Ladurée ruined macarons for me when I was younger. The first time I was in Paris, I bounded into Ladurée’s flagship eager to understand why the French were so proud of their macarons and why the rest of the world bows down to this treat. Upon taking a bite, I frowned, and my confusion only deepened when I had another. Thinking that these macarons were supposed to be representative of those in France—I mean, this is the famed Ladurée, right?—these slightly stale, mushy, and monotonously sugary things instilled in me a wrongful but deep-seated disappointment in French pastries.
At Ladurée’s newly opened SoHo store, the macarons taste exactly the same, which is a testament to their standardized quality—a remarkable feat, given that they currently have almost fifty stores worldwide.
This store is decorated in the same beautiful mint green that characterizes Ladurée. In the shop, the first things you see are beautifully decorated pastries that sit in neat rows in their display case. Decorative macaron towers are situated next to scented candles and perfumes. Through the pastry shop, there is a tea room, which evokes the Palace of Versailles with its floral curtains and golden door handles. In the early evening, there’s already a line, although partially because orders are being processed rather slowly. Not a good portent for the rest of the meal—the food comes quickly, but paying takes 45 minutes.
Headed by executive chef Johann Giraud, formerly of La Mangeoire in Midtown, Ladurée’s restaurant offers traditional French fare with a modern, New York twist. On their menu is a selection of breakfast viennoiserie, a brunch prix fixe, various omelets and sandwiches, dinner appetizers, and mains, as well as vegetarian dishes.
Ladurée’s macarons—shipped in weekly from Paris—offer classic flavors including pistachio and chocolate, and seasonal ones like green apple and wild raspberry jasmine. The latter has a jam-like filling that lifts out perfectly in a disc and tastes like the inside of a berry-flavored pop tart. The fleur d’oranger macaron only has light hints of the orange blossom perfume and consisted mostly of a floury-tasting gooeyness at the center. The vanilla is decent, with a delicious cream center, but it already makes the cookie halves too damp.
Macarons should not taste heavy but airy, with a fragile, crisp crust, and a filling that should allow you to cleanly bite off a portion. It also should taste like whatever flavor it has been labeled as. None of these criteria have been fulfilled to any great extent, which is disappointing given the weight that Ladurée’s name carries.
The hot foie gras appetizer is delicious, paired with seared apple slices and a thin apple purée as a garnish. Crisp and golden on the outside and still a tender, soft pink on the inside, it would be a great dish if the underside of the liver weren’t blackened from having been on the pan for too long. The monkfish blanquette is chef Giraud’s take on the classic French blanquette de veau, and the blanquette complements every aspect of the dish. Thick, creamy, and flavorful, it thinly coats the peeled celery, carrots, and parsnips garnish. The three pieces of fish, however, are under-seasoned and slightly dry. The club Ladurée is made with white, crustless bread, and comes with a salad dressed in citrusy vinaigrette and four pieces of oversized pommes de terre pont neuf. Neither of these are quite worth their price.
For dessert, the rose Saint Honoré arrives looking crestfallen, rosewater-flavored whipped cream tilting to one side. The shortcrust base gets soggy, but the details speak to Ladurée’s appreciation of the traditional French way of making this dessert. With the pink fondant glaze, fresh raspberries, and perfect rose petal, it would be pretty were it not melted out of shape. The millefeuille au rhum is equally disappointing: too rich, lumpy, and thick, with only fleeting notes of rum.
Ladurée is to macarons as Victoria’s Secret is to lingerie—the quality of the product hardly lives up to the hype, but because it’s such an iconic brand, it’s perhaps worth venturing in for the experience. It’s hard to argue against the sentimentality that Ladurée carries, with its connotations of Parisian luxury. There are many better French macarons to be had in New York, but it’s safe to say that Ladurée will remain popular. The prestige of the brand is what you’re paying for.