New York magazine devoted umpteen thousand words this week to superchef Alain Ducasse's two new attempts to open a successful restaurant in New York City. One, Adour at the St. Regis Hotel, is obviously going to be Ducasse's attempt to get another three stars (he already has accrued 15 in restaurants around the world) in the New York Michelin Guide and four stars in the New York Times (his now-shuttered restaurant in New York's Essex House did get four stars from the Times). The second is going to be a branch of famed Paris brasserie Benoit, which Ducasse now owns. It has also been rumored that Ducasse is going to open a restaurant in Chicago sometime in the next year.
Here's my question for all you Serious Eaters: At this moment do we really need any more fancy-pants French restaurants, in New York or Chicago or anywhere else for that matter?
I ask this question not because I have anything against Ducasse, who is clearly one of the world's great chefs. I ask it because I wonder about whether we really need or want more formal, stiff, jacket-necessary restaurants of any stripe. In New York people love the energized informality of Babbo or the Union Square Cafe or Craft. We love places that serve serious food in a way that makes us feel comfortable, relaxed, and well taken care of.
What is driving Ducasse to open Adour? To keep up with the Joneses. In the hyper-competitive world of superstar French chef-restaurateurs that includes Daniel Boulud, Joel Robuchon, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, he feels he has to prove to them and to us that he has what it takes to make it in New York.
I wonder if that testosterone-driven rationale is a good enough reason to open what I'm sure will be a terrific fancy-pants French restaurant (albeit one with exaggerated contemporary flourishes like an interactive wine bar).
I think we need more restaurants with heart and soul. I think we need more restaurants that don't feel like vectors on a business plan. I think we need more restaurants that come from someone's unique point of view, opened by people who want to share their unique vision with serious eaters everywhere. I think we need more restaurants that make us feel taken care of, that comfort us, that whisk us away from our insanely busy daily lives, and provide us great pleasure without exacting too high a price in terms of time and money.
In the New York Magazine story Ducasse says, "It's a serious business, pleasure."
It is indeed, but there are all kinds of serious gustatory pleasures in the world, and many ways to provide them. We are going to find out shortly if Adour and restaurants of its ilk can provide us with the right kind of pleasure at this moment in time.
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