There are two recent entries in the hotel kitchen bake-off: the Hotel Lancaster's La Table du Lancaster by Michel Troisgros, which opened March 1 (he has three Michelin stars at his family's namesake restaurant in Roanne, near Lyon); and the Hotel Crillon's Les Ambassadeurs, whose new chef, Jean-François Piège, was boldly snatched away from the Hotel Plaza Athénée's three-star restaurant, where he had been superchef Alain Ducasse's executive chef since Ducasse took over in late 2000.
Which is best? The small, newly redecorated Lancaster restaurant is winning critical raves with a pared-down fusion menu, including such dishes as marinated sea scallops melba with wakame, and Bourbonnais chicken with Vino Santo sauce.
But the Crillon is tough competition. Its sumptuous marble-and-crystal dining room has been redecorated, too, with pale champagne draperies and deep raspberry tablecloths, in the clear hope that Piège will win back the restaurant's second Michelin star, lost in 2003, and maybe add a third star of his own. He's well on his way with a (very expensive) menu that lays on the truffles with a lavish handa ramekin of truffle butter on the table, sole petit bateau with celery and truffles, Bresse chicken with chestnuts and truffles, or an amazingly airy variation on a blanc-manger, with a soft-boiled egg yolk wreathed in foamy egg white and flavored with concentrated jus de truffe. Hotel art might never improve, but at least in Paris, hotel food is becoming artistry itself.