Dining: Best of the Best Restaurants: Restaurant Plaza Athénée
The Restaurant Plaza Athénée at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris is more than just a study in elegance. While the decor is striking—the formal antique style was coordinated by Patrick Jouin—the heart of the experience here is the presentation of the food. What distinguishes this restaurant from other luxury establishments is its simplicity, which has become harder to find considering the amount of fuss, fusion, and so-called creativity that has overrun the upscale kitchens and dining rooms of the past decade.
The menu at Restaurant Plaza Athénée is short and to the point. One section offers plaisirs de table (pleasures of the table), emphasizing the ingredients on the plate, not the chef’s genius for surprise. Depending on the season, you will find dishes such as Homard Breton (lobster), asperges/morilles (asparagus and morels), Truffe noire (black truffles), pommes de terre en marmalade (potatoes in marmalade), or Volaille de Bresse en chapelure de truffe noire (chicken in breadcrumbs with black truffles). The food is presented almost as an objet trouvé (a found object), as it might be discovered in nature. The simplicity of the presentation implies a confidence bordering on arrogance—the chef dares you to find fault in perfect ingredients. While genius is at work, turning the spotlight on the ingredients means that it matters less who is manning the kitchen that day or night and more that what you are eating is absolutely the best available in the world.
Owner/chef Alain Ducasse, and Jean-Francois Piege, his head chef at Plaza Athénée, recognize the importance of balance, flavor, and color. And Ducasse, who trained with Roger Verge, one of the first top chefs to put vegetables into the foreground of haute cuisine, ensures that vegetables are given as much prominence as the fish, shellfish, poultry, lamb, beef, cheeses, and wines that are featured.
Lulled into a state of contentment by the food and wine, you might not notice the role of the staff, but credit must be given to Denis Courtiade, the restaurant’s director, whose managing skills result in consistently warm, unpretentious service. When you enter the dining room, you are welcomed like a relative, not a mere guest.
Few cities are as spiritually fulfilling as Paris. Dining at Restaurant Plaza Athénée, the city’s supreme temple of gastronomy, offers the kind of renewal that can lead to a change in how you view what a restaurant can be about: a return to simplicity, the upholding of tradition, and the best ingredients in life.
Restaurant Plaza Athénée, Hôtel Plaza Athénée, 866.732.1106 or +33.01.53.67.65, www.plaza-athenee-paris.com