Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dinner at L'atelier de Joel Robuchon

For my "last meal" (See Random daily thought from Friday: http:// )
I went to one of my favorite places in NYC to eat that didn't need a reservation: L'atelier de Joel Robuchon.

For those who don't know, Joel Robuchon was the elite culinary genius who helped revolutionized cooking 30 years ago in his restaurant in Paris. He was credited with playing a major role in moving French cooking out of the nouvelle cuisine stage and into contemporary classic French cooking. He was once voted Chef of the Century by one of the most influential French Restaurant guides and is only one of two chefs to have ever had two different Michelin 3 star restaurants. He retired from the scene but has since made a comeback with his L'atelier chain of restaurants, with locations in Paris, Japan, New York, Las Vegas, London, and most recently, Hong Kong.

I first knew of him when he was a special guest judge on the original Iron Chef series, and had my first taste of his food when I ate at L'atelier in Paris about 4 years ago. The food was beyond anything I had eaten at the time, and the Euro was much cheaper too. Since then I've eaten a few times at this New York location, which has only been opened for a little less than 2 years. I still feel it consistently serves some of the best food in New York but it is often very empty and reservations are not needed for solo dining. I think this is because for the price tag, New Yorkers would rather be at a place where they can see and be seen, while this experience is more about just you and the food.

Atmosphere: Located inside the four seasons hotel, the feel is definitely very upscale and maintains the coloring scheme that has been a signature of all his L'atelier restaurants. While the original Paris one only had the counter seating, this location has both tables and the famous counter seating surrounding the open kitchen.

Service: Very efficient and friendly. My server recognized me from the last time I went which was at least a couple of months ago. I tend to ask a lot of questions and have a lot of requests, but he tended to them well. Water was always briskly refilled and plates and silverware were changed with every course.

Food: While not nearly as good as the food I had in Paris, there are still a few favorites that I order over and over and are always consistently excellent. Since this was my "last meal" I decided to splurge a little and have the Kobe beef as well. In all, I ended up ordering the langoustine en papillote, the quail stuffed with foie gras, the burgers (sliders), the spaghetti with ham and egg, and the pan fried Kobe beef; finishing it all off with the almond souffle.

The amuse bouche: Not very memorable, as I seem to have forgotten what it actually was. Their winter amuse of foie gras mousse in a port wine reduction topped with a parmesan foam was one of the tastiest things I've ever had there.

Langoustine en papillote: There used to be only one when I first ate there but now there are two rolls. Fresh tasty langoustine wrapped en papillote and fried crispy with a little basil dipping sauce. Still fantastic, though it never seems to match that first bite I had in Paris.

Quail stuffed with foie gras: Two small pieces of rich delicious quail that exploded with the nice soft foie gras inside. Very rich but I always wished there was a bigger portion. Came with the signature truffled potato puree, which is a mixture of potato and butter (I think almost half butter) pureed to the point where you get the texture and silkiness of butter with a nice potato taste. Topped with mini slices of summer truffle. A simple comforting side dish but always a favorite, this heart attack in a bowl.

The burgers: The best value on the menu, I think. Two small sliders piled high with hangar steak meat, seared foie gras, and roasted peppers in a brioche bun. Again incredibly rich and a fantastic assortment of flavors. Comes with nice crispy french fries accompanied by a ginger infused ketchup for dipping.

The spaghetti: This is the first time I've had this version of the spaghetti. Spaghetti surrounding a lightly poached egg with Spanish ham, more truffle slices, and a dusting of parmesan and pepper along the sides. After mixing the egg with the pasta, this becomes a very comforting dish, with all the ingredients working together nicely, but nothing spectacular.

The Kobe beef: I ordered the 3 oz version ($80) but I think the chef ended up giving me two pieces (6 oz) for the same price. It seems to me that ever since I started writing about restaurants on this blog I've been getting free food. The beef was cooked exactly right and was indeed rich, fatty, and flavorful. The little salad of greens with a vinagrette helped to cut into that fattiness, and the dish also came with another bowl of heart attack (see above). While I'm not an expert on Kobe beef, I thought that the whole point was the complete marbling of the beef. Here, however, it was clear where certain mouthfuls were fat and certain mouthfuls were meat. Overall it was delicious anyway. And it's a great value if you can somehow finagle a 6 oz portion for $80.

Dessert amuse: There's a pre-dessert, again served in a small glass like all the amuses here. This time it was a Verona chocolate cream topped with a milk mousse. This was very good, although I think it would have been better if I could have gotten more dark chocolate taste out of the cream.

Almond souffle: For dessert I chose the almond souffle which came with almond ice cream, almond foam, and a piece of almond brittle. The original dish was supposed to feature cherries but I decided to skip the cherries and focus on the almond. This was a wonderfully executed dish, with the nice almond flavor everywhere and the souffle being perfectly crisp on the outside and light and fluffy inside.

Petits: There were two petits, one a macaroon and I forgot what the other was. So tasty I almost asked for a couple more to go. I probably should have.

During dinner, I had a very pleasant conversation with a friendly older gentleman sitting next to me. He is a professional photographer ( and a real foodie. He described how he used to live in France and eat at Jamin (the original Robuchon restaurant). He also went to El Bulli back when it was a 1 Michelin star restaurant and not the holy grail of restaurants that it's now become. He gave me a suggestion as to where to try next in NYC and perhaps that will be another blog entry in the near future. Wait, I thought this was my "last meal"....

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