The Hot Plate: Adoring Adour’s Creative Tastes

Alain Ducasse’s Latest Venture Brings Some Culinary Fanfare

Posted October 1, 2008 at 5:05pm

If chefs Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Palmer weren’t noteworthy enough to skyrocket Washington’s restaurant scene into the major leagues, perhaps the arrival of Alain Ducasse, the first chef ever to have three restaurants with three Michelin stars, will do the trick. The opening last month of the famed restaurateur’s newest spot, Adour, is being viewed by many as a sign that dining in D.C. has truly arrived.

This kind of fanfare places a lot of pressure on Adour. The question is: Can Ducasse deliver? The answer to that question is: most of the time. The service at this French restaurant is warm and attentive, the wine director superb and the food very good — though at times a bit uneven. [IMGCAP(1)]

As soon as patrons sit down at the table, they are greeted with a delicious tray of gougères. These light, airy, cheese treats explode in your mouth with flavor, setting the bar rather high for the meal to come.

The appetizers are diverse and tasty, albeit pricey. Aside from the $9 corn cappuccino soup — a sweet dish that tasted of corn at its ripest — the dishes can be a bit expensive with the median hitting $19. That being said, some, such as the seared foie gras, are well worth it.

Adour has a knack for taking old standards and adding a fun new flair to them. Take the tender ricotta gnocchi, for instance. While most gnocchi is dense and heavy, Ducasse’s gnocchi is doughy and almost comes apart when pierced with a fork. Paired with wild mushrooms, lettuce and crunchy prosciutto, this was one of the more interesting dishes on the menu. Each piece was tasty, though when eaten all at once, the dish tasted a bit jumbled.

In keeping with the theme of old standards, Adour offers day boat scallops, but fixes them with a cauliflower cream that adds a nice flavor. For meat lovers, there is the Black Angus tenderloin, which is so soft and juicy that it could be mistaken for butter. The steak is served alongside slow-cooked short ribs that are so tender you don’t need a knife to cut them. Topped off with crunchy carrots, the dish did not disappoint. Nor did the roasted Maine lobster served out of the shell. Tender and moist, one can’t help but feel delightfully decadent tucking into this dish. Speaking of decadence, entrees are no more affordable than the appetizers, with the average dish costing some $35.

Dessert at Adour is not to be missed. Of all the food Hot Plate tasted at this French restaurant, the hands-down best dish was the rhubarb and strawberry buttermilk panna cotta. Served in a tall martini glass — as are most of Hot Plate’s favorite things — this dessert is bursting with flavor without being too sugary. The strawberries were ripe and the panna cotta creamy and smooth. The fruit was so plentiful that you could almost convince yourself that the treat is in fact good for you. Other highlights include the gala apple soufflé. Though a bit undercooked, it was still tasty. And the Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec, this sweet Champagne was the perfect way to finish off the meal.

The quickest way to win Hot Plate over is with impeccable service; this is where Adour really shines. From wonderful wine pairings to a waiter who knew the menu inside and out, this sleek restaurant makes the customer feel she is priority No. 1. The wait staff is not only knowledgeable, but also completely charming. They made considerate recommendations after asking a handful of questions to gauge our palates. Dishes were recommended with the promise that they would be taken back if they weren’t completely satisfying.

Perhaps the highlight of dinner at Adour was interacting with wine director Roman Narvaez, who is responsible for creating the restaurant’s extensive wine list. A hometown favorite who served the same role at Marcel’s prior to coming to Adour, Narvaez is everything you want a wine director to be. He is knowledgeable, making thoughtful selections based on the palate of the guest, while also being extremely personable. Upon Hot Plate’s first visit, Narvaez proposed a “wine game” in which he produced two glasses of chardonnay, one from Napa Valley and one from Sonoma. As we tasted the wines, he spoke of the differences and asked us which we favored. Hot Plate recommends abandoning the wine list and instead giving Narvaez a price limit and having him pair glasses with your courses. This is where his talents truly shine.

When all is said and done, Alain Ducasse’s arrival in Washington is a welcome one. Adour fits right in at the elegant St. Regis and is a good spot to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and engagements. With good food and a fantastic staff, this restaurant is a nice addition to the city.