MGM Grand (last visit: October 2010).
When MGM Grand convinced JoŽl Robuchon to open two restaurants at the hotel, it was considered a major coup. He is considered to be one of the finest French chefs in recent memory. I won't bore you with the details; there's always Google for that. It and its baby brother, L'Atelier de JoŽl Robuchon, have gotten excellent reviews. Some critics have called it the best restaurant in Las Vegas, one of the best in the United States, and even one of the best French restaurants in the world outside of France.
Two restaurants? The first - L'Atelier de JoŽl Robuchon - is an informal place, where people sit at a counter, and a tasting menu can be had for the rock bottom price of about $150. The second restaurant is JoŽl Robuchon. It's a much more formal, upscale place.
There are two standard dining options: a 12 or 13 course degustation menu at $385, and a la carte. In addition, there are a number of promotional menus. As of late 2010, they varied from a two course meal for $115 to a six course meal for $230. There are no set wine pairings, but wine is available by the glass. On my first visit in 2006, I chose the degustation menu (at the time, 16 courses):
When I returned in 2010, I again chose the degustation menu. Click here to see the details.
The atmosphere was formal, but not stiflingly so. Piano music played in the background. The floor was black and gold; the walls were beige and white. A large wall was covered with what appeared to be baskets of ivy, with other plants at the base of the wall. There was a working fireplace (presumably gas) to my left.
This being Las Vegas, dress varied. Men are requested to wear a jacket, but this wasn't enforced. Few ties were in evidence; one person wore slacks and what was either a dark polo shirt or a T-shirt (it was too far away to see clearly).
Service seemed effortless, because it was so well choreographed. I had a primary server, but there was a team of others to help, all the way down to someone whose job was to hold what I thought of as a staging tray. Dishes were brought from the kitchen to the staging tray, then inspected by another person who brought the dish to the table. A similar staging tray was used when the dish was removed from the table. Cutlery was changed for each of the sixteen courses. All of this happened very quickly and very smoothly.
Attention to detail was the order of the day. I was referred to by name; even my menu had my name on it. Pillows were available to lean on if one so chose; mine was relocated when they saw it seemed to be getting in my way.
The Meal (April 2006)
The first item to appear was the bread trolley - a man high behemoth sporting what seemed like dozens of varieties. Of course, the way I count is "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,dozens", but there were a bunch. Each was described, which was a mesmerizing experience in itself. I chose a couple, and would choose more during the meal, until I requested that they remove my bread plate, as I was filling up on the stuff. Three of the breads that I remember were bacon, olive, and saffron; they were excellent.
Now, to the meal itself. For brevity's sake, I'll refer to each course by its name on the menu - see above. It's also worth noting that each course was thankfully very small. Even so, 16 courses is a lot of food. Come hungry. Lastly, when rating courses as good, very good or excellent, I had to raise the bar for each category; otherwise, virtually everything would have been listed as excellent.
La Pomme. An amuse bouche, consisting of a bit of apple, foam, and granitť. Not much to comment on.
Le Caviar OsciŤtre. If you've seen my prior reviews of L'Atelier, you've read that many of Robuchon's dishes are much better than they sound. This caviar dish was another one of the over achievers.
As would be true for the remaining courses as well, the dish was beautifully presented. On the plate were a grape hyacinth bloom and an iridescent red petal of some sort. The food was presented in a small cup in the center of a plate. The cauliflower cream was creamy white. On the surface were a large number of tiny green dots, arranged in a circle.
Now, cauliflower cream doesn't exactly sound like a taste treat. Wrong! It was delicious. Underneath was the caviar - also delicious. This turned out to be one of my favorite dishes.
Le Foie Gras. A small brick, consisting of layers of foie gras and Japanese barbecued eel (known to sushi lovers as unagi). Both were top quality. A strange combination, but very good, maybe excellent.
Le Thon. A small cylinder of food; a beautiful array of bright colors - red, green, yellow. It consisted of raw tuna, micro chives, little splinters of ham, a disc of pimiento, and a quail egg sunny side up. The flavors were strong; for example, the ham was chewy and intensely flavored. Another winner.
La Langoustine. Langoustine in a very thin ravioli covered, served warm. The langoustine was very sweet, almost the consistency of scrambled eggs. As was true for every dish, presentation was beautiful. In this case, it included stones with gold leaf, and what looked like a deconstructed Brussels sprout. Excellent.
La Laitue. The simplest way I can describe this is as lettuce soup, with bits of ham. A plain dish, but very good.
La Noix de Saint-Jacques. I don't remember much about this course. My brief notes said it was very good. As the meal wore on, I got lazier, and my notes got worse. Sorry!
Le Homard. One Brittany lobster claw, sitting in a small pool of dark green puree. The puree's flavor was as if a plant leaf had been liquefied. It was very strange, but I came to like it. Very good.
L'Os ŗ Moelle. Kobe style beef bone marrow, filled with vegetables. I like bone marrow, and had high hopes for this dish. It was a little disappointing - not as rich nor as flavorful as I had hoped. Very good, but not excellent.
L'Ormeau. Abalone in ginger broth. The abalone was tender, not overly chewy. The broth was flavorful. Very good, but nothing memorable enough to make it excellent.
Le Bar. Fried sea bass with tiny leeks. Flavor and texture were both very good.
L'Amadai. This was one of my favorite dishes: Japanese snapper, with scales, sautťed so that the scales were crisp. All of this was placed in a rich lily bulb broth. Excellent!
Le Veau. A thin slice of veal. Good, but a rather normal preparation.
L'Epeautre. Oatmeal? That's right! This was a surprise, and a winner. It was cooked like a risotto. The individual oat grains were apparent, with some gold leaf applied. The broth/sauce had a strong meat flavor.
Le Bahia. A smooth, creamy granite, almost semi-liquid. It had a strong peach flavor. Very good.
La Fraise. An oddball dish: caramel corn, consisting of excellent caramel but mediocre popcorn; fairly good strawberry mousse. It was pretty good, but I was disappointed. Why? Because, until recently, the menu had included a chocolate dessert which sounded great. As it turned out, I could have gotten the chocolate dessert upon request, as did a neighboring table.
Le Cafť express. I passed on this course. Gotta watch those calories, ya know.
Next, an off menu item: a selection of sorbets and ice creams. I chose coconut sorbet. It was intensely flavored and creamy, almost like ice cream. Excellent. Vanilla and coffee ice creams were also available.
Les Mignardises. This is typically defined as a tray of small sweets served at the end of a meal. In this case, it was a trolley the same size as the bread trolley. There truly were dozens of varieties from which to choose: chocolates, candies, cookies, nuts, and I forget what else. I exercised restraint and only chose five or six.
My first meal here was the finest meal I've ever had in Las Vegas. Each course was beautifully presented. Most courses were excellent; even the worst were very good. Service was very attentive, yet not overbearing or overly formal. The entire experience took about three and a half hours, but it never seemed to drag.
By comparison, my second meal was something of a let down. It was probably just as good as the first time, but the thrill was gone. Perhaps I had unrealistically high hopes; perhaps I've become pickier in these last few years. It still may be the best restaurant in town, but I don't feel the need to return.
Of course, there are the inevitable comparisons to other top Las Vegas restaurants. Rather than repeat this under each restaurant, click here for my top three Las Vegas restaurants.
The degustation menu was $385, plus drinks and tip. Figure a minimum of $600 per person, or more if you indulge in a bottle or two of wine.
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