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Name: Alain Ducasse; Address: 59 Poincare

"Legumes Homard Boeufs Et Fruits"

There was a bit of confusion when we told the taxi driver: “59 Poincare.”

“Avenue Raymond Poincare?” he asked.

“59 Poincare – the restaurant.”

“Mais oui.” He flicked the meter down and off we went, driving along the Seine towards the sixteenth arrondisement, watching the Eiffel Tower on the opposite side of the river loom larger and larger. At the Plaza du Trocadero, the taxi turned up into the wide and graceful Avenue Raymond Poincare and stopped before number 59. “Voila!” said the driver.

There it was – a restaurant named for its address. How apropos for, as we were to discover, setting and dining at 59 Poincare inexorably intertwine in the creation of an extraordinary culinary experience.

The three-story sand-colored structure built in 1911 of glorious Art Nouveau design has the pointed towers, fanciful turrets and flamboyant carvings that evoke the Gaudi buildings of Barcelona. We entered, and it was as if we had stepped into a stunning private residence. 

A young woman who could easily have been a model for one of the haute couture houses we’d seen on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore stood behind a desk. She greeted us warmly and led us down a corridor past a huge, transparent refrigerator with a display of produce on one side and cuts of beef on the other, an aquarium filled with lobsters, and white stools on mirror-steel steel legs before tall marble-topped tables –  striking anomalies in their traditional surroundings.

The elaborate balustrade beside the elevator-for-two - click to enlarge
The elaborate balustrade beside the elevator-for-two
We stopped at an elevator built-for-two beside the wrought-iron balustrade of a grand wooden staircase. “I will meet you upstairs,” the young woman said opening the door for us and pressing a button.  Seconds later, the elevator door opened one floor up, and there she was, waiting for us.

On this upper level, three spacious dining rooms stood off a large foyer. We paused to take in their splendor: the rich and lustrous wainscoting, the parquet floors laid in a herringbone pattern, vaulted ceilings soaring above arched French doors that overlook the avenue and garden, fabulous Art Nouveau chandeliers and sconces. 

One wall was covered with a spectacular trompe-l’oeil library; another was dominated by an ornately carved fireplace. Chairs and settees, slip-covered in pearly grey, sat before tables draped with starchy white cloths. click to enlarge

And then there were poster-size photographs hanging on the walls: colorful, rustic scenes of people in work clothes, stockbreeders with cattle in a pasture, a market gardener before rows of lettuce, ruddy fishermen beside a lobster net -- the purveyors of produce and products to 59 Poincare.

Originally the residence of a man who owned the machine gun factory next door, the maisonette was next home to a manufacturer of luxurious light fixtures; some of the chandeliers and sconces we’d admired date back to this time. After, the building served as offices for the French Navy until it was purchased by the legendary, self-taught chef Joel Robuchon who transformed it into a three Michelin-star restaurant.

Then in 1996, at the age of 51, Robuchon astounded the culinary world by announcing his retirement. Alain Ducasse, the young chef of Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, would be taking over. Four years later, the many-Michelin-starred Ducasse moved on to the Plaza Athenee. But he continued to manage the restaurant now named for its address, and under his direction, it took on a new and unique identity that has made it one of the most talked about dining establishments in Paris and, many say, the best lobster restaurant in Europe.

click to enlarge

And we were about to experience it. The tall narrow menu displays ikon-like sketches of a radish, lobster, cow, and strawberry. These represent the categories of vegetables, lobster, beef, and fruit, the four basics at 59 Poincare.  An American steakhouse came to mind, but in the imagination of Alain Ducasse, such a concept takes on entirely new dimensions of creative dining. 

As we mulled over the choice of vegetable starters, sipping a glass of Paul Drouet champagne (selected by Alain Ducasse), an amuse bouche of red bean pate with the tiniest slivers of garlic arrived. Tiny bowls of chilled, mildly flavored tomato soup with blue farmer-like cheese followed accompanied by crusty artisan bread stuck through with olives. We had yet to order but were already off to a grand beginning.

And once we did, there was capponata-styled eggplant sautéed to a light tenderness with a mélange of herbs arranged in slices on a circular bed, and topped with a soft boiled egg – a Ducasse touch we had enjoyed at his New York City restaurant in the Essex House. Crunchy lentils shaped like a pancake over a bed of bean sprouts and shallots and covered by a blanket of crisp lettuce leaves were served with a condiment of mustard and olive oil. We were tempted to try the asparagus and artichokes, green peas and new onions – all spring produce, but succumbed to the gravlax, strips of fried, smoked beef from Spain topped with a marmalade of onions and shallots and accompanied by strips of fennel. The combination of the salty, peppered beef with the sweet onions and mild fennel made this dish one to remember.

We were on to our main courses, having decided on both the lobster – which comes from the Canadian coast – and the beef which is from strictly controlled breeds in the Charolais (Normandy) region. Of the five lobster selections, we sampled two: succulent roasted lobster tail with fresh peas still in the pod and French “french fries,” thick wedges of potatoes, crisp on the outside, soft within; and the flavorful lobster Bolognese-style which came “en casserole,” the little black crock it was been cooked in with tomatoes, onions and white wine. From among the five beef options, we selected hanger steak, a typical French center cut which was moist and tender and accompanied by stewed artichokes sliced straight through the heart in the shape of banjoes.

 

click to enlarge At 59 Poincare, fruit steps into the limelight for dessert with apple tartes, lemon sherberts, fruit salads with warm Madeleines. But the month was June, and the rhubarb was ripe. A rose-red stalk poached in strawberry sauce and served with vanilla ice cream and yogurt was sublimely cool and refreshing, barely sweet, sufficiently sour. Along with the coffee came the expected Ducasse delicacies: miniature macaroon-like cakes and meringues, raspberries and chocolate strawberries.

“When Alain Ducasse moved on to the Plaza Athenee, he was asked to imagine a new concept for this restaurant,” the maitre d’, who has been around since Joel Rubochon’s days, said. “This is a very modern, a very healthy orientation that stresses the quality of the produce, the beef and the lobster; it is a departure from the Escoffier tradition. But in many ways, the place stays the same. The building is listed. The Minister of Culture won’t allow us to change many things.”

One would hope nothing would change in the restaurant named for its address, not the healthy, exceptional dining, not the exquisite setting, and certainly not the creativity that is the constant that accompanies the name Alain Ducasse.

59 POINCARE
Le Parc- Sofitel Demeure Hotels

59 avenue Raymond Poincaré
Paris 16ème
Reservations: 00 33 1 47 27 59 59
Email: le59poincare@tiscali.fr 

Open from Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, and Saturday for dinner.

Valet parking  

Photos by Harvey Frommer

#  #  #

About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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