Hello, my friends! Happy New Year to you! M. Cheesemonger and I have finally settled down after a lot of traveling over the past month, and I can finally write a bit.
This week, we are whisked off to one of my favorite places on the planet, Le Château de Versailles. The one built by (well, I guess, expanded on) Louis XIV during his reign to centralize power and keep tabs on all his court.
I suppose even the Château de Versailles, especially the château, is not immune to commercialization, as La Durée macarons are now available within the walls, and Alain Ducasse has opened a restaurant, Ore.
I fell for it, and decided to kill two birds with one stone—dine at my first Alain Ducasse restaurant, and visit the château. Joined by my longtime local friend Jessy and encouraged by the rainy weather, I reserved a table at Ore. On the popular French dining review and reservation website LaFourchette.com, I even was able to reserve for a prix fixe meal that included entry into the château.
Ore : The Restaurant
Of course, Alain Ducasse, exceptional chef and supreme businessman, would be the first to open a restaurant in the Château de Versailles. A king of the kitchen setting up shop at the home of the Sun King himself! I had high expectations for a restaurant (more like bistro) bearing his name, and I am happy to say, they were met.
It was a little bit of a zoo as we arrived at the château for our reservation. Parking was limited, and we had to look around for the restaurant (It’s on the left side as you pass the golden gates!). Once in the lobby, we saw a stressed hostess fielding inquiries from visitors left and right. We told her we had a reservation, and she sent us up an elevator to the first floor. There, a stylish oasis greeted us. The elevators opened up onto the kitchens. We saw pastries gliding about the space atop silver trays and cooks going about their work. The restaurant’s décor featured gold everywhere, yet still managed to remain understated. I absolutely loved the contemporary golden lustres that gave a golden, contemporary edge to the space.
As for our meal, my friend and I went right for the pintade, or guinea fowl, which was succulent, flavorful, and delicate, topped with an even more flavorful jus. The Anna potatoes that accompanied our poultry shone like gems. Their fine crispy exterior and flaky, delicate interior were a lesson (to me, at least) on the power of technique to transform the most basic ingredients into a culinary masterpiece.
For dessert, I spied the pain d’épices soufflé with honey ice cream, and knew it had to make its way to my plate. After all, if you can’t get a good soufflé at an Alain Ducasse restaurant, you know it’s a lost cause. Luckily, the soufflé delivered. It was airy and flavorful, and the honey ice cream tasted like real farm honey.
For wine, we had a lovely 2015 red Côtes du Rhône. If I were better, I would remember the maker, but alas, my wine memory is terrible! It was peppery and scratchy up front, typical for the style, but soon blossomed into a full-flavored, well-rounded accompaniment to our meal.
The restaurant’s ambiance was restrained and pleasant, surprising given the craziness of the crowds just below us. The service was cheerful, efficient, and discreet, which is exactly what I would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. The only mishap was when we needed to ask for my coffee about 3 times at the end of the meal.
The cuisine was rather simple over all, yet prepared with extreme attention to detail and high standards. It was a charming break from the touristy craziness of the rest of the château. Actually, we could see that many of the other diners around us were not tourists. They were local Versaillais, probably of some not insignificant social standing, out for a family luncheon. Ore does hold exceptional special events dinners, where I am sure the cuisine is more elaborate. One day, I hope to attend one . . . .
Or : The Château
One perk of purchasing a visitor’s ticket through Ore is that they have their own private entrance to the château, which means we didn’t have to wait in line in the rain to get inside.
As you can guess, the château was wonderful! This might be my seventh or eighth time there, and it never loses its charm, despite being visited and photographed to death every day by thousands of people.
My friend and I filed through all of the rooms available for us to visit, including a delightful exhibit about past diplomatic visitors to the château that included clothing, rugs, furniture, paintings, and a host of other fine objects on display. My friend wasn’t a huge fan of the flowery, matchy-matchy décor in many of the rooms, but this is my favorite thing! Studying Versailles way back in college was my gateway to this wonderful microcosm, and I still love all of it, elaborate floral wall coverings included.
Our visit ended at the famed Galerie des Glaces, which shone as brilliantly as ever with polish chandeliers and gilded figures. Even the rain can’t take away this hall’s beauty.
If you’re ever wondering if Miss Cheesemonger thinks it’s worth it to visit Versailles, the answer is always yes, even if it’s your 10th time. If you get tired of the rooms, you can always visit the grounds. If you get tired of the grounds, you can reserve tickets to see a concert or opera by composers such as Jean-Baptiste Lully. Or, come in the summer to see Les Grands Eaux Nocturnes, where you can wander the bosquets and admire the magnificent working fountains, then close the evening with an elegant fireworks display. Another time M. Cheesemonger and I visited the gardens, it was to see a pyrotechnic show with the theme of spectacles during the time of Louis XIV. There’s even a carriage display, which I haven’t yet visited. Maybe another time! It is a sumptuous château, for sure, but it is also a cultural and aesthetic cornerstone.
Our visit of the château concluded just as it was closing for the day. We went home slightly damp, but with opulent visions dancing in our minds.
Thanks to my dear friend Jessy for joining me at lunch and at the Château!
Ore Restaurant : Ducasse au Château de Versailles
Pavillon Dufour, 78000 Versailles, France (on the left side as you approach the château)
Open 9am-5:30pm, Tuesday-Sunday
Reserve on LaFourchette.com https://www.lafourchette.com/restaurant/ore-ducasse-au-chateau-de-versailles/266309?cc=18174-54f
Le Château de Versailles
Open every day except on Mondays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. 9:00 am – 5:30 pm
Last admission: 5 pm. The gardens are open every day, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Visit the Château website for ticket information, how to get there, etc. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/plan-your-visit/practical-information
Visit the Château’s show website for special shows, recitals, and events. http://www.chateauversailles-spectacles.fr/en
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