Write down this number: (212) 265-7300. Though not in service yet, it's the key to a table at what promises to be New York City's most exciting and exclusive restaurant this spring: Alain Ducasse at The Essex House.
Ducasse, the most critically acclaimed and controversial chef in France, announced today in an exclusive interview with Wine Spectator that he will open a restaurant here "before June 21" to rival his Michelin three-star palaces in Paris and Monte Carlo.
Alain Ducasse at The Essex House will occupy the luxurious, intimate dining room previously home to Les Cilibritis, in the opulent hotel (now a Westin property) on Manhattan's Central Park South. An investment of $1.5 million will refresh the dicor and double the size of the kitchen. But the restaurant will seat only 65 diners, offer only one seating per night, and be open only five nights and two lunches per week.
"We want to offer the peak of luxury," Ducasse said, "but with a new approach: French technique and American products, the best wines from all over the world, and a menu with international flavors, yet specific to New York. It will be expensive, but I hope to offer a dining experience that no one else can match."
Ducasse will draw from his core French team to create the New York restaurant. Didier Elena, a 12-year veteran of his kitchens, will be the chef. "He's got great technique, and something even more important and more rare: a true sense of taste," said Ducasse. Girard Margeon, wine director for all of Ducasse's restaurants, will assemble the 250-selection list; most of the wines will be sourced directly from winery cellars. And the service staff will be recruited from other Ducasse restaurants, with an emphasis on both skill and youthful energy.
How often will Ducasse himself be in the kitchen? "As much as necessary," he said. "I know it's a danger to be perceived as being everywhere in the world, and nowhere. I have been criticized. But I have proved I can make this system work."
New challenges are his steady diet. Alain Ducasse has been a man in a hurry ever since he beat the odds and survived a crash in a small airplane in 1984, when he was 27. In 1987, he signed a contract to take over the restaurant Louis XV in Monte Carlo's Hotel de Paris. He guaranteed he would win three Michelin stars within three years, or resign. He won the bet. At 33, he became the youngest chef ever to win the French food guide's highest honor.
But the fame and fortune that accompanied his accomplishment didn't satisfy Ducasse. In 1996, he took over the Paris restaurant where superstar chef Joel Robuchon had won three stars, then retired. When the 1997 Michelin Guide was published, Ducasse had another three-star restaurant in his risumi. (Both Alain Ducasse in Paris and Louis XV in Monte Carlo hold Wine Spectator Grand Awards for their wine lists.) Since then, he has earned single stars for an Italian restaurant in Paris, Il Cortile, and Bar et Boeuf in Monte Carlo, which specializes in sea bass and steak. This eight-star constellation makes him the brightest light in the Michelin sky.
Now Ducasse has set his sights on New York. For him, it's the final frontier. "There will never be another restaurant with my name on it," he promised. "Monte Carlo, Paris and New York are the most exciting and the most demanding cities for a restaurateur. We know we will have to work hard to succeed here. But we are looking forward to the challenge."
Essex House -- A Westin Hotel
160 Central Park South
New York, New York
To learn more about Alain Ducasse and his restaurants: