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At Alain Ducasse's Latest New York Venture, French and American Comfort Food Mix

The renowned French chef's second Manhattan restaurant -- called Mix -- is more modestly priced and less formal than his first.

Nick Fauchald
Posted: October 7, 2003

Politics aside, one place France and America can get along is on the tables at Mix in New York, chef Alain Ducasse's second Manhattan restaurant, which opened in September.

Just south of Central Park, down the street from the luxurious Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Mix creates what Ducasse calls a "culinary bridge between the French and American continents."

More modestly priced than the Essex House (where it's common to drop $250 a person for dinner), Mix focuses on upscale comfort food rather than on haute cuisine, on carefully chosen, lesser-known wines rather than on first-growth Bordeaux and wallet-busting verticals. A two-course prix fixe lunch goes for $36, while the three-course prix fixe dinner will set you back $72 -- relative bargains compared with Ducasse's three-Michelin-star restaurants in Paris and Monaco.

The menu is a collaboration between Ducasse and 29-year-old chef de cuisine Douglas Psaltis, a Long Island native who cut his teeth at revered New York eateries such as Bouley and March. Modern makeovers of classic French dishes such as bouillabaisse (a minimalist broth with squid and shellfish) sit alongside cross-Atlantic relatives such as the neo-New England clam chowder (in which oyster crackers have been replaced by fried ravioli). Diners can begin a meal with an American mainstay such as macaroni and cheese (worlds beyond Kraft and Velveeta) and continue with a rustic French pot-au-feu (here made with bison tenderloin).

"We focused on foods we both grew up eating: Alain in France and me in America," Psaltis said. "Our dishes rely more on technique and less on show. They're recreations of things we're all comfortable eating."

Unlike the Essex House, where it's hard to find a bottle under $100 on the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning wine list, most of Mix's 200 labels average around $50 to $70. The list is divided into five categories: organic, biodynamic, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Bordeaux and "le monde," plus 20 wines by the glass.

The separate listings for organic and biodynamic wines (biodynamic viticulture goes beyond organic in that soil treatments are timed to align with lunar and cosmological cycles), all from France, are firsts among Ducasse's restaurants. "We thought it would be difficult to sell organic wine, but American customers are eager to try new kinds of grapes," Mix's sommelier Bertrand Despinoy said. "Biodynamic wines aren't always easy to sell, so we have to explain them to the customers. It takes a lot of research to find these wines; we'd like to include some from America, but the certification process isn't as vigorous yet as it is in France."

Although diners will recognize names on the list such as Domaine Leroy, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château La Nerthe, Despinoy said, "A lot of these wines are not on the American market, so we get to teach [diners] something new."

Despinoy collaborated on the list with André Compeyre, sommelier at the Essex House and Gérard Margeon, who oversees all of Ducasse's wine lists. "We focused on the Right Bank Bordeaux, on wines with lots of Merlot, to match the food better," Despinoy said. "And Châteauneuf-du-Pape for the same reason."

The "le monde" selections include many more French wines -- Burgundies, Rhônes and Left Bank Bordeaux -- as well as a handful from America, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia, a country that excites the sommeliers. "Slovenia is a region to watch," Compeyre said. "We were really surprised by the value. It's where Chile and Argentina were a few years ago."

Mix also follows through on its name with a combination of old materials and modern design, a theme fashioned by Patrick Jouin, who has designed other Ducasse restaurant interiors. For example, in the dining room, old white brick walls are covered by new rose-colored glass panels. One of the funkiest features is the private chef's table, surrounded by a glass-beaded curtain, where six guests can watch how each dish is prepared via a movie projected onto a plate at the center of the table.

"The whole idea here is to keep the customer loose," Psaltis said of Mix. "We don't want to be stuffy or change the way people eat. We want people to be comfortable."

Mix in New York
68 W. 58th St.
New York, NY 10019
Telephone: (212) 583-0300
Fax: (212) 583-9241
Open: Lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, daily

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