Made another swing by L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon last week for a second look and truly enjoyed myself, as did my co-diners Bear and Pichon. On the inaugural trip there was no doubt that everything tasted was exceptionally prepared and gorgeous to look at, but all in all it lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. This may have been caused as much by reputation and expectations as newness and a light hand with salt. On this visit we sat, decided to take it slowly, going course by course as the mood struck us, and this time had a stellar experience.
For wine we had, in order, an ’04 Leroy Bourgogne, an ’00 Beychevelle, and an ’01 La Tyre du Brumont, all chosen as likely to be food friendly, which they were. We also had the same waiter as last time who remembered Pichon and me before the camera came out, speaking to an appreciation of return guests which is of course appreciated. He seems to have settled nicely into the familiarity with product he seemed capable of.
As for the porn:
LE JAMBON Iberian ham with bruschetta: hand sliced Serrano ham with the other traditional sausages of the pata negra, served with grilled bread topped with dense, cheesy French butter and the same grilled bread topped with concasséed tomato, garlic and olive oil.
LE FOIEGRAS Traditional foie gras terrine, with toasted country bread: Simple and perfect for it, a slice of foie gras paté and its fat cap served with grilled bread, sea salt, cracked pepper, and powdered ginger snap. Of my three assemblings, a bit of the fat cap spread on the hot toast with foie spread over the melted fat and a small bit of the three accoutrements sprinkled atop was slightly better than just the foie alone and a bit of the foie with pepper.
LES CUISSES DE GRENOUILLE Crispy frog’s legs, garlic purée and parsley coulis: I am currently reading Chelminski’s The Perfectionist which credits Bernard Loiseau with creating this interpretation of the classic Burgundian frog’s legs with parsley and garlic. Having missed Loiseau’s, I was both happy and eager to have the opportunity to taste it prepared by one of his contemporaries. The meat, having been frenched from the bone, gathers at one end making a plump little morsel encased in crunchy fried breading. Holding the bone, you simply swirl this drummette through the garlic that has had all its bitterness steeped out before whipping, and the parsley puree which is almost pure chlorophyll at this point. A very refined and restrained version of a traditionally rustic dish.
KOBE BEEF: A boned rib-eye of actual Japanese Waygu is presented whole and the waiter places a chef’s knife along the steak to let you decide how much you want (it is priced by the oz. offering a good opportunity to test your skill at eying a chop by weight; we aimed for a pound and selected 28oz., this was confirmed as ok by our waiter prior to cooking). The Kobe was cooked medium rare, presented, and then sliced and served with Robuchon’s famous whipped potatoes. The meat was amazing, more like Otoro than beef. Decadent on a transcendent level, it was closer to white than red on the color wheel. More a sensation than a flavor, this level of ingredient is very sparse in this town, even though its name appears on many menus. As for these poor potatoes meant to be the best in the world, to put it simply they pale to the beef. Robuchon’s potatoes are famous as being the borderline of a saturated solution between butter and creamy potato. Next to beef of this richness they seemed thin. I want to have and love these potatoes, but after two consecutive tries I still vote for Marco’s at Hearth. Next time I’ll have to get just the potatoes.
To be fair, it is not exactly hard to make things like Serrano ham, real Japanese Waygu, and foie gras taste good; it is, however, amazing to make them seem well worth their cost, and this was done in all cases. Nothing was cheap by any stretch of the imagination and at some point I worried I would suffer from sticker shock when I saw the check, but at the end of it all the bill presented seemed very in line with the experience, and in this town where I have ordered what should be opulent meals, paid opulent prices, and been let down that may be the feat in itself.