KÀ, one of a gazillion Cirque de Soleil shows playing in Las Vegas, was a no go as all tickets had been sold. I was secretly relieved because, frankly, that overwrought French-Canadian shit scares me almost as much as Celine Dion. But the box office happened to be bizarrely next to the dueling Joël Robuchon restaurants, L’Atelier and The Mansion, so we decided to take our money elsewhere and try for same day reservations at his more casual but by no means thrifty option. Plus, it was in our hotel and it seemed crazy to ignore an acclaimed option practically staring in our faces. 9pm wasn’t a problem, though I felt kind of bad for having to cancel my plans at Lotus of Siam, Vegas’s acclaimed Thai restaurant (we’d already had lunch there the day before and ultimately had lunch again two days later on our way out of town).
It turned out that when we arrived later that evening, we had bar seating. Duh, I know that informal bar-style seating is their trademark, but our chairs faced the back of the room so we couldn’t see all the theatrical prep occurring in the heart of the room. We had a perfectly fine evening, regardless, but when you’re blowing $400+ on a meal, it’s something to think about.
The bar seats three so we were placed next to this single, empowered female HBO exec who was nice enough (I was surprised when James struck up a conversation with her. He can be totally anti-social and Asperger’s at times so I’m kind of awed when he’s convincingly warm and animated. I get reminded of my first chatty–and unfortunately, gay–impression over eight years ago) and became chattier as her bottle of wine emptied. She was pamper-crazed, eager-to-impress, very L.A. I overheard (it’s not really eavesdropping when only a few feet from someone—it’s nearly impossible to not have shared conversations) our server telling her that he thought you should really be told when you’re reserving that you’ll be seated at the bar, so clearly she had the same issue we did. I’m not smooth at handling these service-quirk situations—how do the seasoned command primo seats without resorting to this type of food blog nonsense?
When wonderful sounding dishes are described as being a few bites yet cost $29 (I don’t think that acclaimed eel dish was on the Vegas menu) the $135 tasting menu seems like a wise choice. I enjoy the fanfare and procession that comes with this style of dining anyway. There’s nothing workaday about it. Our fellow diner was one step ahead of us so we got previews of everything about fifteen minutes before it was our turn.
Boning up on wine knowledge (along with eating more Japanese food—which reminds me, there were quite a few Japanese diners in the place, one family with two young children, one a boy who needed his pricey steak cut for him. Those were some lucky well-behaved brats. If my family brought me to Vegas as a wee one, which they wouldn’t have, Denny’s most certainly would’ve been as good as it got) is one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m no oenophile. So we had an unremarkable Sauvignon Blanc that likely pegged us as amateurish but there’s something about Vegas that doesn’t compel you to follow the rules like ordering an expensive bottle of wine to accompany a tasting menu. Our server was talking about how not all of the high rollers who dominate at The Mansion next door like having $5,000 bottles of wine pushed on them. Many settle for vintages in the $3,500 range. Fuck that, I wasn’t going to feel chintzy about our $65 choice.
On to the food. I’m including their literal menu descriptions for the sake of accuracy. Thank god for the internet because there’s no way I’d remember it all, even with photos for memory-jogging.
L’AMUSE-BOUCHE: Le concombre en gelée, à l’estragon et son yaourt au cumin. Cucumber gelée tarragon cream, cumin yogurt.
Very cumin-y with a distinct hint of licorice. As good as anything to start with but not mind-blowing.
LE THON ROUGE: Cru mariné à l’huile tomatée et à la fleur de sel. Bluefin tuna with tomato infused olive oil.
Nice seems like a cop out adjective but raw bluefin tuna is incredibly nice and soft. The tomato essence was sweet and akin to sun-dried tomatoes. I made mine last five bites. You have to pace yourself with these things, though it would be kind of hilarious to scarf everything down as fast as it comes, then declare that you’re still starving.
LA SAINT-JACQUES: La noix cuite en coquille au beurre d’algues acidulé. Fresh scallops cooked in the shell with seaweed infused butter.
Unlike our lady friend next to us, we’re not carb-phobic. If there was ever a substance crying out for a bread basket, it was the leftover pool of butter in the perfect scallop shell.
L’ŒUF: Cocotte et sa crème légère de champignons. Egg cocotte topped with a light mushroom cream.
This colorful concoction doesn’t translate in my picture. The bottom layer was a vivid color crayon green. You’re instructed to mix everything together and that’s when you realize there’s also a near neon, sunshine-orange orb floating in the glass. It ends up looking as rainbow pretty as it tastes.
LA CHATAIGNE: En fin velouté au fumet de céleri et au lard croustillant. Light chestnut velouté with caramelized foie gras and crispy bacon.
One of the best dishes in the bunch. Richness paired with more richness, all sweet, salty and fatty.
LE SAUMON: Mi-fumé aux croustilles de pommes de terre et pousses de cresson. Slightly smoked salmon served warm confit potatoes.
I never thought I’d say this, but this dish actually seemed too large. I was tired of the smoked flavors before getting to the end. I’m sure it was an amazing cut of salmon but it was filling.
LA CAILLE: Farcie de foie gras et caramélisée, purée de ratte truffée. Free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and served with truffled-mashed potatoes.
There were two entrees (yes, this was the main dish, so to speak) to choose from. James and I ordered different ones for variety. He had the hanger steak, which came with the most insane mashed potatoes ever. I don’t think there was any secret ingredient other than like nine parts butter to one part spud. Our fellow diner left half of hers (and the meat) behind in one of those inexplicable “too good” moves. She explained that she’s recently lost 20 pounds doing this and told James that I’d understand. Believe me, I do all too well. Sadly, portion control is the only way to slim down, but I can’t be lumped into that category of feminine craziness. I’m eating every last bite of luxury on my artfully arranged plate. In my world, foie gras and truffles are not getting left behind.
Addendum: I posted this Christmas Eve and forced myself to wait until the morning of the 25th to open presents. My sister had sent me a copy of British food magazine, Olive, and it contained a bit on the new Joel Robuchon outpost in London and declared the puree de pommes de terre/mashed potatoes their signature dish. They reported that the recipe involves pushing boiled potatoes through a food mill, then adding about half a pound of chilled butter and half a pint of warm milk for every two pounds of potatoes. That mix gets finely sieved. But being English, the writer had to go and describe the end result in unappetizing terms and compares the finished appearance to the smoothness of mayonnaise. Ew.
If I had known that these potatoes were so talked about, I would've taken a photo.
LA MANDARINE: Sur un lait caillé de brebis, infusion à la bergamote. Sheep’s milk yogurt panna cotta, mandarin confit, bergamot tea infusion.
The tea was only in the background. Orange definitely dominated this refreshing dessert.
LA POIRE: En sorbet, chocolat velouté caramélisé à la cannelle. Pear sorbet, meringue glacée, chocolate-caramelized cinnamon cream.
I was actually thankful there wasn’t a substantial dessert like cake. It’s hard to appreciate decadent sweets after a succession of plates. Light chocolate, pear and cinnamon perk up rather than weigh down. It was a welcome ending.
I hadn’t originally scheduled any high end meals into our weekend getaway, primarily because so many of the choices in this category already have New York City locations. It seems kind of silly to travel 2,500 miles to eat food you could have in your home town. But I’m glad we tried L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon on a whim. I hadn’t had much inclination to buy into the recent hype here in the same way that I’ve been holding off on Gordon Ramsey at The London. I fear attitude that’s refreshingly lacking in Las Vegas. How pretentious can one be when dining in sight of burbling slot machines?
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon * 3799 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV