Destination Paris / 2

Alain Ducasse doesn’t miss a beat. And wisely renovates two old glories in town

04-05-2014

The second part of our journey across the novelties in Paris’ restaurant scene: this time it is basically all focused on the great Ducasse, who recently took the reigns of two historic establishments, both part of the Chateaux & Hotels Collection, whose president is Ducasse himself. The more formal Benoit (+33.1.58002215), near the Centre Pompidou, and Allard (+33.1.43264823), closer to Rive Gauche’s the jaunty spirit

(see part one)

And then there’s Ducasse, one could say. He’s now basically a brand, a guarantee of success and a quite legendary character. Every restaurant in which he becomes involved (and they’re more than a few) works as a finely oiled machine, as a Swiss watch that doesn’t miss a beat. Let’s not consider his three-starred restaurants (while waiting to see what will happen after the reopening of the Plaza where, presumably, Ducasse will remain also in the kitchen of Meurice, which he acquired last September after the reign of Yannick Alleno now settled at Courchevel) and let’s focus, instead, on some of his most celebrated bistros in Paris.

The more classic Paté en Croute at Benoit...

The more classic Paté en Croute at Benoit...

Being a good chef-manager, Alain Ducasse has known how to remove the old-style and give a new fresh touch to two pillars of Paris’ restaurant scene: Benoit, established in 1912, and Allard, established in 1932. The former is more formal and rigorous, located a few steps from the Centre Pompidou, and has an elegant clientele; the latter is jauntier, and even informal, perfect for the Rive Gauche, where business-lunch guests mix with tourists in search for old-style gastronomic sensations.

In both cases, the wise choice was to focus on two young and talented chefs who had previous experience in Ducasse’s starred kitchens. Eric Azoug, 30, at Benoit, and 32-year-old Laetitia Rouabah (first female chef to be an executive chef in one of Ducasse’s restaurants) at Allard. This is an important change and at the same time a brilliant example of how younger generations can get closer to a more traditional style, to historic French dishes that in this way can re-live and be renovated over time. Sometimes even in a less classic and rigorous interpretation.

And the more creative one at Allard

And the more creative one at Allard

An example? Just try the Paté en Croute in the two bistros. No surprise (though excellent) for the one at Benoit, while the one at Allard is more modern, presented on a wood cutting-board and paired with a selection of vegetables. But there’s also the Legume cookpot at Benoit or the classic Frog legs by Fernande Allard, made significantly lighter, though still with a little garlic to remind us where we are and what we’re eating. And then it is clear that over here one cannot miss the Tete de veau, the Cassoulet, the Challans duck, the Fried seabass and all the old-style recipes that comfort your heart and say a lot about the French way of giving value and offering their cuisine. It’s an example one should always look at with appreciation.

In both places, in any case, one can frequently bump into Italian staff, who perhaps previously worked on the French Riviera or at L’Andana, in Tuscany. Finally, two curious facts. Allard is the only bistro in Paris which you can access through the kitchen, since they have closed the historic entrance from Rue Saint-André des Arts; Benoit, instead, offers the chance to organise private dinners in a magnificently decorated room on the first floor, far away from the chatter in the main dining room.


Sections

Spotti e mangiati

The establishments, tastes and cooking personalities in Europe, as seen by Gualtero Spotti