L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

MGM Grand (last visit: October 2007).

L'Atelier opened in September 2005, at the same time as did its next door neighbor, Joël Robuchon at the Mansion.  Robuchon is a food god in France.  He retired a few years back, then un-retired and opened L'Atelier in France.  Now there's a second L'Atelier (and since then another in Tokyo, and yet another in New York).

I ate at L'Atelier on opening day, and another four times since then. While the excitement of going to a great new restaurant is gone, the quality remains.

The Menu
The menu offers choices of types of dinners:
·   small plates.  The same concept as tapas.  Order 3 or 4 or 5 and you have a meal.
·   regular a la carte meals.  Appetizer, main course, and dessert.
·   menu degustation.  A nine course tasting menu, it provides a sampling of the best that L'Atelier has to offer.
Wines are available by the glass, many in the range of $10 - $15 per glass, some much higher.

There are no rules when ordering.  One couple decided to order one tasting menu for the two of them.  Someone else ordered a couple of small plates, and a main course from the a la carte menu.

The Atmosphere
L'Atelier is the less formal of two restaurants opened by Joël Robuchon.  The adjacent, more formal (and much more expensive) Joël Robuchon at the Mansion opened a day after L'Atelier.  There are four tables at L'Atelier, seating up to four people each.  However, the real action is at the food counter, with its 24 stools.  Just behind the counter is an open kitchen, and it's fascinating watching everything that goes on.

The feeling at the food counter is very relaxed.  At any given time there may be a mix of solo diners, quiet couples, and lively groups of three or four.  Service is attentive.

The Tasting Menu
The best way to sample what L'Atelier has to offer is to get the Menu Degustation - the tasting menu.  In 2005, I had the tasting menu twice within a period of a month.  It was nearly the same each time, so I've provided my review of the first meal, with changes the second time around marked in red. In the ratings that follow, I've been stricter in my grading than for most places.  Otherwise, everything would get an excellent rating. E = excellent; VG = very good; G = good.
Not a single course was merely good.  Everything was beautifully presented.  At almost any other restaurant, any of the courses I had at L'Atelier would have been a star of the entire meal.

I failed to mention wine.  There are a number of wines by the glass, and I asked for a recommendation - a white wine with a little sugar but not too sweet.  The wind steward said this was a fortunate request, as they had a German Riesling (Graff) that not only fit the bill, but which they usually recommend as a good choice that goes well with a variety of dishes - like the tasting menu.  The wine was served only slightly chilled, as it had a delicate flavor.  Excellent choice, at a reasonable $9/glass.

In October of 2007, I tried the tasting menu yet again.  The menu has changed a little: halibut instead of cod; excellent gazpacho; new desserts (plus extra desserts for returning customers); a much smaller portion of potato puree. However, it's not that different, and the quality is as good as ever. Thus, I'm too lazy to provide any more details!

Regular Meal #1
I opted for small plates:
I asked for a drier wine this time around.  A Sauvignon Blanc was recommended.  Very dry, fruity; very good.

Overall, the meal was excellent.  If I hadn't been here before, I would have been wowed.  However, the tasting menu was even better.  I rate this meal below the tasting menu.

Regular Meal #2
This time I opted for a more traditional three course meal:
This was the least interesting of my meals at L'Atelier.  It started off well, but disappointed at the end.  It was still a very good meal - I'd definitely get the lobster again - but you can do better at L'Atelier.

L'Atelier isn't cheap, but it serves the best food of any restaurant in its price range.  If you like innovative food that tastes great, you owe it to yourself to try this place.

The Bill
Since ordering is free form, it's hard to nail down prices.  The menu degustation is $135, plus drinks, tax and tip.  Other meals will probably run about the same amount, although it possible to get away for half that if one chooses carefully, or eats lightly.  It's also possible to spend more, as I did when I ordered lobster and tuna belly (both luxury items) in one meal.

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