Sunday, May 20, 2012

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon: Culinary Jackpot with Chef of the Century

Vegas, pure and simple, revolves around money. Ways to make it (for the lucky few), and ways to be relieved of the 'burden' of a populated bank account (for the remaining majority).   The greatest part of that equation is the explosion of world class dining venues, as another (arguably better, from a food lover's perspective) way for visitors to draw enjoyment from carefree / conspicuous spending.

I am not one afflicted with an obese wallet - but having saved on meals and other areas throughout the year, I do allow myself to indulge in a spectacular meal or two on occasion...(cue Destiny's Child song) So, just before a business trip to Vegas, I threw out a call for recs to the Twitter hive mind, and was excited when fellow blogger sinosoul recommended L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon as good value for the fine dining meal.

As the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world (where others strive whole lifetimes for just one, Chef Robuchon holds 26), named "Chef of the Century" by a prestigious French dining guide, and awarded the infamously difficult to attain Meuilleurs Ouvrier de France (MOF) which translates to "Best Craftsman in France" Joel Robuchon it should go without saying is a legend in the culinary world.
For a chef so well decorated, I always assumed prices at his restaurants would be astronomical (a la Thomas Keller's French Laundry) and completely not affordable to the average food fan. But on closer inspection, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon offered a prix fixe "Seasonal Discovery Menu" for 'just' $159! Still a splurge for me, but not where I'd have to win the lottery first!
L'Atelier is located at the MGM Grand, a sleek, modern looking but vibrant and fun space.  The concept revolves around a very open and inviting kitchen, that allows diners to see for themselves exactly how their food is prepared.  Dark fixtures were offset by colorful fruits and veggies and jewel-colored decorative pieces. Having decided rather last minute on the venue, I was lucky to even get a seat - but a little sad not to have been able to pull up to the counter with a view into the open kitchen.  I ended up parking myself at the back bar facing a wall of liquor and books, but was very happy to be at LDJR at all.
I knew dinner would be fabulous the minute L'Amuse-Bouche arrived - my bouche was definitely amused by the Foie gras parfait with port wine and parmesan foam. It was all kinds of earthy, creamy richness balanced by aerated parmesan.
Then came La Daurade - Snapper marinated with lime, tomato and virgin olive oil. The tomato based sauce was amazingly light and refreshing, while the lime lent a nice citrus layer that cut through the fish.  It was like a unique version of ceviche, topped by lovely crispy toasts for textural contrast.   
Next up: Les Huitres - regular readers know I am usually a purist with oysters - I love the unimitable taste of clean, deep ocean, but the Poached baby Kussi oysters with French <Echire > butter was a formidable rival - the clarified butter was luscious, but not heavy or overwhelming. Apparently Echire butter is 'the best in the world' and is so prized by the French that they have given it protected status, "AOC Beurre des Deux-Sevres" like they did with champagne - only the butter produced with milk from cows in that specific region of France can be labeled as Echire.  Upon subsequent research I learned that this butter is about 85% butterfat - no wonder it tastes so amazing!!! Small sprigs of thyme and chili salt lent a bit of savory and bit of heat - and everything worked in perfect balance to make for a sublime symphony of flavor in your mouth when you tipped back the half shells.  I wanted dozens more of these precious little bivalves and to hoard them like Gollum does The Ring.
After the levity of two starting dishes, we headed into more heavy hitting proteins with Le Homard Maine lobster in a spicy broth and shaved lime. This broth was incredible, with Asian flavors that my super friendly server explained came from ginger and lemongrass, and its pairing with lobster was another unexpected coupling that you wouldn't think would work - but the wonderfully fresh, sweet and tender bite of lobster shone through the deliciously flavorful broth, with delicate veggies - each piece perfectly cooked - offsetting the intensity. 
Then came what to me may have been a best of meal: La Cebette White onion tart with smoked bacon, quail egg "mirror" and green asparagus. This was a small disc of fragrant flatbread, served warm, topped by sweet / bitter white onion, addictively smokey bacon, lightly applied cheese to tie it all together, a perfect little golden quail egg at the heart of it all, flanked by lovely pops of green asparagus tops for crunch. I splurged on this one too and added black truffle.  All I can say about this one is: if I ever found The One, this is what I'd want to have for breakfast the morning after we got engaged (how's that for fantasy dining? :P Yeah I'm glad I got to experience the better and more realistic of the two).
For the fish course, there was La Lotte Monkfish cheek and baby leeks, buttery shellfish sauce with lime and ginger. A lovely, tender, sweet piece again influenced by Asian flavors -  could it be to appeal to the Asian contingent in Vegas? (Vegas is heaven for gambling and conspicuous consumption loving Asians)

Then came the piece de resistance - the one everyone who has dined here, raves about: La Caille Foie gras stuffed free-range quail with truffled-mashed potatoes. This plate essentially presents some of my favorite ingredients in the world all at once.  I know I'm way overusing the word perfect in this post, but this quail truly was perfectly cooked - and the sort of tongue-in-cheek - or, rather, liver-in-leg - playfulness of stuffing that rich, luscious bird organ inside the plump, juicy limb - was a stroke of genius.  I didn't care who might be looking - I picked up that bone and sucked off every last morsel, almost down to the marrow.  And the truffle-mashed potatoes were so impossibly creamy yet light at the same time...I was food-drunk on its intoxicating fragrance and texture.  Could have eaten 10 more of these.
For the sweet finish: the first of two desserts was Le Champagne Champagne gelee topped with a frozen raspberry mousse and rose scented meringue.  This was basically art in a glass - presented in beautiful layers, with a delicate sugar snowflake on top. The citrus and champagne light and refreshing after all those courses.

The second dessert hit it home - those who watched the Kings of Pastry documentary know that MOFs are awarded to pastry chefs at the top of their game - so small wonder that Chef Robuchon's desserts would be breath-taking.  Le Chocolat Baked chocolate ganache finished with an aerated devil's food cake and fresh mint ice cream. I loved every bite of this - it's nothing incredibly groundbreaking - but just very, very well executed and skillfully controlled portions so that all the elements work together.
I had been so excited by the amazing eats that I broke a rule and Instagrammed each course pretty much as they came (versus waiting until the meal is complete and I've left the premises).  Don't know if it was because LDJR's social media manager noticed the live tweets (they did start retweeting them!) or if my server was 500% incredible, but I wanted to note that the service was exemplary. Knowing I was dining by myself, my server went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and enjoying myself, and came by to chat as much as I wanted, and discretely excused himself at just the right times to let me enjoy the art on a plate.  After dinner, he gave me one more treat - and let me duck into the kitchen real quick to get a behind the scenes look!!! 
All in all, an incredible meal - one of the best I've ever had in the U.S.  I don't often get to splurge that much on a meal, but every dish was amazing - and so worth the prix fixe to get the Robuchon experience.  And yes, I left stuffed and with a silly, starstruck grin on my face - without ever even meeting the chef!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$$ (5 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
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L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
MGM Grand Las Vegas
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Ph: 702.891.7358
Twitter: @robuchonlv
Website: mgmgrand.com/restaurants

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L'Atelier de JoĆ«l Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon  

2 comments:

  1. BWAHAHAHAHAHA. I'm sorry mang, I didn't mean to prod you to a $215 solo dinner. IIRC, I was offered a lesser prix fixe, and it was < $100/pp ++ for a few exquisite courses. With the help of the fantastic bread, no one left hungry.

    Where I sat at the bar, I had the same vantage as the pix you took, and I think that helped the experience. Instagram or not, even at near closing time (we were the last turn), the service was impeccable; the counter staff did not push/prod us to hurry along, and each dish was carefully presented though we didn't go for the full seasonal degustation.

    I still stand by this rec, especially for the Robuchon "bargain hunter". Kinda like buying Loubutins at Nordstrom's Rack for $150.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lol it was worth every dollar! Though now I'm interested in the prix fixe you got! (Can't wait til the next conference I 'have' to go to in Vegas...)

    Loubutins at Nordstrom Rack - love that analogy :)

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