Sunday, August 24, 2014

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - 07/11/2014

3799 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7358

My first visit to Joel Robuchon in early 2008 remains one of my most memorable meals. Since then, I've returned to the restaurant twice, but somehow never made it next door to check out their sister restaurant L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon (aside from a quick stop for a $33 slider).

L'Atelier, which translates to work shop is one of nine such restaurants around the globe, a haute cusine chain if you will. The restaurants tend to share a similar style with an open kitchen surrounded by a sushi bar like seating arrangement. Likewise the menu is a bit more varied, featuring a la carte, small tasting portions, prix fixe, and a 10-course menu decouverte.

L'AMUSE-BOUCHE - l'avocat rafraîchi d'une fine gelée de pamplemousse à la coriandre
Our amuse certainly did its job, tantalizing the palate with fresh acidity from the grapefruit with a creeping herbaceous bitterness. Tiny flecks of coriander added short-lived pinpricks of spice while the avocado brought a countervailing creaminess to the delicate gelée

LA SAINT-JACQUES - la noix émincée finement à l'hile vierge acidulée
The scallop dish couldn't be more different from the course served at L'Atelier's big brother. There its all about unabashed butter-laden luxury. This course takes a more subtle approach with the alabaster slivers coated in a floral fruity mixture of lemon and olive oil brightened with a hint of spice and zesty chives.

LE PIQUILLO - à l'aubergine fumée, ventrêche de thon confit
A riff on a popular Basque region tapas, this dish drew its inspiration from Spain rather than France. The characteristic smoky vegetal twang of the pepper takes center stage. Paper thin toast points add a pleasing crunch to the dish; a nice contrast to the tenderness of the pepper. The tuna was a double-edged sword, on one hand I enjoyed the fish's oily smack, but the texture was a bit dry.

LES CALAMARES - en salade asperge verts et shimeji sur un riz cuit façon sushi
Well prepared squid can be a real treat and this lived up to my lofty expectations. The thin squid "noodles" convey a subtle char-wrapped salinity a natural compliment for the packed sushi rice. The salad of fresh asparagus adds color both literally and figuratively. Taken together the dish had a flavor reminiscent of Chinese steamed fish, unexpected but not unpleasant.

LE FOIE GRAS - crémeux sous une gelée chaude de poule au curcuma
I didn't realize just how much I missed foie gras till I tasted it again. Actually the chicken broth custard stood on its own; clean and rich with a hint of peppery warmth and a silky texture reminiscent of chawanmushi. The herbs and vegetables were quite effective as well, their austerity helping to temper the sweet buttery richness of the liver.

LE SAINT PIERRE - ravigoté d'une sauce vierge à la citronnelle
The evening's fish course was a dense filet of John Dory. Browned in a lemongrass olive oil, the Dory had plenty of complexity and depth of flavor. The finely diced tomatoes added a fresh succulence and salsa-like zest.

LA CAILLE - caramélisée et servie avec une purée de pommes de terre
The first entree choice is a free range quail. While the bird had a nice supple texture the flavor left much to be desired. I was expecting the gaminess of the bird to be heightened with a livery twang from the foie. Instead the sticky concentrated dark sauce stole the show rendering the bird into an extremely gentrified teriyaki chicken.

LA HAMPE - de boeuf en tranches, échalotes confites et shishitos grillés
The hanger steak was far more impressive than the quail. The meat has a coarse meaty grain and a pronounced beefy twang heightened with aromatics from the roasted shallots. The simple preparation and minimal accompaniments allow the steak to stand on its own.

LA FRAISE - Sur une légère ganache au citron rafraichie d'un sorbet a la tomet cerise
Our first dessert combined ripe strawberries and tart lemon with the savory vegetal note of tomato. The dessert is further embellished with bits of toasty crunch and subdued herbs; a mixture reminiscent of a fruity Bloody Mary.

LA CERISE - sablé de cacahuète au chocolat sur une glace à l'Amarena
The final course on the Menu Decouverte draw's on a classic mixture of cherry and chocolate. The ripe cherry is immediately apparent in the form of a succulent fruit tinged with medicinal bitterness. The sablé explodes with nutty relish and provides a dry crumbly texture to balance the cherry ice cream.

As was to be expected, L'Atelier lacks the fomality of its 3-star sibling, but still offers a top-notch dining experience. The decor at L'Atelier has a more dynamic and contemporary than the opulent Parisan apartment next door. While the bar stools aren't quite as comfortable as overstuffed velvet couches, the hustle and bustle of the open kitchen and sexy black/red decor certainly have their charms. Likewise the service at L'Atelier lacks the pomp and solemnity of its big brother, but that doesn't mean it's any less attentive. In fact with the server just across the bar, the experience is far more interactive and less stilted than the prim more reserved staff at Joel Robuchon.

Service and decor are just window dressing for the food and again L'Atelier feels more modern and whimsical. The menu doesn't have the same luxury so don't expect the abundance of truffle or caviar featured on the 16-course Degustation Menu at Joel Robuchon. What L'Atelier does bring to the table is a lighter menu with more varied flavor profile rather than the weightier classic French fare next door. While L'Atelier's sophistication and technique don't quite reach the 3-star heights of Joel Robuchon, it is still one of the better spots in Las Vegas.

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