Friday, July 17, 2009

Dinner at Joel Robuchon Restaurant (VegasSummer09, food)

Since I decided to go on an all-out vacation, I had to go to the Joel Robuchon Restaurant. Right next door to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand, this would be the pinnacle of my Vegas trip as my last dinner after 10 days away from reality.

Atmosphere: There is a reason that this restaurant is also called Robuchon at the Mansion. It feels like a private mansion as you step in through the huge doors. The black and white checkerboard marble floor reveals in its reflection the huge sparkling chandelier hanging in the middle of the main dining room. The lovely coloring scheme of purple, beige, and black is dotted with light red here and there. The main dining room revolves around an oval booth sofa lined with cushions and a large fireplace towards the inside end of the room. There are two private rooms on either side, one decorated with leaves and the other decorated with a sandy background. There were three problems I had with regards to the atmosphere. First, there were salt and pepper shakers on the tables. If I'm paying these kinds of prices, I expect the chef to have my food perfectly seasoned. Second, on the table surrounded by the oval sofa, there were black and white pictures in frames. When asked they told me these were pictures of celebrities who had dined there. While a little tacky for my liking, I can accept it. Except for the fact that the two pictures behind me were of Chuck Norris and Alan Thicke. Third is the dress code. I can understand jacket and tie optional though preferred, since this is Vegas and all, but I saw someone in there with jeans. Maybe I'm a snob, but a classic restaurant should be at least a strict business casual.

Service: Everything was as it should be. Water was refilled quickly and everything was described in detail. Food was brought to a separate serving table before being brought to the diner. At the slightest bit below par (explained below), the server strongly encouraged I get a dish replaced.

Food: Since I was splurging, I went for the degustation menu at $385. It used to be the only thing they had, but with everything the way it is, they now have set menus ranging from 2 to 6 courses with prices ranging from $98 to $195.

Amuse: Osetra caviar over crab in fennel cream

This was served in a caviar tin and layered with crab on the bottom and a ridiculous portion of caviar on top. The individual roe were bigger than the ones I've had before. This was a very good start to the meal, as the crab was fresh and sweet and was a good match for the nuttiness of the caviar. After my first bite, there was the tiniest bit of shell or cartilage, and as my server noticed this while bringing me my bread, she strongly suggested that I get it replaced. I normally hate to waste food, especially expensive food, but hey, extra bites.


The bread cart

A whole cart filled with bread. There were about 10-12 types. I can remember two types of cheese bread, one bacon bread, two types of baguettes, milk buns, saffron buns, basil focaccia, and rosemary brioche. I sampled about 6 of them. My favorites were the cheese bread and the saffron bun. The saffron bun was so full of saffron flavor I had thirds.


Salad of tomato, basil infused olive oil, tomato gelee topped with mozzarella

This was light with an interesting mix of textures. The most important thing was the presentation, which was stunning as the olive oil and mozzarella were polka dotted over the top of the gelee and provided beautiful colors.


Trio of asparagus: panna cotta with citrus oil, scrambled egg in a golden toast, morel royale with yellow wine

There weren't many pieces of the featured ingredient, but the scrambled eggs were really good. Beautiful presentation yet again.


Crispy frog leg, garlic and parsley puree

This was quite tasty and better than the L'Atelier version I've had before. The only problem was that this indeed a crispy frog leg, no plural. For a guy who grew up eating frog congee as a little boy, I always wonder why French restaurants make this ingredient seem so expensive. There was a small vegetable tempura that came with this that was good also.


Roasted lobster with green curry, uni on mashed potato with roasted coffee beans, truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage

The lobster was cooked perfectly and the green curry was a nice touch. The coffee and mashed potatoes were fantastic, but the uni needed more pop, more burst of ocean. The langoustine ravioli was one nice plump ravioli and I love the texture of langoustine as a dumpling filling.


Light pea veloute with peppermint on top of a delicate onion cloud

This is definitely a Robuchon thing, although I don't know if it's a French thing in general, to have a soup course right before the main meat courses. The onion cloud was essentially an onion foam, and there was tiny diced ham that went really well with it. Delicious, although I don't think I've had a soup at a Robuchon establishment that wasn't delicious.


Bone marrow with sweetbreads, corn, corn foam, and popcorn

An interesting combination, although there was very little marrow and I didn't really get the role of the popcorn in this. I think that popcorn is a tough texture to match with in a savory dish.


Pan fried sea bass with a lemongrass foam and stewed baby leeks

The only note that I have on this dish was the word "phenomenal". I remember being very very happy with this dish.


Sauteed veal chop with herb gelee, zucchini and fresh almonds

While this piece of veal and the jus had 5 times the flavor of the veal chop at Picasso, it was unfortunately 1/10th the size. Small piece of veal, big big flavor. The accompanying veggies were pretty meh though.


Spring root vegetables stew with Argan oil couscous

It was kind of weird to end the savory courses with a dish consisting entirely of vegetables. Everything was fresh and nicely cooked, but there was nothing special about it.


Strawberry compote infused with lime, tequila sorbet

Light predessert that was just right.


Nyangbo chocolate cake, light gianduja cream

This was very very good. For a guy who's not really into desserts, I was really enjoying this.


Coffee or Tea with mignardises

And a cart ends the meal just as a cart began it. The mignardises cart has 45 different selections. I chose to sample about 5 of them and got a box of about 8 more to go. They also gave me a whole loaf of raspberry pistachio cake to take home. I didn't taste either of the things I took away, giving it to the nice Pai Gow floorman back at the Bellagio.

Overall verdict:
To be honest, I felt really ripped off. The degustation menu used to be about $320 for 16 courses. Then they increased the price to $385. Now I pay the same $385 and I get 12 courses including the amuse? Not only that, where are my overpriced ingredients? I understand that a couple of the courses were served as trios, but where are my foie gras and shaved truffles? Argan oil is an expensive Morrocan oil, comparable in price to a good truffle oil, but more valued for medicinal properties than for taste. It's like having a bird's nest dessert at the end of a big Chinese meal. They use it to help justify the price, and it's good for you, but it's not a big taste thing.

This doesn't mean that I'm telling you not to go there. Just don't get the degustation menu. In fact, my advice would be to go for the cheapest option, the $98 two-course prix fixe. For $98, you will get the same amuse that I had, along with one meat or seafood entree from the a la carte menu as well as a dessert. Since my favorite dishes of the night were the seabass and the veal anyway, I don't see how you can go wrong with this. Furthermore, for that same price you can still have as much bread as you want from the bread cart and as much of the mignardises at the end to make sure you leave full. I think I would be extremely happy going back there and having the two course prix fixe. I guess I took one for the team.

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