Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Paris Journal: L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

"That was before I was born!" said our waitress, who'd asked if Margy and I had been to Paris before. I'd told her yes, I'd been there twenty-one years ago. "I am just twenty," the server added. But like everything else at this incredible two-year-old food shrine from famed restaurateur Robuchon, she was terrific. Her explanations of the complicated tapas-sized dishes and her suggestions for both food and wine were spot-on. This was our one true Paris blowout -- though honestly even a bottle of eau is expensive in the City of Lights -- and it was one of the best restaurant meals Margy and I have ever had. It was one of those dinners where we kept looking at each other with wide eyes and shooting each other little grins.

The place itself sets the tone for the excitement that's found on the plate. There are no tables, just endless counter seating that wraps around the room, putting the open kitchen at center stage. Every little detail is taken into account: The high stools are more comfortable than they look, the silverware is sleek and inviting (I can't wait to put this fork in my mouth, I thought), and there are even little hooks beneath the counters so you can hang your bag and keep it out of the way.

And the color scheme is almost as striking as the food. Everything at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon -- atelier means workshop -- is in black or red, or both. The eight or so cooks in front of us were clad entirely in black, as they whizzed almost silently around what looked like an enormous griddle with adjacent burners. Margy and I drooled over the dazzling array of red pots and pans they were using, including tiny Le Creuset saucepans (at least we assumed they were Le Creuset).

Here's what we ate. Everything was perfect.

  • Dorado, or daurade, tartare made with fromage blanc, served with a grilled slice of bread, and topped with radish sprouts
  • Grilled calamari with chorizo, tomato, and grilled baby artichokes
  • Sardine escabèche on melba toasts with tomato confit, topped with greens, with spicy mustard on the plate
  • Langoustine raviolo with black truffle sauce
  • Braised pork in mustard sauce with a crispy piece of pork skin on top and a dressed heart of romaine on the side, served with a small red pot of the creamiest, most wonderful mashed potatoes ever crafted (we suspected that potatoes accounted for oh, about fifty percent of what was in there; the rest was pure richness)
  • Grilled baby lamb chops au jus with roasted garlic and fleur du thyme, also served with mashed potatoes
  • For dessert (pictured -- look at that stone plate!), a Chartreuse liqueur soufflé with a scoop of pistachio ice cream dropped into the center

    Since most of the dishes featured seafood, we chose a white wine -- Cot. Charitois Dom. de la Vernière. Luckily it went well with our meat choices. And we couldn't resist finishing off with a quick eau de vie, to which we were quickly becoming addicted.

    I'm pretty sure I thanked everyone who worked there a little too profusely as we walked out, but when I've eaten well I feel no need to play it cool -- even in one of the world's coolest cities.
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