Sunday, October 21, 2007

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Paris

Among my friends who I eat with regularly, B. is known to be difficult to impress. I can't remember the last time I was able to pick a place that really "wowed" him. Would a three Michelin star chef's signature dish, like Guy Savoy's famed artichoke and truffle soup impress B.? "Eh, I couldn't really taste the truffles.." he said. While B. is hard to impress, it is his wife S. who often finds places that please him (and me). I was a bit nervous bringing them to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, after all, it only has one Michelin star. However, I shouldn't have worried, because they both were very happy with our meal.

I think what works best about the restaurant is the concept itself: 40 stools situated at a bar, surrounding an open kitchen. By now we had enough of five-hour dinners in the refined and hushed dining rooms of three star restaurants. L'Atelier let's you get up close and personal with the chefs and the food. You can see them make what you eat. How simple, yet fun that can be!

The other thing that works here is of course, the food. If the French revere their chefs the way Americans revere rock stars, then Joël Robuchon would be the Mick Jagger of France. His swan song, shortly before he retired was the creation of L'Atelier. He has been called the most influential French chef of the post-nouvelle era and the Primus inter pares of Paris' three Michelin star restaurants. A few notable awards like Chef of the Century and Meilleur Ouvrier de France help cement his reputation.

The starters were wonderful. I had pig trotters (I know, sounds terrible, but it had tons of rich flavor and was wonderfully presented) and scallops, while B. had foie gras and S. had eggplant. Things were off to a great start.

The main course was an easy choice as we had already seen it come out of the kitchen before we ordered: the Dover Sole. The butter-smooth goodness of the fish was cut nicely by acid from fresh lemon juice.

But the real show stopper here were the mashed potatoes, oops, "potato purée" as they say over here. I cannot begin to describe the rich buttery, unctuous, smooth, potato goodness in that small bowl. It is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I don't wish to sound hyperbolic here, but this is what I would ask for on my death bed, a bowl of Joël Robuchon potato purée.

As this was B. and S's last meal in Paris, we planned on keeping dinner short: only three hours tonight. So S. and I ordered Chantreuse souflées while B. ordered something called Le Chocolat. It was simple, not too sweet, and just right to end the meal.

What a great way for B. and S. to end their trip to Paris!

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