Alain Ducasse, one of the most decorated chefs in the history of the profession, plans to close his lone restaurant in Washington. Alain Ducasse Enterprise and the St. Regis Washington announced today that Adour will cease operations on May 31 after a five-year run in the hotel on 16th Street NW.
Last fall, Ducasse and the St. Regis decided to close the Adour in New York City after a similar five-year run.
"Both the hotel and ADE have decided it is the right time for the hotel to change course with regards to its restaurant offerings," Laura Schofield, general manager for the St. Regis Washington, said in a statement.
For those keeping score, Ducasse's exit marks the third out-of-town celebrity chef to depart from the District in less than a year. Fellow Frenchman Eric Ripert said au revoir to the Westend Bistro last year, while the Toronto-based Susur Lee officially split from Zentan at the Donovan House Hotel in March.
Then again, Ducasse was never much of a fixture in Washington. Last year, when the French chef launched a new lunch menu at Adour based on his cookbook, "Nature," Ducasse explained how he prioritizes his commitments to the 20-plus restaurants under his watch.
"There are essentially only five restaurants in the world that carry my name, where my name is on the door, from Tokyo to Paris to London to Monaco to New York, and those are the restaurants where I'm really involved at every level," Ducasse told me through an interpreter in March 2012.
"The restaurants that don't necessarily carry my name, I do lean on my colleagues and my teams to be my eyes and ears," he added.
The St. Regis already has a replacement lined up for the restaurant space designed by the Rockwell Group: The Mediterranean-inspired Decanter is scheduled to open on June 21 under the direction of chef Sebastien Rondier, a long-time Ducasse acolyte.
A native of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the southwest of France, Rondier first moved to the United States in 2003 to work with Ducasse in New York City. Rondier worked at Adour in Manhattan and helped open Benoit in 2008 before eventually landing at the Washington-based Adour about a year and a half ago.
So how much of Ducasse's influence can be found in Rondier's cooking?
"I would say 90 percent, for sure," Rondier said during a telephone interview this afternoon. "After 13 years of working under Alain Ducasse management ... you get very detailed [over] time and more and more professional."
Decanter, a nod to the hotel's respected wine program and its recently redesigned bar, will channel the flavors of Spain, Turkey, Italy and the south of France. Rondier is still tweaking his menu, but he expects it to include a calamari burger (a staple of beachside restaurants along the Mediterranean); a lobster, heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad; hamachi prepared nicoise-style; and a rockfish dish for two.
Rondier and the St. Regis plan to adjust the atmosphere inside the restaurant, too.
"When you're in a luxurious hotel like the St. Regis, some people may feel shy to come over" to the restaurant, Rondier says. "I kind of want to break the ice. I want people to feel like they're going to their favorite restaurant."
"I want this place to become very attractive and very open and much more fun — a very different approach from what we're doing at Adour right now," he continues.
"I'm not saying we have a bad atmosphere now, of course. I want the air to be lighter around the customer."
Rondier does hope to do one thing different from his mentor, Ducasse:
"I plan to be very much more in the dining room talking to my customers."