent: one of morels and green asparagus veloute, and a thick cod filet with asparagus and morel broth.
Two other highlights: the brioches were amazing--like dinner roll-shaped croissants, but incredibly buttery. I could have made a meal of them alone. And the famous "candy cart" which they wheel out to you after the dessert _and_ after the generously dished-out chocolates and madelines has more than just lollipops: there are different flavors of caramels and even little tarts. And you can sample one of each variety. Of course, by this time I was too stuffed to eat much more (which didn't stop me from eating as much as I could), but I took a number of lollipops and caramels home with me. The caramels were particularly good: if I could buy them without paying $145, I'd do it regularly.
While I don't place a high premium on fancy service, I'll say something about it, since it's a major issue with both the restaurant's supporters and detractors. Pretention-wise, they seemed to have toned things down: at least, they didn't give me a choice of pens to sign my check with. On the other hand, there were little cards upon each table explaining the meaning of the sculptures above the doorway and on each table. They had those stools for placing purses on, but I think those are a good idea.
As far as service goes, I definitely felt pampered, and not at all uncomfortable. When I told my wine-waitress that I couldn't drink and ordered mineral water, she said she understood, and we'll keep your glass filled. And they did keep it filled, just as if it had been tap water, and I only had to pay for the initial bottle (I drink a lot of water).
I have to say something about the ambience, because this was the most obvious power-dining restaurant I've ever eaten in, more so even than Jean Georges or Daniel. I was sitting next to a table of six middle-aged or older white men, all clearly rich and all clearly movers and shakers. I overheard some of their conversation: one of them was describing all the things wrong with the $400,000 car he'd bought.
My bottom line? My conclusion at the time was that based upon this one meal, I'd rank it as one of NYC's top restaurants, right up there with Jean Georges, Daniel and Lespinasse. On the other hand, I wouldn't rank it above these three, certainly not so much as to justify the substantially higher price tag.
Reading over my post, though, I find I remember less about the food than I'd expected to. Even the dishes I'd labelled excellent don't linger in my memory the way some of the other food on my trip did (at both expensive and inexpensive restaurants). So I guess I'd have to say that while I'm glad I went, the next super-expensive restaurant I go to in NYC (if I ever do) won't be Alain Ducasse.
More on my trip later.