L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon – Paris

robuchon kitchen

Strange phenomenon: It’s 6:25 pm and there are already people milling outside the restaurant. In New York, this would be nothing out of the ordinary; many places start seatings as early as 5:30pm. But this is Paris, a city that likes to eat fashionably late. At this time, many restaurants would not even have had their staff dinner yet.

Explanation: L’Atelier only takes reservations for 6:30pm. After that, you wait in line.

The door opens and we are shown inside. It’s a cave. Everything is black — walls, waiter uniforms, placemats, plates.

Everyone is shown to their seats along a u-shaped counter that wraps around a sizable open kitchen. Counter seating may be common place at high end restaurants now, but this was quite a novelty back in 2003 when L’Atelier opened. I remember the buzz it generated in the food magazines because Joel Robuchon, hailed “Chef of the Century” by the Gault Millau and collector of numerous Michelin stars, was “unretiring” and opening a place on the Left Bank with no reservations and *gasp* no tables. One can only imagine the number of raised eyebrows at the Michelin inspectors’ staff meeting.

We take our perch on the red leather bar stools and peer through to the kitchen. Edible art somewhat blocks our view. Cherry tomatoes on the vine, slices of carrots and cucumbers are suspended in clear liquid, contained in vases on wall units separating chef from diner. Despite the open kitchen concept, it’s as if Mr. Robuchon wanted to keep a little of the mystery, allowing diners to get a glimpse but not a full view of what was happening in the kitchen. Intimacy at arms length.

We pass on the tasting menu. It seems that as we age, our stomachs contract. We are no longer capable of consuming nine courses each in a night; instead, we order six small plates to share.

robuchon crabe royale

Le Crabe Royale. A signature dish with morsels of king crab sandwiched between luminous disks of rave. I say radish, but according to the French English dictionary, it’s either celeriac or kohlrabi.

robuchon soup

La Chataigne. Velvety chestnut soup scented with celery and bacon. The bits of foie gras lurking underneath are a surprise.

robuchon langoustine

La Langoustine. Two nuggets of sweet firm prawns encased in millimeter thin ravioli with a truffle infused sauce. Shredded savoy cabbage in the middle rounds out the food group.

robuchon marrow

L’os a Moelle, the high end version. That’s marrow out of the bone laid  out on toast. It’s way too much fatty unctuousness for one person so it was good we were sharing.

robuchon sweetbread

Le Ris de Veau. Veal sweetbreads a little smaller than a hockey puck accompanied by softened onions hidden beneath the fold of that edible leaf.

robuchon lamb

L’Agneau de Lait. Baby lamb chops with thyme and a dollop of mashed potatoes. So tender and juicy, it was hard to resist the temptation of nibbling on the bone.

robuchon foie de veau

Le Foie de Veau. There’s a piece of sauteed calf liver hiding underneath those greens. Perfectly pink, sweet and succulent.  We added this dish while our meal was already under way. The pretty greens and fried onions caught my eye as soon as the waiter laid it in front of the lady next to me. After subtly casting envious looks at her plate, I succumbed and flagged the waiter for the menu.

robuchon mashed potato

The calf liver came with a cocotte of the most memorable mashed potatoes I have ever eaten. Memorable not because of any new-fangled twist to a classic but because of the simplicity of its execution and the perfection it achieves. Nothing more than potatoes, butter, cream, and salt whipped into shape by a whisk, but so good that each spoonful leads to another.

It’s funny that in the US, most restaurants leave solid chunks on purpose to show their mashed potatoes were made from scratch. At L’Atelier, they are smooth, creamy and totally devoid of lumps. Despite this, there’s no way one would ever mistake them as coming out of a box.

robuchon sorbet

Basil sorbet as a palate cleanser.

robuchon souffle

La Chartreuse. Souffle with pistachio ice cream. They stick a spoon into it when they serve this, hence the gaping hole in the middle.

robuchon mont blanc

Le Marron. Robuchon’s take on the Mont Blanc. The description mentions a vermicelli of chestnut cream on top of meringue. It’s a bit too sweet for me.

How does L’Atelier rate among all the other restaurants we’d eaten in this trip? It’s unanimous. Number one.

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~ by Jaded Fork on January 10, 2009.

8 Responses to “L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon – Paris”

  1. What a wonderful meal! I love Joel Robuchon. Dinner at Joel Robuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas was the best we ever had. Check out my review if you like at http://5starfoodie.com/profile.asp?ResID=22 . Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures but I describe the dishes in detail. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it. They must be consistently good all over. I’ve eaten at the one in NY some years back and it was great too. Going to your site now…love reading about good food 🙂

  2. Hi. I agree. The one in Roppongi Hills Tokyo is likewise, excellent.

  3. I like your style and I will be back….

  4. Nice to see your menu photos. I was in the same restaurant about a week before you, and I only had about 3 dishes you had (but I was there for lunch around 1pm).

    I stumbled into the restaurant more or less after a happy series of events, without a reservation. I was more than lucky to get a seat, had the best time with the tasting menu, service and also, like yourself, ordered additional items during the service.

    Compared to your menu, I had the bacon/chestnut veloute, the alaskan king crab with celery and radish discs in some kind of apple vinegar if i remember correctly, and I also had the baby lamb chops with the 50% butter mashed potatoes, and an additional serving of it as well 🙂

    It was an experience I will remember for a long time, and I judge all other restaurant dining after this place, and none quite lives up 🙂

    p.s. I just loved the spice wall, when you get into the place. A big glass block wall, with each block filled with various spices like pepper, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, … it was heaven.

    I think i need a Paris round-trip 🙂

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