This is the last post (part 6) of the Winter in Vegas Series. Other posts in this series include The Wicked Spoon, Il Mulino, Table 10, and Max Brenner.
The first time I tried French food, I hated it.
I was 17 years old, visiting France as part of a three-week home-stay exchange program. Being used to rice and stir-fried vegetables, the plethora of meat and butter at every meal turned me off.
If only I had known of Joel Robuchon back then, I may have changed my mind.
Joel Robuchon is the master of French cooking, having trained the likes of Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsey. He's won countless awards and holds more Michelin stars (26!!) than any other chef in the world. Robuchon himself shunned the richness of classic French cuisine and instead (inspired by the Japanese) sought out a more delicate style of cooking that focused on the natural flavors of ingredients.
Bryan and I absolutely love Joel Robuchon's food. He takes great, great care in designing each dish, creating flavor combinations that will delight you, surprise you, and most certainly make you wish you had more. We celebrated our tenth anniversary by enjoying the Menu Degustation at Joel Robuchon and were seriously blown away. Even our shorter course meal at the Mansion was nothing short of incredible.
This past trip, we finally had a chance to try the more casual side of Joel Robuchon. The food is still made with the same precision and love. However, instead of opulent carts filled with every bread choice imaginable and waiters dressed in tuxedos to attend to your every need, you sit at a very trendy bar overlooking an open kitchen.
We had a fantastic time. We loved the casual vibe; the service was fantastic; and the food? Still among the best meals we've had in Las Vegas.
I think it's one of the best "bangs" for your buck in this city.
Although there's no huge elaborate bread cart, the "free" bread here comes out of the same bakery (believe it or not, Joel Robuchon employs seven dedicated bakers!). We loved the fresh, crusty rolls and couldn't get enough of it. In fact, we finished off that whole basket and asked for another one! (gulp!).
Though not as artfully presented as at the Mansion, the butter here was very different from any butter we'd ever had. It was smooth, just a bit sweet, and had that really fresh, creamy taste. After inquiring the server, we found out that it was Echire butter. This butter is known to be among the best butters in France, made exclusively in a small town called Echire in the Western part of the country. Echire butter is mostly made in small batches by hand, and France only lets about 15% of it out of the country, so consider yourself lucky if you're able to get some here! (Ordering online seems to result in some ludicrous shipping costs!)
The hot themes of red and black add to the modern vibe of the place, which is so different from the royal, opulent, almost "magical" environment at the Mansion.
After looking at the menu, I noticed that several of the courses included fois gras, which I don't love. They happily accommodated my request that they substitute the fois gras courses with something else. Of course, Bryan loves fois gras, so he went along with the normal menu.
This first dish is a Fois Gras Parfait with wine and Parmesan foam. It was creamy with a definite hint of fois gras. For me, I only thought it was OK since I don't love the flavor of fois gras that much. Of course Bryan loved it.
In place of the fois gras, I got an Avocado Cream with radish, tomato jam, and basil oil. It reminded me of a simplified version of a dish I'd enjoyed at the Mansion. Still delicious with gorgeous, bold flavors, it was just a tad less complex than the one I had enjoyed before. I still loved it, and preferred it over Bryan's fois gras dish.
Famous last words.
Bryan's next course was absolutely incredible. Le Celeri – Celery mousse with wasabi, beef stew gelee and slices of foie gras. Although I don't like fois gras, I thought it worked perfectly here. We loved the combination of the creamy fois gras, crisp celery, crunchy fried pork, and strong wasabi cream.
My substitute dish: Tuna Belly Confit over tomato gelee, vegetables, black olive, and a quail egg. It was excellent, but I have to admit that Bryan's fois gras Le Celeri was significantly better.
The next course was La Huitres - a trio of Baby Kusshi Oysters (clean and sweet, sort of like Kumamoto but raised in Washington State) poached in French Echiré butter (yum, it's that butter again). These lovely oysters were sweet and worked well with the accompanying red pepper powder, which added just enough kick without overpowering the sweetness of the oysters.
The next dish was Le Homard - Maine lobster in a spicy tomato broth with wild mushrooms. The broth was mild and delicate, with subtle flavors that reminded us of a light seafood broth. It didn't blow us away, but we thought it was well executed.
La Cebette came next, a cute little onion tart with a thin, pastry-like crust topped with asparagus, bacon, Parmesan, and a perfectly poached quail egg. Although it was delicious and full of familiar (and good!) flavor combinations, we both agreed that it was more casual in design and definitely was not at the same level of complexity as some of the earlier dishes we had tried.
Next came La Lotte, monkfish cheek, baby leeks, and a buttery shellfish sauce with lime and ginger. We found that the "steak-y" fish cheeks paired nicely with the velvety mashed potatoes. Of course the shellfish sauce was delicious.
La Caille was the final main course, foie gras stuffed free range quail with mashed potatoes (highly recommended by the staff). If you didn't know before, Joel Robuchon's mashed potatoes are insane famous, we're talking really really famous. It is unreal how creamy and flavorful they are. Although the potatoes have tons of butter in them, the end product tastes fresh and creamy, not heavy and buttery at all.
According to Bryan, this dish was fantastic, with the perfectly executed juicy quail and creamy fois gras inside. Of course, we both loved the mashed potatoes. I'm so glad Bryan let me try a bit! Seriously, the next time I go, I am going to order an entire side dish of it!
Isn't that a gorgeous dessert? This reminds me more of the types of dishes we would see at the Mansion. Here we have champagne gelee topped with a frozen raspberry mousse and rose scented meringue. I loved how it wasn't too sweet and how everything actually came together quite nicely. It reminded me of my favorite macaron in the world.
We enjoyed the contrast of textures between the baked chocolate ganache (thick, dense and creamy) and the aerated devil's food cake (light, airy). Fresh mint ice cream was the perfect contrast to the deep, rich chocolate flavors.
How else would you end a meal? With espresso and a signature truffle, of course!
We had a really, really good time at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. We thought several of the dishes were incredible, and all of the dishes were excellent. The service was great, and the ambiance is modern, trendy, yet relaxed at the same time.
For the quality of food, this place sure beats a lot of other expensive places in Las Vegas (except, of course, the Mansion, which costs much, much more). The simplest menu starts at $59 (I think it's a three-course), and it goes up to $155 for Menu Decouverte de Saison (Seasonal Discovery Menu), which is the 9-course that we did. Meals are so over-priced on the Strip anyway, you might as well get really good food if you're going to spend the money, right?
I would highly recommend this place and I would not hesitate to return. I can totally understand why Joel Robuchon has won all these accolades. He is truly a master of this art, no matter if it's a fancy-schmancy decadent over-the-top restaurant or a modern, trendy open-kitchen bar with really, really good food.
It's all good.
And I'm so glad he came out of retirement to open these places in the US!
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