E, V at Fifth Ave.-53rd St.; N, R, W at Fifth Ave.-59th St.; 4, 5, 6 at 59th St.; N, R, W at Lexington Ave.-59th St.; 6 at 51st St.; E, V at Lexington Ave.-53rd St.
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After a brief interval of study and introspection, Monsieur Ducasse has returned. Adour Alain Ducasse is the name of his restaurant, which opened at the beginning of 2008 in the St. Regis Hotel. It’s a much grander venue than the Essex House, and this time around the chef has wisely hired local design guru David Rockwell to help channel his aesthetic vision. Predictably, this vision involves the chef’s somewhat baroque version of the purist, back-to-basics themes that animate the city’s food scene these days (the restaurant is named for the Adour River, which flows near Ducasse’s hometown in southwestern France). The Eurotrash knickknacks are gone, replaced by subdued hues of burgundy (the Website calls the interior “wine-inspired”) and burled mahogany. The chairs are burgundy, too (and still equipped with furtive pullouts for handbags), but the principal decoration is a series of well-stocked wine coolers, framed by a pattern of silver grape vines.
The chef’s intent, of course, is to let ingredients speak for themselves, and while you may not feel like beginning your meal with a $18 collection of beautifully cooked root vegetables, there’s no doubt he succeeds at exactly that. Ducasse’s expert seafood technicians slow-cook a meaty piece of halibut to a kind of light, uncanny whiteness, then paint it with a subtle, roux-based “ivory” sauce. The lamb entrée (it comes with a random scattering of apricots and a nice creamy pot of quinoa) doesn’t have much earthy lamb flavor to it, but it’s smooth enough to eat with a spoon. There are much better upmarket steak dishes around town than Ducasse’s strangely bland beef-tenderloin-and-braised-ribs combination, but you won’t find a more delicious, expertly prepared duck breast (“duck breast fillet ‘au sautoir’ ”), or, for that matter, pork loin, which the cheeky Frenchmen in the kitchen plate with a little square of pork belly, a wheel of loose, freshly made boudin noir, and a ring of apples that looks like the kind of pineapple decoration Yankees put on their country ham.
Adour is supposed to be a fashionably wine-centric restaurant, but unless you dine with your hedge-fund cronies, most of the grand vintages on display around the room are out of reach. That said, there’s plenty of opulence available at dessert time, particularly if you order the modish “Contemporary Exotic Vacherin,” made with mangoes and a passion-fruit emulsion stuck with meringue. My guests also made polite noises about the “Raspberry Composition” (raspberries plus a hint of crème brûlée), and the excellent dark-chocolate sorbet, an intricate arrangement of chocolate flavors and varying textures topped with gold leaf and a handful of freshly baked brioche croutons. Whether New Yorkers will embrace this new version of Ducasse Lite is anyone’s guess. With recession looming, the maestro’s timing, again, couldn’t be worse. But this is a more settled, less histrionic performance than the last one, and ultimately more satisfying. And in these unsettled times, the St. Regis is as good a place as any for the most French of French chefs to make his last stand.Note
In another nod to local tastes, Ducasse now offers a limited bar menu. The bar, however, has only four seats.Ideal Meal
Foie gras ravioli, duck breast or pork loin, dark-chocolate sorbet.