Eating at Joel Robuchon at The Mansion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I doubt that I will soon, if ever, experience that kind of luxury, attention to detail, or service, again.
But I had the famous chef’s food just last weekend, in a far more casual setting at far more reasonable prices.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is Robuchon’s workshop. It is where his executive chef and the team is allowed to play with flavors, textures, and ideas, offering them to the public at prices that might make the wallet whine but not scream. Here is where you see more avant garde food, fewer suit jackets, and many more dining options. It’s not just one set menu – you can order a la carte or from several set menus, none topping $160 (which includes 15 courses, by the way).
The feel of the restaurant is hip and sleek, with its pops of red against shiny black. The place to sit is at the counter, where you can see the chefs preparing your food, but if you want a table, just say so at the time of making your reservation. We chose this option, and it worked out well so we could all talk. We also made our own tasting menu instead of going with one of the prix fixes…because we wanted all the foie.
The bread, though it doesn’t arrive on a bejeweled cart in 14 different varieties, is as faultless as that found in the parent restaurant. The baguette, in particular, is crusty without and slightly sour within. It’s crumb is fine and it is served warm, ideal with the rich, unsalted butter.
Um, yeah. Foie and Parm. Umami to the max. This tiny shooter is liquid foie and airy Parmesan foam, served warm so that the foie melts into an unctuous with a savory Parmesan cap. Salty, a little sweet, and creamy, this is one of the hits of the night.
Not much to say about this except damn…the ham is (as always) soft, pleasantly fatty, and deeply p0rky, but the bread is really the star of the show. Lightly toasted bread is covered with such small, even dices of tomato that it seems like tiny elves must be working in the kitchen. The bread is rubbed with a garlic cove so it is perfumed with garlic instead of overpowered by it. The tomatoes are, even at the tail end of winter, are juicy and sweet against the melting fat of the ham.
The best crudo I have had in awhile. The seabass is sliced so thinly that it is like a sheet of velum, milky pink against the white plate. It is dressed, but not saturated, in olive oil and the smoky, late-blooming heat of espelette pepper, bright lemon, and basil. The fish comes through fatty and moist and it is so good that you might not want to share.
I certainly didn’t.
This is where Robuchon’s playful side shines. He takes the sweet-salty Asian flavor of teriyaki and sushi rice, then fuses it with French technique. The beef is seared to a perfect rare, with the inside warm and dry but still beautifully red and tender, the avocado is sliced so that it melts into the sushi rice, and the whole plate is perfectly balanced. It isn’t totally French, but nothing here is. It’s all about French technique and global ingredients.
These ravioli are ethereal and buttery rich at the same time. Imagine this: you are eating your Bubbe’s chicken soup. It is comforting and warm, your favorite chicken broth. Then imagine that she used fresh herbs (other than dill, fresh herbs are NOT the Jewish grandma’s MO). Licorice-y tarragon, fresh mint, and fragrant basil bringing Southeast Asian and French flavors to the soup, like a Vietnamese mash up. Now imagine that you put one of her famousfkreplach into your mouth. Except, this kreplach isn’t filled with beef. It is filled with a small nugget of foie gras. Not pate, mind you – pure foie gras. Molten, liquefied foie that thrills you to the tips of your carnivorous toes. It is a shock of richness against the wholesome broth, and the dumpling skins are so light that they are almost nonessential. This is a sleeper hit on a menu filled with exotic sounding dishes.
One of my tablemates said that this might be the best bite that he had ever put into his mouth.
That’s what she said.
Langousitnes have the texture of shrimp with the buttery taste of lobster. This langoustine is expertly cleaned and prepared and is SO rich and meaty that you might think there is more foie gras in there! Wrapped in a single sheet of crunchy, greaseless phyllo dough, it is served with both an herbal pesto and entire leaf of basil, lightening up an extremely dense, rich dish. This is butter overload, so don’t order it if you don’t like butter.
In fact, don’t read this blog if you don’t like butter.
First, the quail: Decadent. An exquisitely deboned quail, served medium so it is earthy and slightly funky, like wild boar. Stuffed with a cylinder of warm foie gras, melting into the quail, picking up it’s salty, crispy skin and tender meat. This is seasoned only with the quail and foie fats, salt, and pepper. It’s ideal.
And the pommes souffles…they are Robuchon’s calling card. He invented them by using half as much butter as potatoes That’s enough butter to get a gal into trouble. Add some fragrant troubles, and she is a goner.
I am so, so weak against butter(with a few potatoes mixed in there).
Not your average slider. The patty is thick and very mild, probably from a cut like filet mignon or a style like Wagyu that is very fatty and moist. The slider is – here’s that word again – rich, punctuated by the sweet and spicy bell pepper jus. I still prefer the one at DB Bistro, but this slider is a decadent and delicious way to end a meal.
Oh yeah, and the fries may be the most perfect specimens I have had in America.
The word rich came up many times in this review. However, you don’t have to be rich to eat here. You have to save up for a while, but you don’t have to lust after it without any payoff. It is pricey but attainable fare in a relaxed, cool setting with excellent service. It’s all the foie you can handle. And it’s from the chef of the century.
Chef Robuchon, you have done it again.