If you know anything about the culinary world, you should know the name Joël Robuchon. A master of french cuisine, his namesake restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is renowned for service, cuisine, and an experience unlike any other. But that experience also comes at a price.
However, there’s another side to Robuchon’s Vegas offerings…L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. With a combined 4 Michelin stars (Robuchon proper having 3, and L’Atelier having 1), they are the culinary center of MGM’s rock star offerings. But for my money (literally and figuratively, L’Atelier offers just as much amazing cuisine at half the price, with an added benefit: cooking as performance art.
For my 36th birthday this month, I decided to once again visit L’Atelier, taking along a friend who, like myself, enjoys the culinary arts. One thing to note about booking: the online system never shows availabilty and is usually never right. Call in the old school way and you’ll likely score seats at ease.
L’Atelier itself is a small self-contained restaurant, with a handful of tables, tiny service bar for cocktails, and a huge dining bar wrapping around the centerpiece of the room, the kitchen itself. Whereas Robuchon gives you the front end of the experience, L’Atelier allows you to witness your food being created from start to finish, kitchen to your plate. It’s an amazing process to watch and even more so to enjoy.
On this particular trip, we both decided to eschew the normal a la carte offerings an go for the signature degustation menu, which also comes with a vegan counterpart. Consisting of — courses, and with an optional wine pairing, it gives you a sampling of the complex flavors that are developed with the experience of a Michelin star chef. After being seated near the center of the bar, we ordered quickly, and with a Bulleit on the way to myself and a glass of Bordeaux coming to my friend we watched as the games began.
The first course (the only one I didn’t take a picture of, represented here by our night’s culinary road map) was the L’Amuse-Bouche. A shot glass layered with foie gras creme, a port reduction, and topped with a parmesan foam. Instructions are to eat all layers with each bite. Instructions are right, with a delicious creamy flavorful mix in each spoonful.
The first proper dish is Le Caviar. Watching it being assembled with the use of forceps, it’s a wonderful mix of asparagus, salmon, and Osetra caviar with wasabi cream. Sweetish and salty, but not overly so, with a hint of wasabi. Amazingly balanced.
Next comes Le Crabe Royal, which is king crab and a green curry and passion fruit reduction topped with matchstick peppers. Again, a perfect balance of savory with a bit of sweet, served on a piece of crab shell. My dining partner was allergic, but was easily out of trouble as we were asked upon ordering about allergies and a substitute dish was prepared on the spot.
Le Cebette was probably my favorite course of the evening, and is one I’ve had before. The onion tart’s sweetness with the bacon’s fatty saltiness and the cream of the quail egg are indescribable. A favorite by all.
While looking a bit like a miso soup, Le Foie Gras was sophisticated yet simple soup. The white soy sauce infused bouillon had perfect bits of mushroom, tender and tasteful yet not overpowering, allowing the ravioli, filled with foie gras, to stand out in a way that was unassuming.
Le Saint Pierre came next, as the fish course before the main entree. In this case, the John Dory with chorizo was a delightful combination that married quite well despite my reservations. The porcini cream base was also so good I nearly licked the plate. Nearly.
As we were a pair, and the menu comes with a choice from two main courses, we decided on the advice of the waiter to get both and share. My dish, the La Caille, was caramalized quail stuffed with foie gras and Robuchon’s famouse potato puree and a small salad. The crunch of the caramalized meat with and it’s sweet flavor heightened the foie gras and removed the gamieness that can come with quail. And I could have bathed in a bowl of that puree. No mental images please.
My companion’s dish, Le Boeuf, was just as stellar in a different way. Incorporating beef tenderloin and eggplant, a difficult vegetable, into four perfect bites.
Finishing up the night were the dessert courses, Les Myrtilles and Les Fruits Rouges. The first, with lemongrass, blueberry and yogurt sorbet was light and palette cleansing. It was an opening act for the latter, which contained chocolate sponge, orange creme, strawberry sorbet and pickled cherries. All fruit should be pickled, and the flavor combination was incredible, from the depth of chocolate to the tart of the cherry and lightness of the citrus creme. A stunning finish accompanied by a glass of port.
When all is said and done, and the bill is paid (which coincidentally tied to our recent Mlife pieces earned over 11,000 tier credits) the one thing you will take away from L’Atelier is that a kitchen is not only a machine in itself, but one that works precisely and, in the right hands, with a perfection that is unmatched. And under the careful eye of executive chef Steve Benjamin, Robuchon’s perfection is mandatory. So if you’re in the mood for a treat, skip the stuffiness and head to the little brother of the father of restaurants. Chances are you’ll have an amazing experience you’ll love.
Name: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Location: MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV
Price: $188 Degustation Menu, $125 for Wine Pairing
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Player’s Club Partner: Mlife