Saturday, May 29, 2010

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (New York)

We went for a first visit tonight, but I suspect we will be returning in the future. I was able to get a reservation Friday night on OpenTable with choices of 5:30 or 6:15 Saturday night, which was a surprise for a prime time at a restaurant of this quality, but I suppose they keep some tables open for hotel guests at The Four Seasons, so they may accommodate late reservations, making this a good option for fine dining without having to plan two to six weeks in advance.

Robuchon's concept is for the diners to sit at a counter around an open kitchen close to the food as it is prepared as in his original Paris restaurant, but there are also tables for guests who may want a more social experience away from the kitchen.

We sat at the counter, which I'd recommend, but don't expect to see that much. There are lots of plants, hanging baskets of fruit, pillars and such that obstruct the view, so you're sitting at the pass of a busy kitchen, but what you see is mainly plating, and not quite enough to figure out too much of what is going on. The presentation is very nicely done, with one or two particularly decorative selections, but not everything is done in that style, so it doesn't come off as overwrought.

It seems the options have been simplified from earlier reports that I had read before going in that we were not offered various sized tasting menus. Instead there is a page of tasting portions, another page with traditional appetizers and mains, the full tasting menu for $190 without wines, and a dessert menu. It is possible to mix and match from the tasting portions, appetizers and main dishes, but we opted for seven tasting portions between us that we shared, plus two desserts, and the server helped us arrange our selections from light to heavy to make for a well paced meal. I thought our server was great, though the busboys were hovering a bit, prodding us along a bit faster than we wanted at first, but they adjusted after the first course or two.

The amuse bouche before the meal was a shot of avocado cream with an intense grapefruit gelée and what I think was a small piece of beef carpaccio on top, which set the tone for the rest of the meal--lots of combinations of savory and creamy cut with citrus.

Now reconstructing from memory and from menus posted on their websites, we started with a Portobello Mushroom Tart, with Eggplant Caviar, Tomato Confit and Arugula and Grilled Squid with what seemed like bacon or jamon and roasted red peppers. The mushroom tart was one of the more graphic presentations with a thin line of balsamic, a small green dot of pesto, and a larger red dot of what may have been a pureed tomato confit, and various other little dots, and it always seems a bit obscure to figure out how to combine these things, so one tastes them separately to guess at what they might be and then dips to taste. It looks great on the plate. The squid is quite wonderful, seared without being overcooked, smokey from the ham, with a hint of the citrus theme cutting through.

Next we had the Seared foie gras and Grapefruit Gratin together with the John Dory Filet with Fava Beans, Chorizo and Sauce Vierge. The foie gras tasted as if it was fried in bacon, conjuring vague reminiscences of rumaki from the '70s, but elevated to something much more subtle, crusty outside and creamy inside, and the grapefruit gratin was a surprising counterbalance. We realized in retrospect that we had too many foie gras dishes, but this one was the most unusual, so for a dish that features foie gras, this would be the keeper. The John Dory was good, but not particularly surprising, which is fine. Not everything needs to be surprising.

Then we continued with Braised Veal Cheek, Thai Jus and Crunchy Vegetables and the Free-Range Caramelised Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras and Potato Purée. Having seen a recipe for the famous potato purée, I couldn't imagine what was really that unusual about it, but the texture really is distinctive--perfectly smooth but not whipped or gummy and with lots and lots of butter to make a kind of a dense paste. I'm guessing they must use a waxy potato to get that texture. In addition to the portion that came with the quail, we received two extra portions served in Staub mini-cocottes, which I think were a bonus. The veal cheek was incredibly soft and the Thai jus a good contrast to the other flavors in the dishes we selected.

The chopped hanger steak and foie gras burgers on brioche buns with fries and house-made ginger ketchup seemed like a good dish to end on, since we'd each get one slider, and this is one of the house standards. Well, it's a very tender burger with a slab of foie gras on top. Do it once to see what all the fuss is about, but the foie gras and grapefruit gratin is more interesting.

We received a pre-dessert amuse, which was another shot glass this time with a raspberry panna cotta and granita, which were well paired--again the figure of a sharp, cold acidic granita against a ground of creamy panna cotta.

Can I say something about the flatware? The spoons are weirdly deep and odd to eat from resembling oversized baby's feeding spoons, and the knives have a symmetrical shape that in a dark restaurant makes it hard to tell which is the cutting edge and which is the spine. My wife couldn't understand at first why she wasn't able to cut through the crust of the mushroom tart.

Desserts were a yuzu souffle with Okinawa sugar ice cream and a coconut dacquoise. The yuzu souffle was really wonderful, yuzu being a flavor that stands up well to the dulling effect of the eggs in a souffle, but I thought a little too large in comparison to the other dishes, which isn't to say we didn't finish it, but it could have been 2/3 the size and would have left us wanting more rather than thinking it was going on too long. I was expecting something that looked like a dacquoise from the dacquoise, but it was a deconstructed/reconstructed version with a dollop of coconut buttercream in a vanilla foam over tapioca with bits of hazelnut (I think) crunch floating in it, and that got me thinking about dacquoise and its connection to this dessert, which isn't an undesirable result.

I had a glass of Alsace riesling and a single espresso, and the bill with tip came to around $325 for two, which I thought was not unreasonable for this level of dining and service. The tasting menu looks wonderful, but eight tasting portions per person would have been way more food than we wanted, and I would only do that if we had planned ahead and not eaten for the rest of the day, but this being a Greenmarket day, we weren't passing up a dozen local oysters on the half shell from Seatuck (he threw in a few extras, so I think we had fifteen actually)--my favorite Long Island fishmonger of late--for a $10 lunch for two.


MandiCrocker said...

New York AND fine dining? You lucky, lucky woman. :) :) :)

Family of Food said...

Oh no, Mandi, this wasn't my post. It was Son of Food. He always gets to go to NY since he lives in one of the Burroughs. The restaurant, though, is enviable. Sounds wonderful.

Son of Food said...

He has two restaurants in Las Vegas. One is another version of L'Atelier with a counter and open kitchen, and one an even more high end fine dining restaurant.

Anonymous said...

hey son, hope you had an enjoyable
celebration..his restaurants are a
bit costly here...but you should
show this to joel..he'd probably
make you a food critic..well done (no pun intended), mom

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