I recently heard from a very knowledgeable source that L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the Four Seasons Hotel will close very soon. Even though it is not a particularly popular restaurant with foodies, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon holds a very dear place in my heart. It was my first experience with the highest levels of modern cuisine.
It was almost a decade ago that I was in Paris for the World Junior (Under 26) Bridge Championships. I had done my research and knew that L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon was the restaurant I wanted to go to. Back then there were only two of them, one in Paris and one in Japan. I can still remember digging deep into my high school French to decipher the menu as none of the servers spoke English. I remember one of the servers gesturing at her throat in an attempt to explain sweetbreads to us. But most importantly I remember food so flavorful and delicious that we had to return the next day for lunch before leaving Paris.
The memories were so strong that when L'Atelier opened in NYC I did not hesitate to go, even with the prohibitive NYC prices. I remember eating truffle bread from their bread selection, which they stopped making soon after as it was too expensive. I remember just walking in and sitting at the counter around the open kitchen, and then being unable to do so once 2006 rolled in and the market did nothing but go straight up. But I guess times have indeed changed if they are unable to be profitable even with the stock market testing back near the highs again.
Even though the one in NYC is closing, there is comfort in the knowledge that there are still many more around the world. It really does not matter too much which L'Atelier you go to. I've been to the ones in Paris, New York, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas, and the menus don't really change. Perhaps that (and the exorbitant prices) is why it is not as popular in this day and age, what with the big locavore movement and the constantly blurring line between foodies and hipsters.
Even though I tend to associate L'Atelier with gut-busting French food, they do have some lighter fare.
One of the signature dishes from the very beginning, and just as intensely flavored as I remember it. A meaty piece of perfectly cooked langoustine in a crispy yet not oily fried skin, balanced beautifully with the earthy basil pesto.
While I've never ordered spaghetti at L'Atelier due to the cost (this was $38), this did look simple and delicious.
Whether it was a tiny sliver of veal at the Mansion in Las Vegas or veal sweetbreads at L'Atelier in Paris or in NYC, the most flavorful veal I've ever had by far has always been at Joel Robuchon's restaurants.
This was good, but not as mind-blowing as I was expecting from the description of the dish.
Another signature since the very beginning, this is my must-order item. Intensely rich yet balanced just right with the peppers without the need for sweet or tart flavors to cut the richness. Deeply satisfying. The homemade ginger ketchup and fries are delicious too.
Deeply flavorful with excellent tenderness for hanger steak. The wasabi spinach was a great accompaniment.
Another of the early signatures, this small tasting portion of the quail was full of flavor, even though it is no longer my favorite preparation of quail stuffed with foie gras (new favorite is at SHO). Accompanying this dish is the one dish most associated with Robuchon's cooking, the heart attack in a bowl potato puree concoction that is more cream and butter than potato. So worth the artery clogging.
I forget what this was, but it was refreshing. I also realize that I forgot to photograph the amuse, an unbelievably delicious parfait of parmesan foam, foie gras, and port reduction.
A delicious assortment of tastes and textures perfect for those who like chocolate but aren't crazy for it.
Much stronger in chocolate flavor.
A good combination of rich and light flavors. I remember when this used to be called LA SUCRE, focusing on the sugar-spun sphere that gleamed like a large christmas tree ornament. This sugar sphere was one of the original signature dishes unique to the NYC branch, before they took it off the menu for a while because it took a lot of effort to make.
The prices are exorbitant, but the food is delicious. If you've never tried the signature dishes, it's worth trying them at least once. Or if you just want to relive tastes and memories like I did, it's most certainly worth revisiting before it's gone.