L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand Las Vegas
Stepping into the shiny, black marbled room accented with splashes of glossy scarlet that is the Vegas outpost of Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier, so 80's is the colour scheme you almost expect Robert Palmer and his bevy of thick-lipsticked harsh-looking guitar-strumming girls in power suits to be performing behind the counter.
Such sterotypes are quickly forgotten when L'Atelier's French manager gently and warmly welcomes you, showing you to your seat at the long bar where, along with the other couples dining tonight, you will eat your meal side by side instead of face to face. Sitting down to peruse the space you might note whimsical decor touches, a fish bowl full of eggs, vegetables beautifully sorted by colour, red Staub cookware. Against the black backdrop, all of these things shine.
The menu sings to me. It is packed full of things I want to eat, tastes I can't wait to try, combinations about which I wonder. It is one of those menus where I just can't decide what to have. I greedily request four different things from the menu of small tasting portions.
It turns out that the food is decent enough but it doesn't blow me away as I expect and hope it will. At every course, at once I wish I'd ordered the other thing that had caught my eye. Glistening silver anchovies alternate with strips of red pepper to mimic an exquisitely wrapped gift. But the crimson capsicum overpower the poor aubergine who I expect to be the leading vegetable in this presentation.
A barely-cooked egg, is engulfed by a thin but flavourful mushroom cream and then served in a martini glass. Having tried Manresa's ode to the Aperge egg just a few days before my dinner at L'Atelier, Robuchon's preparation, although adequate, just can't live up to my new epitome of egg. I am certainly not averse to runny egg, but since even the white was not opaque all the way through, I would have preferred it just a little more cooked.
A chestnut veloute with caramelized foie gras and crispy bacon is a modest precursor to my final savoury course, seared tuna belly. No diner should expect the lightness and freshness more often afforded by tuna on restaurant menus after reading the words 'onion rings' and 'belly' in the description of a dish. Indeed, it was rich, oily and much larger than I expected for a small plate. Together with the famous Robuchon potato puree I was kindly treated to after I'd made a request to try it, I was almost beaten by this course. However, once I tried the incredibly smooth potatoes, whipped together with what must surely be considered more than a fair share of butter, I couldn't stop myself from returning to it for spoonful after spoonful.
Fred made much more simple choices than I did. Robuchon's French-style hangar steak with fried shallots is something he still excitedly talks about today, two months after the meal. In fact he can't wait to return to L'Atelier. And even though the food didn't thrill me, the overall experience of our meal did, and I wouldn't hesitate in joining him to give it a second try.
The service was genuine and warm. I loved the interaction with other the guests sitting to each side and between customers and the kitchen, the chance to watch the line cooks at work, the fact the Chef comes to personally greet every one of his guests. Our server was engaging, genuine and astute to our questioning. He helped us with wine pairings, advised us on portion sizes and seemed to know the menu like the back of his hand. He made us feel comfortable and at home.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon reminds me that an enjoyable dinner is not only about the what's on the plate, and when an establishment hits the service element right on the spot, then the memory of the meal will usally be a far more fond one than food could ever elicit by itself.
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, (702) 891-7358
This review was a first impression.