I must be very good this year, because last night I felt like I got a little visit from Santa when the Frenchman surprised me with dinner at one of the more sensational Paris restaurants, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. M. Robuchon has several Michelin stars to his name, not all of them in France. In fact, according to his website, he has restaurants in 10 cities across Europe, Asia and North America, including Las Vegas. L’Atelier was particularly inspired by what he saw at all the sushi bars and noodle joints when he was in Japan setting up a restaurant of his own. There is a huge emphasis on design, with lots of clean lines and sharp angles. Diners sit at a counter that encircles the kitchen, like a sushi bar, offering cuisine as entertainment. L’Atelier first opened where we dined, in the 6th Arrondisement, but it was so successful that he recently added a second address at the Drugstore on the Champs Elysées, making everyone’s favorite restaurant in Paris that much easier to sample.
And it’s not necessarily easy. At the original address, the only reservations taken are for the 6:30 p.m. seating. The front door is plate glass, without a handle, so the hosts take a good long look and decide if they even want to let you in. I’ve seen khaki-pant-wearing, backpack-toting visitors get turned away. This is one address where it’s wise to dress like a Parisian. Jeans are fine, but they had better look great on you, and white running shoes may be an issue, although I was seated despite my canvas sneakers (dinner was a surprise).
So much for the ambience. It’s supposed to be about the the food, and M. Robuchon gets it right. The man does magic with crustaceans. He manages to keep everything crispy, crunchy on the outside, while soft and sweet on the inside. He offers dishes with the most noble ingredients of the season; morel mushrooms, soft-shelled crab and young asparagus were the stars last night. Like the great sushi chefs, M. Robuchon offers diners a series of small dishes, so they can delve into the maximum variety of flavors in one seating.
After the soft-shell crab, which I’ve already raved about, the star of the evening was a tower of a pear tart on a praline crust with Williams pear sorbet, served in a hollow chocolate sphere with a leaf of gold. As the dish is served, someone arrives from the kitchen with a small pitcher of hot chocolate, which is poured over the gold-topped ball, and it melts away, magically revealing the tart and sorbet beneath as it now sits in a creek of molten dark and milk chocolates. I nearly broke into applause like a small child at a magic show. Food as performance art. It’s not hard to understand why this is one of the outstanding Paris restaurants.
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