The Washington Post
First Bite: Decanter in the St. Regis
By Tom Sietsema | July 9, 2013
Just over a month after Alain Ducasse and the St. Regis parted ways and the lights dimmed in the globetrotting chef's Adour restaurant, diners are returning to the downtown hotel's dining room.
The posh setting hasn't been touched; a baronial wood ceiling still hovers over a sea of white chairs and tables. Adour's chef, Ducasse acolyte Sebastien Rondier, is still in command of the kitchen. But his concise menu has switched allegiance from France to the Mediterranean, and the name above the door now announces Decanter, all but one of its letters in black.
A burgundy-colored "t" in the shape of a corkscrew reflects the hotel's rebranding of its restaurant. Adour stocked about 1,600 bottles, the vast majority bearing French labels; Decanter lists an estimated 2,000 bottles, a collection that looks more to Italy and Spain and includes nods to Australia, Chile and California.
Another sign of changed times: Rondier's best-selling dish is a flatbread spread with chickpea puree and decorated with bites of lamb shank, peppers, apricot chutney and goat cheese. A little sweet, a little tangy, at once soft and crisp, the $22 entree glides to the table on a wooden paddle and pleases on multiple fronts.
A native of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in southwestern France, Rondier, soon to be 38, shares little stories on his menu to explain the presence of, say, a calamari burger. The seafood sandwich is of Spanish origin and first impressed Rondier when he was a child attending a birthday party for his grandfather. The version at Decanter stars a soft patty of ground squid, capers, preserved lemon,
parsley and cilantro tucked into a lightly toasted brioche bun. Served with a glossy green salad, the burger tastes like something Michel Richard might whip up for a beach party.
Not every dish scores. Lobster tater tots "thermidor" strike this diner as a poor way to treat the crustacean, and chilled artichoke veloute becomes tiresome after a few spoonfuls, despite the sprinkle of piment d'espelette that Rondier adds to seemingly every dish, often as a replacement for black pepper.
Decanter's lemon tart makes me smile, though. Almonds go into its crust, preserved lemon gives the filling a nice jolt, and an accompanying sorbet of basil, mint and lemon takes the heat out of summer.