Alain Ducasse; Address: 59 Poincare
Homard Boeufs Et Fruits"
There was a bit of confusion
when we told the taxi driver: “59 Poincare.”
“Avenue Raymond Poincare?”
“59 Poincare – the
“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
|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
|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.
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.
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.
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
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.
||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.
Le Parc- Sofitel Demeure Hotels
59 avenue Raymond Poincaré
Reservations: 00 33 1 47 27 59 59
Open from Tuesday to Friday
for lunch and dinner, and Saturday for dinner.
Photos by Harvey
# # #
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.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights