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Le Louis XV - France Travel Feature

The Last Frontier in the World of Luxury

by André Gayot — (1/19/07)

The 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 and trouserswho bring to each of the fifty diners, along with food and wine, more than fifty pieces of cutlery, china and glassware throughout the meal.

 

A 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, neverand rightly sointended 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 fishcombined with the savoir faire of Ducasse and his pupilsare the pillars of an everlasting cuisine served in grand style.

The 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 Louis XVa monarch who enjoyed the good things in lifeis dedicated to luxury and pleasure. Though impressive, the setting is not overwhelming.

When 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 rare sensation.

Cerruti 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.

Another 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.

When 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.

What 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 foodand your curiosity as an oenophilea Bellet (a distinguished local vineyard located above Nice) that is well worth tasting.

Ordering 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 wherefor an evening at leasta person can experience what it feels like to be served in style by forty individuals. That is, if you can afford it.

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
Email: lelouisVX@alain-ducasse.com
www.alain-ducasse.com

Open 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.

 

See all restaurants in the Ducasse restaurant empire:

Check his latest book, the Grand Livre de Cuisine.



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