This post is part of a larger series from my trip to Las Vegas in January 2014. Other posts in this series include I'm Going to Vegas and Why I'm Excited, Whirlpool CES 2014 - I Made it to CES!, and CES Post Conference Reflections.
Meet Chef Steve Benjamin.
Chef Steve, originally from France, is the executive chef at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. He helped Joel Robuchon open up L'Atelier in France back in 2003.
According to Chef Steve, that was a super crazy time because the work hours and pressure was intense. Joel Robuchon is a perfectionist and demands a lot from his chefs. Out of the 22 chefs who started that week, only eight remained after one week.
"They couldn't handle the pressure!" says Steve.
Chef Steve stuck it through and thrived. Despite working 21 hour days (7AM to 3AM), Chef Steve looks back at that time and says "I need this pressure. It makes me perform at my best."
In 2005 Joel Robuchon invited Chef Steve to help him open up L'Atelier in Las Vegas.
I would think that it would be a hard decision to leave Paris and move to Las Vegas just like that, but Chef Steve jumped at the chance and moved his whole family over in a matter of months.
He has since stayed and it will be close to a decade that he has been at the helm of this excellent restaurant.
Bryan and I had a special opportunity to try out the Menu Decouverte de Saison, the seasonal tasting menu offered at L'Atelier, back in January when we were in Vegas for CES.
I love, love, love the bread at both Joel Robuchon restaurants. If you eat at the fancier Joel Robuchon next door, you'll get to pick from the famous Bread Cart which is rolled to your table. The counter-style seating of L'Atelier makes that a bit difficult, but it's the exact same bread that you get to taste. It's all managed under one pastry chef, who bakes for both restaurants.
The bread is incredible. Perfectly crusty on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. It's hard to just eat one.
The last time I asked, Joel Robuchon used Échiré butter from France, which is among the best tasting butter I've ever had.
Our first course, simply called L'AMUSE BOUCHE, consisted of a foie gras parfait with port wine reduction and a Parmesan foam. It was decadent - creamy with just a hint of that foie gras flavor. It paired perfectly with the Rose Champagne from Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Brut NV, France.
The next course, L'HAMACHI (yellowtail) was served creatively as a "ravioli" with UNI (sea urchin) in lemon vinaigrette. It was a refreshing and clean tasting dish. The tiny bits of caviar on top added just a little pop that rounded out the flavor quite nicely.
Next we had LES HUITRES, which were poached baby Kushi oysters with French salted butter and caviar. It's hard to go wrong with this combination, and these were delicious. We enjoyed the next two courses with a 2011 chablis from William Fevre "Champs Royaux" Burgundy, France.
There is always some variation of LA CEBETTES, or a white onion tart, on the menu. This particular version began with a foundation of white onions, bacon lardons, and black truffles cooked together. This 'base" was then topped with smoked bacon, confit of carrots and daikon, and a perfectly poached quail egg. It was fantastic.
Chef Steve was really having fun with the ravioli theme. This next course, called LE FOIE GRAS, included a foie gras and Espelette pepper filled ravioli served inside a soup with gingered leeks and seasonal mushrooms in a white soy based broth.
Add to that several slices of shaved black truffles to complete the picture.
The ginger and white soy made the broth taste quite Asian, though with much more sophisticated flavors than a typical Asian broth.
I was intrigued by the white soy sauce, since I'd never had it in isolation before.
"Where did you get the soy sauce?"
Chef Steve ran off and came back with a huge bottle with Japanese and Chinese characters on it. Most prominent was the Chinese character "white" plastered in front.
He then poured a little and let us all try it.
It's surprisingly clear, but very flavorful and full of umami. I fell in love with it immediately. I told myself to look for it when I went back to Boston and to try playing around with it in my soups.
The soup was complex, fragrant, and superbly season. It disappeared all too quickly.
At this point my tolerance was getting the best of me, and the wine glasses started piling up.
Nevertheless, we forged on ahead. The next course was called LE SAINT-PIERRE, and consisted of a pan seared John Dory (a white fish) served with artichokes "en barigoule", a classic French technique where artichokes are slowly cooked with lemon, herbs, mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onions), chicken broth, and white wine. I guess black truffles were in season, because a few more appeared on this dish as well.
This was paired with a 2011 St. Aubin Blanc, T&P Matrot, 1er Cru "Fleurs de Coteaux" Burgundy, France.
Finally, our last dish was a signature dish that has been on the menu at L'Atelier since day one: LA CAILLE is a caramelized foie gras stuffed free-range quail served alongside Joel Robuchon's famous velvety mashed potatoes (topped with black truffle for good measure!) and served with a truffle vinaigrette.
This dish lives up to its fame and was excellent. Of course the mashed potatoes were heavenly and I wished for a slightly larger dollop, like that time we ordered it as an extra side dish our first time ever at Joel Robuchon.
We enjoyed this with a 2012 pinot noir from Failla in the Sonoma Coast, California.
Finally, for dessert we tried LA POMME, candied compressed apple, spéculoos (spiced cookies), cranberry coulis, and a chocolate tuille.
It was almost too pretty to eat.
Just kidding. We totally polished off the whole thing.
We also enjoyed L'ORANGE, which was orange sorbet with chocolate creme brulee, sponge cake, and confit kumquat. This refreshing dessert was paired with a 2010 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria "Ben Rye" from Sicilia, Italy.
And we thought it was over.
Until the sommelier and restaurant manager, Benjamin Spicer, started telling us stories about some of the crazy wines some of their customers like to drink (we're talking about wines that are older than me that certain customers drink on a regular basis).
Before you know it, he had brought out a bottle of 1998 Chateau d'Yquem Lur Saluces Sauterne. I almost gasped. This is seriously one of my favorite dessert wines. Period.
It was phenomenal. Golden, sweet, yet complex. A perfect way to end the meal.
We concluded with LE CAFE, which for me was a lovely cappuccino.
To finish off the evening, they asked if we wanted to get a tour of the kitchen and of Joel Robuchon, (formerly called "The Mansion"), the fancier, more upscale restaurant next door.
We entered the private bar area of Joel Robuchon, which is right near the front. It's a quiet space shielded from the casino activity outside.
It also has a very nice selection of really high-end spirits.
And then I saw it. An herb cart! I knew about the famous bread cart and dessert cart, but not this.
They briefly showed us a private dining room, which is always open for reservations. I don't think there's a minimum charge to use it (unlike many other high end restaurants). The host told us sometimes parents of young children will use the room so their kids can run around while the parents enjoy a nice meal at Joel Robuchon without stress.
And then we entered the kitchen!
We got to watch one of the pastry chefs make hand-blown candy ornaments.
It was so cool.
There were so many gorgeous desserts everywhere, it was mind-blowing.
I wonder if all the guests at Joel Robuchon get to take a box of these chocolates home?
It was most certainly a memorable meal and a fascinating tour at the end. Bryan and I both really think Joel Robuchon and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon are among the best restaurants in Las Vegas. We've dined there multiple times and have never had a disappointing meal. Bryan still maintains that the Menu Degustation we had at Joel Robuchon for our 10th wedding anniversary is the best meal he's ever had in his life.
It says something when one of the most famous sushi chefs in the world (who himself is lauded for his incredibly sensitive palate and sense of smell), expresses that he wishes he had Joel Robuchon's palate and sense of smell.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard
S Las Vegas, NV 89109
Disclaimer: I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.
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