Saturday, May 26, 2007

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Paris

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is above all fun. On Sunday night at 10 pm, the place was packed with the usual assortment of foodies from all over the world and a few would-be models struggling to find a seat. My neighbors to the left and right, struggling in English, urged us to try a glass of the 2003 Segla Margaux whose double magnum our server was proudly parading around the bar. The first sip revealed that classic Bordeaux taste coupled with an element of spice.

We enjoyed a most delicious brandade, somehow eclipsing Le Comptoir’s masterpiece from the previous day, and a platonically good green asparagus veloute soup rivaled only by the chestnut veloute we had there in December 2003. Also outstanding was a variation of the Alsatian La Flammenkuche, a pastry cooked to a crisp in a waffle cooker with shaven old parmesan and young julienned onions. As delicious as it was, without ever having the regional standard, one cannot have a full appreciation of it. I will just have to add Strasbourg to the list.

What is amazing about the place is that with the exception of the manager, a JR lieutenant for at least a decade, not a single employee was 30 years of age, and only one employee’s tenure exceeded nine months. For chefs and servers, the job is highly demanding, both physically and mentally, and 17 hour days are commonplace. With the restaurant’s turnover and stringent hiring requirements, it is a mystery how the restaurant has improved over the past five years.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5, rue de Montalembert
Telephone :

As a postscript, on a recent return visit to the Las Vegas branch for a business dinner, I can report that there has been significant improvement due to a less ambitious menu which is not so reliant on technical bravado. For example, l’oeuf cocotte and its concomitant pyrotechnics were gone. Most dazzling was the poached baby Kussi oysters served on the half-shell in a small dose of butter. The dish was visually indistinguishable from a plate of raw oysters, which is what I then expected upon being served. The dish, like a great comedian, took me in another direction, and captured so much of the oyster’s plump flavor. Overall though, the restaurant’s atmosphere is still like an assembly line, much like the “city” that is its home.

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