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ADNY (Alain Ducasse @ Essex House)


Fat Guy x
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A commonplace rip-off is still a rip-off.

Agreed, but it should be stated as such. In other words, if it's commonplace, it shouldn't be pinned on one offender. If it's not commonplace, it should.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy, confused, axed: "...So what exactly is this "spotty record of satisfaction"?"

My comments have been based strictly on what I have read here, on other boards and in the press. Like I said earlier, my interest in posting in this thread was piqued after reading yet another review of ADNY that didn't ring of a total, complete, home run experience. I posted because though I have never eaten at ADNY, I have dined at a boatload of World-class restaurants in my time and rarely am I so wowed that I feel the experience was worth the pre-event hype. In fact, I am regularly reminded of how good most lesser locations have impressed me when compared to joints that are supposed to be a few levels higher on the foodie foodchain.

On my last trip to Paris I ate at Lucas Carton, Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Rostaing and none of them truly knocked me out. Pierre Gagnaire was quite honestly, average...Michel Rostaing was a definite step up but still not amazing and Lucas Carton, while having the best food, decore and service, still fell below what I would call a memorable evening. Eating at Hiramatsu on the same trip was another story...here was an 18 seat spot that put in front of me the best food I've had in years, with impeccable service, a wonderful wine list and all at a reasonable price. Even Helene Darozze and L'Angle du Faubourg were more memorable than the three star places, due in no small part to the fact that my expectations may not have been so high and the resulting meals were so damned good!

Does ADNY deserve it's 4 stars? Greater minds than mine have already said yes. Do those 4 stars bother me? Not in the least!

BeeT's

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My comments have been based strictly on what I have read here, on other boards and in the press.

You don't strike me as the kind of guy who read uncritically, though. Don't some of the oft-repeated comments about Ducasse strike you as suspect? Even without dining there -- just with the general background you have as someone who is willing to spend big money on fine dining -- do you not see much of the commentary as an extension of the same old reverse-snobbism arguments used to condemn all expensive restaurants? Maybe you won't like Ducasse when you go there -- if you think Pierre Gagnaire is average, I think you might have a major expectations problem! -- but surely you can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to these arguments.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nah...I know what you mean about the reverse snobbery thing, but me thinking Pierre Gagnaire was average just meant that I won the lottery on the night they decided to be average! You can't be perfect every time...you don't know how many people I know who cringe when I tell my Pierre Gagnaire story...

However, as much as I love a fine meal, my whole feeling towards most top-tier dining spots is getting more jaded as I go along and nights like Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Rostaing don't help. You just get kinda tired of shelling out that kind of money and not feeling like it was terribly special. That's the sort of thing I feel when I read some reviews of places like ADNY...guys like me who know what a special meal is and are prolly just a little ticked off that they didn't get that happy glow after eating there...

BeeT's

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I posted because though I have never eaten at ADNY, I have dined at a boatload of World-class restaurants in my time and rarely am I so wowed that I feel the experience was worth the pre-event hype.

Oh good, I thought this thread of opinions on ADNY might be confined to those who have actually eaten at ADNY. :blink:

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Ron Johnson, apparently not letting the facts get in the way of a good argument, complained: "...Oh good, I thought this thread of opinions on ADNY might be confined to those who have actually eaten at ADNY..."

Ron...allow me to refresh you memory, from my FIRST post in this thread...

Brad Trent/Posted: Mar 7 2003, 10:37 AM: "...In all fairness to ADNY, I have never eaten there..."

If you have been paying attention then you should be able to figure out that I am in no way critiquing ADNY other than to comment on what others have said about their experience at the place. My initial comments in this thread were prompted by a review that while as fair as any I've read, still had that tinge of regret...no more. I bear no ill will against ADNY. I know restaurants like this exist for far more reasons than to serve up a plate of hash. As Steve pointed out, I certainly have the means to eat at ADNY if that's what I choose to do, but as of yet, I haven't been so taken with what I have heard to want to, it's as simple as that.

BeeT's

Edited by Brad Trent (log)
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If you have been paying attention then you should be able to figure out that I am in no way critiquing ADNY other than to comment on what others have said about their experience at the place. My initial comments in this thread were prompted by a review that while as fare as any I've read, still had that tinge of regret...no more. I bear no ill will against ADNY. I know restaurants like this exist for far more reasons than to serve up a plate of hash. As Steve pointed out, I certainly have the means to eat at ADNY if that's what I choose to do, but as of yet, I haven't been so taken with what I have heard to want to, it's as simple as that.

BeeT's

Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

You took that well Brad, really. :wink:

edit: For macrosan.

Edited by Ron Johnson (log)
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[The lady doth protest too much.

Ron, please remember to prefix that with "Methinks" .... it reads so much better that way :biggrin:

Brad may not have eaten at ADNY, but we, the membership of eGullet, will defend to the death his right to comment on the comments of those who have. Well, OK, not quite to the death, but pretty damn close :rolleyes:

On the subject of reverse snobbery, I think it's reasonable that restaurants who have pretensions to be the best should expect a higher standard of judgement to be exercized. So a slight imperfection at (say) Babbo may go unnoticed, but exactly the same imperfection at ADNY will get slated. That's not reverse snobbery, it's not even something you might describe as "unavoidable", it's a perfectly proper and erasonable response.

...oh yes, and I'd better plead the Trent Amendment and state that I've never been to ADNY, but I am determined to go next time in NYC. At least, it will either be ADNY or Otto, I haven't quite made up my mind yet :laugh:

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Brad may not have eaten at ADNY, but we, the membership of eGullet, will defend to the death his right to comment on the comments of those who have. Well, OK, not quite to the death, but pretty damn close  :rolleyes: 

Martin,

I agree wholeheartedly, and thought my post reflected that. Of course, I have no control over the manner in which he characterizes my comments. :wink:

Which is why "Methinks . . ." :cool:

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To look at it another way: I'd like to hear from the people who find fault with ADNY exactly which restaurant in New York they think is a better restaurant in that category. I have found the overall ADNY experience to be excellent. Could I pick faults? Sure. I could also pick faults with each of the other New York four stars (I haven't yet been to Bouley, but I'm sure I'll find something wrong with it if I look hard enough).

Is ADNY at least as good as, if not rather better than, Daniel, Lespinasse and Jean-Georges? Does it give you a table for the entire evening, and a considerably larger staff to diner ratio than those restaurants? If the answers to those questions are yes, what's to denigrate?

For anyone thinking of eating there, $1000 for a dinner for two is a considerable overestimate of the cost. Each time I've dined there (including champagne, water, three figure wine, and so on), the check has been between $600 and $700 for two.

Edit: It's also important to compare like with like when it comes to the food. Dinner at Daniel is $85 for three courses. This tops $100 if you order any one of the dishes which comes with a supplement (or insert a cheese course). The Ducasse web-site seems to be down right now - so I'm open to correction - but I believe the $160 dinner tag buys a four course dinner - appetizer, fish, meat, dessert, together with several complementary items.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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Could I pick faults?

It appears that as the tab increases, the right to get pickier increases.

I think it's reasonable that restaurants who have pretensions to be the best should expect a higher standard of judgement to be exercized. So a slight imperfection at (say) Babbo may go unnoticed, but exactly the same imperfection at ADNY will get slated. That's not reverse snobbery, it's not even something you might describe as "unavoidable", it's a perfectly proper and erasonable response.

Now I wish that were just the case, but if my one experience at Babbo was not unique, and I hear it isn't, the food is inconsistently prepared and the service can be very off for some people. The main fault at AD/NY is that it's very very expensive and the particular dishes served may not be any better over all than most of the food served at other four star restaurants. I've also eaten only once at AD/NY. Both my wife and I were thoroughly charmed by the food and service once I accepted a suspensded knowledge of what it would cost. I think people are looking for faults to justify not returning or perhaps those who haven't been are looking for faults to justify not going. The fault is the price. It's sort of absurd to say that at that price they shouldn't jack up the wine so high. I mean that's part of the price.

That the difference in the price is not relected in the difference in food between AD/NY and the other four star places will keep many from eating there, or from returning regularly. I am a native New Yorker and gew up expecting a restaurant to turn tables. I appreciate the great difference in the overall quality of the meal when the table is mine for the evening, but it's something I don't need most of the time. Most of my life is not lived in great luxury and my appreciation for having the table all evening is probably properly met by a few dinners each year in a French country inn where the cost of dinner is lower and I am in the best mood to fully appreciate the luxury. None of this is a fault of AD/NY.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 7 months later...

So I am apparently getting taken to dinner at Ducasse next week. I know, I know, it's a grubby job, but dang it all, a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me? I mean, I know not to wear jeans and a tee-shirt with "Oy, I'm schvittzing!" spelled out in rhinestones across the front. But do they still do that weird thing with the pens? Should I make sure to order the rabbit? Are there any pitfalls in the menu?

All responses appreciated.

Maggie

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Mags, clearly you are not qualified to go to a retaurant like this. I shall go in your place. What time should I show up for these tasty vittles?? Do they still have that sign, "No shirt, no shoes, no service"? I may have to borrow some shoes.. :biggrin:

"It's better to burn out than to fade away"-Neil Young

"I think I hear a dingo eating your baby"-Bart Simpson

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All responses appreciated.

Maggie

Do the tasting menu. The restaurant itself is professional; unpretentious; and the level of service is unsurpassed. If you have any food phobias or allergies let your server know. There are surprises, so this will help avoid any unpleasant ones.

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:biggrin: That's very noble of you, Adeguilio, but I couldn't possibly allow you to make such a sacrifice.

Eliot, thanks. Actually, the tasting menu is a great idea, if only because it avoids that awful thing where you're trying to downplay your greediness by ordering the cheapest things on the menu.

Am I the only one who does this? Dammit, I'm 43 years old, and it's time for me to come out of the closet. STAND UP FOR YOUR GREED, I say!

Anyway, that, in turn, reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend Margie when we were in 7th grade, and trying to figure out what we could order when being taken to dinner by A Boy. (We must have had pretty grandiose fantasies; most of said dinners involved pizza, as I recall.) We decided that whatever we ordered, it had to be something that wouldn't drip, wouldn't crumble, wouldn't stick to our teeth, wouldn't give us bad breath or a liquid moustache, and wouldn't bust the Boy's (piggy) bank.

We finally decided that the ideal date dinner was a swiss cheese sandwich, no condiments, on pita bread, and a glass of water. :biggrin: Ahhhh, the sensuality of food....

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do they still do that weird thing with the pens?

Alas, no. Many of the unique little touches that Ducasse offered at the beginning -- the selection of pens from Caran d'Ache and Cartier; the variety of unique hand-crafted knives for carving squab; the white-gloved mint-tea-from-a-live-plant presentation -- were beaten out of the restaurant after months of merciless media harangues. Luckily, however, Ducasse still offers plenty of luxury: women are still given little side-stools upon which to place their handbags; there's still plenty of tableside finishing of dishes; and the restaurant still has the most amazing multi-course dessert presentation I've ever seen. And of course, there is only one sitting -- the table is yours for the evening -- which is above all else the unique selling proposition (and in a way the value proposition) at Ducasse and the reason no other restaurant in the city is consistently producing experiences at this level of refinement.

Although the restaurant is luxurious, remember that Ducasse is about quality ingredients and relatively non-flashy, understated preparation. Don't expect to be wowed -- you won't be. Rather, expect to be served the best French food available in the US -- something on the level of what you'd get at one of the more conservative contemporary Michelin three- or two-star restaurants in Europe.

I agree that Ducasse's tasting menus can be excellent -- assuming you like what's on them. They're not 20-course marathons but, rather, 5 or 6 pretty substantial plates (plus various little extras) in a progression that tends to be organized around a seasonal ingredient theme. The tasting menus are usually worth whatever premium is being charged for them. But if you get one, prepare to come at 8pm and leave at midnight. These are serious meals.

Right now, assuming they haven't gone out ahead of me and switched over to winer menus yet, there are two tasting menus being offered, one I'd order and one I wouldn't. The "aquatic flavors" menu looks awesome. I had a similar menu a year or so ago and several of the items were best-of-their-kind. Some of Ducasse's fish dishes are perceived as bland by Americans accustomed to having their fish rubbed, blackened, etc., but the quality of this stuff and the skill of preparation is amazing. That's an expensive menu, though, because it includes a lot of premium ingredients including some caviar. I wouldn't order it unless your host is really generous -- I think it's $280. The "autumn menu," on the other hand, looks unremarkable to me. There's a vegetable course that seems like a waste of time, and the foie gras is a terrine which is kind of a waste at Ducasse where you should get intact foie gras in order to get the quality advantage. I'd probably order from the regular menu instead of getting that one.

From the regular menu, I'd go with either veal or venison, or maybe share the squab-and-foie-gras for two. Appetizer-wise, they should have the sweet Maine shrimp right now -- I haven't had them at Ducasse but how bad could they be?

For dessert, the baba is the classic and needs to be tried. But the desserts all tend to be pretty special, especially the fruit desserts.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My experience is that it's still a little early for Maine shrimp (wiggle here).

And my experience at Ducasse -- admittedly, just a few months after they opened -- leads me to say: avoid anything that includes "pasta." The French, no matter how many stars they have, do not understand pasta.

Finally, try not to laugh too hard at the horrible, ugly, ridiculous "artwork" on the walls. The stuff on the tables is great, but the walls, yuck.

Oh, the food? It was okay. Especially if you like sweets: pre-dessert, dessert, pre-mignardises, mignardises, post-mignardises, and candies and a pastry to take home with you (we got pithiviers, which was superb, even the next morning).

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Thanks, FG. I gotta tell ya -- though it does make me feel rather like Liza Doolittle, proudly articulating "I come in a taxi!" -- that the whole snipping-of-the-live-mint-leaves-while-wearing-the-white-gloves bit makes my teeth itch. :biggrin: I'm a lady, I am, but I'm also an unreconstructed 70s liberal, and there's quite definitely a level of oppulence that makes me both uncomfortable and irritable. I mean, I suspect the tea would taste just as wonderful if you WEREN'T wearing the little white gloves. Oddly, it's much more a matter of snobbery and aesthetics than of politics; it's not that I want to give the gloves to the poor and gloveless, but that I find them profoundly and tackily arriviste, a touch designed to give the benighted little American hausfraus the exquisite frisson of living, if only for an instant, Just Like the Rich Do. So I guess what I'm saying is that I find it insulting, in a backhanded sort of way, as though the gesture implies that I'm the benighted little American hausfrau who's going to be impressed by it. The gloves -- along with the Selection of Pens -- strike me as a tribute to the Donald Trumps of the world, and that just makes me shudder.

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Oh, the food?  It was okay.  Especially if you like sweets: pre-dessert, dessert, pre-mignardises, mignardises, post-mignardises, and candies and a pastry to take home with you (we got pithiviers, which was superb, even the next morning).

:biggrin: There's a bit in one of the Bill Bryson books where he's talking about cricket, and the teams' apparent habit of constantly breaking for what he calls "late-morning nibble" followed by "pre-lunch snack," which segues into lunch, the "post-lunch selection of pastries," and a general wistfulness that it's still so long till tea. One assumes they burn off the calories by doing quite a lot of strenuous standing-around.

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Yeah but don't you think it's kind of absurd to draw the line at pens (no pun intended)? Like, okay, it's no problem going to the most expensive restaurant in America and paying $165 for a three-course menu of foie gras, squab, and 29 desserts, but for crying out loud get those damn pens away from me and take off those white gloves!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, but I get to take the squab and foie and dainties home with me -- and wear them, somewhat permanently. I think of them as protection against the chill that will soon invade my garret. (Actually, for what it's worth, I DO live in a garret. :biggrin: ) Sort of like my own internal parka. The pens, meanwhile....eh, a fleeting pleasure.

Nah, but seriously, the whole concept of what's pretentious is an interesting thing. And Old Money, of course, has pretentions of its own, even if they do tend to be of the wearing-the-ratty-cardigan sort. One of the most genially grubby (and nicest) people I've ever met is the current Lord Curzon, heir to the "My name is George Nathanial Curzon/I am a very superior person" line. He's a landscape architect, whose services are apparently in demand all over the world, but if you ask him what he does he says he potters about in the garden. Just a different kind of pretention.

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Mags, I'm with you on the pens. I mean you just need a ballpoint pen to sign a credit card slip. Any nice pen will do, just as you don't need to select the china or silverware pattern for your place settings. That's the house's job as is the selection of a pen that represents its style. Speaking of the tableware, the knive selection and the pen selection were both gone by the time I saved up my pennies to dine there, but I can honestly say, I'd have had no experience or basis for chosing one knife over the other for the task at hand and those kinds of choices were pretentious. It's nice to have a stool for a ladies purse, it would be pretentious to ask the women to choose from a selection of stools.

I don't know that it was or wasn't the best meal I've ever had in NY. On a course by course basis, I've had some better food. The service was excellent, but maybe better than I need in a way that I sense Mags will understand. Nevertheless, there was a genuine degree of relaxed luxury that is not present elsewhere in NY, or at least that I've not seen in NY. There was, at all times thoughout our luncheon a sense that whatever it cost, it was worth it. When, or if, we'll spring for it again is another story, although we've paid considerably more for a meal elsewhere in the world, most notably in Paris.

I'm not sure how the terrine of foie gras is prepared at Ducasse, but I don't see any reason why it would necessarily not be intact. I assume it's prepared on the premises and from whole lobes.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Alas, no. Many of the unique little touches that Ducasse offered at the beginning -- the selection of pens from Caran d'Ache and Cartier; the variety of unique hand-crafted knives for carving squab; the white-gloved mint-tea-from-a-live-plant presentation -- were beaten out of the restaurant after months of merciless media harangues.

I am sorry I missed all of those touches, and I am sure that each diner was free to forgo them if he or she found them offensive.

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I knew about the pens in advance so I brought my best pen with me and made a big deal out of rejecting the pen selection in favor of my Stipula, but it turned out the captain was a collector so we talked about all the pens anyway and I got to fondle each of them.

Alain, if you still have those pens around, feel free to send me a few.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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