Last Monday I was fortunate enough, grace à some very generous friends, to dine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Nick and I had been there once before, on our honeymoon. We loved everything we ate, but regretted not going for the Menu Découverte, a mistake we would not be repeating. Judging from what I’ve read, the place has only gotten better since our previous visit, gaining Pudlo plates, Michelin stars (now at two each), and was recently ranked #14 on San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World list.
So we ordered the Menu Découverte this time around, and two delicious bottles of wine. It was probably the most spectacular meal of my life. And now, to quote one of the best food blogs I know, on to the food…
The amuse-bouche, an asparagus gelée suspended in asparagus foam with a tomato coulis, was simple, fresh, and palate-awakening. Even my (usually) asparagus-hating friend enjoyed it.
Better make yourselves comfortable. There are eight more courses to go!
Next came The Crab. (All the dishes at the Atelier are named like this. Menu descriptions are short, and as you are being served by half a dozen different people, the detail that goes into the tableside descriptions varies widely.) The Crab was mixed with a citrus-y dressing and sandwiched between two paper thin slices of… radish? Apple? Jicama? whatever it was, it let the flavor of the crab shine through. Really good.
We savored the crab and anticipated the courses to follow. If they’re all this good, we were in for a real treat. After our plates had been cleared, out came the most ridiculously over-the-top but at the same time most unbelievably delicious dish I’ve ever tasted. Langoustine Ravioli with Truffled Foie Gras Sauce.
Like some kind of unholy hybrid between Oscar and Rossini, the little ravioli didn’t stand a chance once it was set before me. I tried to linger over it, I really did, but before I knew it, I was wiping up the last drop of sauce with a piece of bread and the plate was whisked away to be replaced by The Egg.
The least exciting-sounding dish on the menu was a surprise hit. The egg was baked to perfection, with a just-firm white and warm, gooey yolk. It was covered in morel-infused cream with large, meaty chunks of fresh morel mushroom dispersed throughout. Delicious.
And just in case I hadn’t gotten my fill of foie gras (which, let’s face it, is unlikely to happen) the next course was an impeccably seared slice of foie gras with a citrus compote.
Crisp and brown on the outside, with a meltingly tender center – just the way I like it! The compote fought valiantly to keep my palate conscious and succeeded in bridging the gap to the next course, The Slightly Illogically Placed Fish.
Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me remember the name of this fish, in French or in English. But I do remember that it was moist and tasty, and was nicely complimented by the buttery greens and the brightness of the herb purée.
At this point in the menu there was a choice between lamb and beef. After translating the menu for my dining companions, they all wanted the braised beef cheek. In the interest of variety (and because I knew I could get a bite of the beef) I chose the milk-fed lamb chops. I don’t think any of us regretted our choices in the slightest.
The lamb was extremely tender and juicy, and accented simply with herbs, roasted garlic, and pan juices. The quenelle on the right is none other than the famous purée Robuchon. The Mashed Potatoes, if you will. They are truly amazing. It’s like there’s just enough potato to hold all that butter and cream together. And yet the flavor is undeniably potatoey, with hints of roasted garlic. Out of this world. My beef-eating friends each got their own mini-Dutch oven of purée alongside their dishes.
The only complaint I heard was that it wasn’t served with a rubber spatula and it was therefore impossible to get every last bit of goodness out of that little Staub oven. Oh, yeah, and there was the beef cheek:
When the waiter brought this out, he explained that it had been braised in wine and veal stock for nine hours. The resulting sauce was suitably unctuous, but not very photogenic (at least not in that light). Anyway, the beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the seasoning was just right. No small feat for something that has to cook that long!
Our bellies were beginning to feel quite full, but the first dessert had the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity to keep our palates awake.
Suprèmes of blood orange lay underneath a superbly creamy and tangy orange sorbet, while a thick citrus-scented cream provided contrast. The delicate tuile on top had a nice crunch and bittersweet caramel flavor. A really nice dessert, and now we were ready for the final course of the evening.
A mini Mont Blanc! How typically French! I love how they covered this one in meringue “snowflakes.” A great little twist on a classic dish. And a great way to gently bring us back down to Earth before we head out into the Parisian night.