When Alain Ducasse opened at the Essex House in 2000, not only was it an important culinary moment for the city, it was a great day for handbags. In his quest to civilize an unruly New York dining public, the detail-obsessed restaurateur had equipped each table with a red-velvet-upholstered footstool upon which women could give their precious clutches a proper stage, rather than just dump them on the floor like an old Duane Reade shopping bag.
Although the stools received better reviews than the mysterious array of squab knives (from which you were required to choose as if you had been challenged to a duel by your waiter), the fancy check-signing pens (ditto), and the infamous asparagus tongs (which, we admit, we kind of liked), they weren’t without their detractors. A “horrid idea,” sniffed one critic, “which would only make a commonplace handbag look conspicuous among all the Louis Vuitton.”
And yet, because he is patient and forgiving, not to mention persistent, M. Ducasse hasn’t given up on us. The squab knives, the asparagus tongs, and the pens may be long gone, having been either pocketed by guests or put into storage, but the superchef is standing firm on purse perches.
At Adour, his wine-focused comeback at the St. Regis hotel which opens tonight, Ducassse commissioned designer David Rockwell to dispense with the courtly footstool idea and build a new chair with a simple sliding ledge, a safe, if somewhat subtler harbor for the impending flotilla of Birkins and Balenciagas. Stylish, utilitarian, space-saving — now that’s civilized. —Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
Related: L’Obsession [NYM]