Le Louis XV - France Travel Feature
Frontier in the World of Luxury
by André Gayot — (1/19/07)
precious acres named Principauté de Monaco...
this is where the Ducasse
culinary saga started. It was here that the
mighty Société des Bains de Mer, which
controls Monaco’s economy, decided in 1985
to found what they hoped would become the crème
de la crème among restaurants around the
world. For this purpose, they picked the then young
and promising chef, Alain Ducasse, as “chef
des cuisines” for the famous but a tad wilting
Hôtel de Paris.
Ducasse pledged that within four years he would
accomplish the ambitious mission of drawing fame
and high rollers to "le Rocher" (the Rock).
And so he did, conducting the fierce battle to the
top from his camp in the “aquarium,”
a 12-square-foot space facing kitchens loaded with
six TV monitors. The budding chef kept watch on
the screens, observing all the nooks and crannies
in the entire place to make sure that his instructions
were fulfilled and his knowledge and talent passed
along the line. His approach worked so well that
today it’s hard to find a faulty detail. This
quest for perfection has culminated in a highly
professional army of twenty cooks and as many maître
d’s, sommeliers and waiters—all smartly
attired in charcoal gray, couturier-tailored jackets
bring to each of the fifty diners, along with food
and wine, more than fifty pieces of cutlery, china
and glassware throughout the meal.
revolution, even one limited to the plates, would
not be appropriate in a restaurant named after a
monarch and located in the last bastion of royalty
in Europe. And so it is that chef Frank Cerutti,
a long-time second to Ducasse, never—and
to revolutionize the Monégasques’ ovens.
Instead, he chose wisely to glorify (before it became
so hip) Mediterranean cuisine and its elixir, olive
oil, which some of his friends jokingly declare
flows freely in his veins. In addition, noble products,
such as truffles (black from Périgord France,
white from Alba in Italy); beautiful vegetables
year-round (summer tomatoes, winter leeks, turnips
and artichokes); citrus in winter from the area
and nearby Italy; and tasty fish—combined
with the savoir faire of Ducasse and his pupils—are
the pillars of an everlasting cuisine served in
silver "cloches" and vermilion under-plates
might seem to some a bit pompous, but they are part
of the whole show, which is performed beneath a
gilded ceiling adorned with frescos and stucco medallions
framing portraits of the great courtesans, many
of whom played such important roles under the “beloved”
Louis XV. Included among them are the Marquise de
Pompadour, la Comtesse du Barry and, curiously enough,
la Maréchale Lefèvre, who lived one
century later in the Napoleonic era. Designed in
the mid-1800s, this salon, which is named after
monarch who enjoyed the good things in life—is
dedicated to luxury and pleasure. Though impressive,
the setting is not overwhelming.
the time finally arrives to dine, the waiters first
bring the amuse-bouches, fresh and crisp raw greens
presented in crystal glasses from Murano, with a
dip of olive oil and Parmesan; they also come with
two kinds of butters (salty and sweet) that are
delicately served on a marble dish. This simplicity
is a refreshing introduction to the meal and an
indication of the importance of vegetables in this
house. Chef Cerutti, indeed, loves veggies. He offers
a full array of dishes capable of turning even the
most avid carnivore into a vegetarian. A prime example:
"Early vegetables of the Jardins de Provence."
These are lightly cooked mini veggies from an Italian
farm, exuding a natural savor that only the freshest
of farm products can release. The dish, enhanced
by a special olive oil (taggiasche), is sprinkled
with black truffle morsels. This melding of complementary
fragrances creates on the palate an unusual and
believes that the main duty of a chef is to respect
the true taste of things and not to play around
with too many ingredients. The vegetarian-oriented
menu illustrates this philosophy of nature coming
first, with a red pumpkin risotto and trumpet mushrooms,
and a stew of vegetables and fruit in a Muscat grape
jus---a great moment for vegetarians, as well as
for those who simply love good food. This is not
to overlook Cerutti’s seafood work with Mediterranean
fish, whose flesh has more taste than those from
the Atlantic. This is displayed best with species
such as the "rougets," which are more
iodic here, but alas, rare nowadays. The filleted
Mediterranean Sea Bass is precisely cooked, thus
keeping a firm texture that matches the tiny calamari
à la grecque. The flesh is spiked with confit
of lemon on a bed of Swiss chard and zucchini skin.
The roasted turbot from the Atlantic is prepared
with a reduction of Arbois wine with fresh grapes
and sautéed vegetables.
pinnacle in Cerruti’s bill of fare stems from
game: in season, real game, not the farmed variety.
In particular, you shouldn’t miss the palombe
if it appears on the menu. Palombe is a variety
of wild pigeon that migrates south in the fall across
the Pyrénées, where it has been hunted
for centuries. Their flesh is sublime: tender without
the strong, gamy taste you would expect from such
a bird. Roasted with wild mushrooms, the dish is
a sublime delicacy. As for carnivores, they’re
wooed with the local lamb, a great tradition of
this area. To simplify your choice among this array
of wonderful, diverse cuisine, two set menus are
offered: "Pour les gourmets" (€180)
and "Les jardins de Provence." (€150).
Each is comprised of four courses, cheese and dessert.
your table turns to blue with blue silverware and
a blue candle, then you know the time has come for
dessert. If you want to go au naturel, you may choose
items that pay tribute to local products, such as
wild strawberries accompanied by a Mascarpone sorbet,
or citrus fruits, prepared either fresh and naturally
sour or sweetened and candied with a hint of Campari.
Otherwise, the bitter chocolate tasse or the signature
crunchy Louis XV praline croustillant add a great
final touch to this exceptional evening.
can be said of service that is as impeccable and
unobtrusive as can be, and of a wine list that proposes
950 different wines, 40 “great and rare vintages”
and 16 "fine and exceptional" bottles?
Confronted with such abundance, you had better allow
the sommelier to guide you. He may suggest a pleasant
Volnay 1996 “Pitures” from Boillot (Côte
de Beaune), or, depending on your choice of food—and
your curiosity as an oenophile—a
Bellet (a distinguished local vineyard located above
Nice) that is well worth tasting.
just an espresso is not enough at "Chez Ducasse."
You have to be specific as you make your choice
between ten different varieties of coffee from locales
as far-flung as Guadeloupe and Ethiopia. If it is
tea you want, eight varieties are available; also,
if you would prefer an infusion, a cart loaded with
twelve different herbs will be whisked to the table.
This is the world of Ducasse: for him, fine dining
is the last frontier in the world of ultimate luxury.
And it is here where—for
an evening at least—a
person can experience what it feels like to be served
in style by forty individuals. That is, if you can
Le Louis XV
Hôtel de Paris
Place du Casino
MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
Tel +377 92 16 29 76
Fax +377 92 16 69 21
for dinner from Thursday to Monday, and from
Wednesday to Monday from the end of June to
the end of August. Closed December and two
weeks in February.
all restaurants in the Ducasse
his latest book, the Grand
Livre de Cuisine.