Entries in Tony Esnault (4)


The Payoff: Adour

Today, Frank Bruni awarded the expected three stars to Alain Ducasse’s newest restaurant, Adour:

Alain Ducasse may never live down the grandiose way he first swept into town, granting blinkered New Yorkers a vision of French elegance few of them had ever experienced, expected or, for that matter, asked for…

This time around he’s taking a less flamboyant approach, and he’s eager to get out that message, so much so that advance reports on Adour, named for a river in France, made it sound like an embellished wine bar.

Right. It’s a wine bar the way Lourdes is a roadside shrine, and it proves that even a dressed-down Mr. Ducasse is still a puffed-up anybody else…

But you’ll notice a relative straightforwardness in many preparations that distinguishes Adour from its Essex House ancestor. And among a well-edited collection of dishes that range from quietly appealing to quietly stunning, you won’t notice that forebear’s ostentation.

Someone seems to have put happy pills in Frank’s coffee. He has already awarded three stars to four restaurants this year, two of which are new. Last year, he gave out three stars only six times all year, and they were all re-reviews. This is also the fourth time this year that Frank has filed a reasonably favorable review of a French restaurant, a cuisine he has not historically been fond of.

We and Eater both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater       NYJ
Bankroll $83.50   $94.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $86.50   $97.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 37–15   37–15

Rolling the Dice: Adour

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Alain Ducasse’s Adour, the chef’s latest attempt to bring high-end French dining to New York. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 15-1
One Star: 10-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 3-1 √√
Four Stars: 7-1

The Skinny: We weren’t impressed with Adour. Perhaps its far superior predecessor, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, cast too long a shadow. We found Adour boring and underwhelming, a verdict that a number of other early diners have shared. Even New York’s Adam Platt, while awarding three stars, seemed to damn with faint praise: “Ducasse’s new, occasionally flat interpretations of local tastes is rescued by the elegant room (one star), the elevated cooking technique (another star), and the desserts (the third star).”

On top of that, Bruni has never shown much affection for French food. Until quite recently—his review of La Sirène, to be specific—I was not aware of an example where Bruni went to a French restaurant by choice. He visited them, to be sure, but only when the visit was more-or-less compelled by circumstances beyond his control. No restaurant critic can avoid French food entirely, but it just doesn’t seem to float his boat the way Italian, Asian, and steakhouses do.

For all of these reasons, until a week ago, we were ready to bet the house that Adour would receive at best two stars from Bruni, with a singleton being a not indistinct possibility. But as Eater noted, we can’t ignore the dicta in last week’s review: “I knew that Chop Suey, which I’d visited before, wouldn’t give us a meal as proficient and pampering as the one we’d get at, say, Adour.”

Now, for a restaurant at Adour’s price level, a two-star review is a put-down, and Bruni knows it. If he thinks Adour is “proficient and pampering,” he has to award the three stars the restaurant was designed for. You just can’t call Adour “proficient” while two-starring it.

We could leave it at that, but there’s one other observation. Critics love it when their opinion is perceived to be vindicated. Bruni wasn’t fond of Adour’s predecessor at the Essex House, demoting it from four stars to three. It was one of the dumbest reviews of his tenure, but it happened, and the restaurant closed. He was vindicated. Bruni thinks New Yorkers no longer want traditional formality. He is wrong, but that’s what he thinks. Adour is a lot less formal than Ducasse’s old space in the Essex House. Bruni is again vindicated, and the review will surely say so.

The Bet: We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award three stars to Adour.



[Rockwell Group]

Note: Adour closed in November 2012. A succession of executive chefs was not able to reclaim a lost Michelin star, or apparently, lost business.


My girlfriend and I thought it was near tragic when Alain Ducasse at the Essex House closed. It was the site of perhaps the best meal we have had in New York. When Ducasse announced that he was moving to the St. Regis, site of the former four-star Lespinasse, in a new restaurant called Adour, we hoped the magic would be moving with him.

Alas, the magic is nowhere to be found. Adour is a bore. A really crashing bore.

I don’t think three-star food has to be innovative: I find real pleasure in classics done well. But the menu here is downright soporific: one yawn after another. There’s no excitement on the plate at all. And if no longer priced in the stratosphere, as it was at the Essex House, the food at Adour is still very expensive. For entrées priced in the $40s, one expects at least some indication of the creative spark that earned Ducasse all of those Michelin stars.

The menu is printed on stiff boards glued into an upholstered cardboard folder. It is obviously not easily changeable. It makes Adour feel like a crass hotel restaurant. The subtle message it sends is: “The food isn’t changing anytime soon.” It is almost all in English. It apparently hasn’t occurred to Monsieur Ducasse that patrons at his restaurant might want, you know, French food.

Is this Ducasse’s way of saying “Screw you, New York”? Or, in his eagerness to pander—to give Americans what he thinks we want—has he forgotten to give us what he’s actually good at? We asked one of the servers what had happened to the great menu served at the Essex House. “It was time to move on,” he said.

To “move on” to this?

We certainly expected dialed-down luxury, given a price point about 50% lower than the Essex House. But there isn’t even an amuse-bouche here. If you order a cheese course ($22), there’s no cart, just a plate of four cheeses deposited on your table.

The wine service shines, though. The menu, after all, is supposedly designed to go well with wine, though I am not sure what that means. The list has plenty of compelling choices at decent prices, including multiple bottles of red under $50. We selected a 1996 Bricco Boschi Barolo at $105, which the staff decanted for us. I also liked the bread service, which came with a wonderful soft olive butter.

adour01a.jpg adour01b.jpg
Sweetbread “Meunière”, Egg Purse (left); Foie Gras Tapioca Ravioli (right)

Sweetbreads with wild mushrooms ($24) were simply grilled, but I appreciated the egg purse in the center of the plate, which made a rich, runny mess. My girlfriend’s Foie Gras Tapioca Ravioli ($23) were dull. The taste of foie can always be counted on for luxury by default, but the dish made no attempt to offer any contrast.

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Venison Medallions (left); Roasted Colorado Rack of Lamb (right)

Both Venison ($42) and Rack of Lamb ($48) were left basically to fend for themselves, with token vegetables offering little to amuse the palate. My girlfriend said that the side of risotto that came with her lamb was more interesting than the lamb itself.

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Pear Clafoutis (left); Gala Apple Soufflé (right)

adour04.jpgNeither dessert captured our imagination either, though at $14 apiece we didn’t feel cheated. The plates of petits-fours were generous, though we were full and didn’t touch them.

At Adour, the service team is no longer all French, as they were at the Essex House. Most of them seem capable, though we observed some minor snafus that no doubt will be worked out as the restaurant gets its legs. When we arrived, we appreciated that we were given ample time to peruse the wine list and enjoy our champagne. The restaurant wasn’t full, and the table appeared to be ours for as long as we wanted it.

The David Rockwell-designed space is comfortable and gorgeous. It could easily be one of the city’s most serene spots to enjoy a meal. But the food doesn’t live up to it. We can only hope Ducasse will take this milquetoast menu back into his laboratory, and return with some real excitement.

Adour (2 E. 55th Street at Fifth Avenue in the St. Regis Hotel, East Midtown)

Food: *½
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: **


First Look: Adour by Alain Ducasse


Note: Click here for a full review of Adour.

Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis opened this evening. I stopped in for a drink at the bar, where another patron informed me I was the sixth customer.

The electronic menus have received most of the press. You find your wine by navigating a touch screen that displays on the surface of the bar, projected from above. To get to Burgundy reds, for instance, you’d tap “Wines,” then “Red,” then “France,” then “Burgundy,” and then you can scroll down the list. For any given wine, you can retrieve tasting notes, producer history, and so forth.

It sounds good in theory, but the mechanism is finicky. If your touch is off by even a little, the mechanism misbehaves. After a while, I just gave up, and I noticed that others were frustrated too. I don’t think bar patrons—even at a high-class bar like this one—want to learn a new technology just to order a glass of wine. Within six months, I suspect they’ll be back to traditional paper and ink.

Selections by the glass were ample, and I enjoyed a wonderful Southern Rhone blend for $13, along with a cup of Yuzu Sorbet for just $4. If you’re thinking that those don’t sound like Ducasse prices, you’d be right.

There are about a dozen bar snacks, ranging from $9–16. It’s a remarkable selection at a bar that seats only four, and the guys next to me loved everything they tried. One of them was so taken with the Yuzu Sorbet that he asked the manager if the restaurant could supply a quantity for his Super Bowl party. (The manager replied that he was not sure the pastry chef could have quite enough of it made by Sunday.)

In the main restaurant, there are nine appetizers priced from $17–29, ten entrées at $32–49, and six desserts at $14. The cheese course is $22, and the five-course tasting menu is $110. Though clearly not bargain-priced, this is still a good deal less than the predecessor restaurant at the Essex House, where the prix fixe was $150 and the tasting menu $225.

I’m looking forward to dining there in two weeks’ time.

Adour Alain Ducasse (2 E. 55th Street at Fifth Avenue in the St. Regis Hotel, East Midtown)