When I decided to go on a trip to Las Vegas, I knew I wanted at least one fancy pants meal. After doing some reading about the various places in Las Vegas, I settled on L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon as the place where we’d have our most expensive meal, to be eaten on the Saturday before we went to a showing of KÀ.
I’ve actually had my eye on this upscale chain of restaurants for a while now. I had planned on going there while in Hong Kong last year, but on the only day I had free I wasn’t feeling hungry at all and ended up going to sleep early instead of trying to find my way there. Because of this, L’Atelier was high on my Vegas to-do list.
This location of L’Atelier is located right next to the casino floor and they had the doors propped open, which meant that some of the casino sounds filtered into the restaurant. Part way through my meal they closed one of the doors and most of the sounds went away, so at some point I actually forgot we were right next to the casino. Next to the restaurant is Robuchon’s other restaurant at the MGM Grand, Joël Robuchon at The Mansion (which I considered for my list but crossed off due to the price). And next to that fantastic entrance (look at the chandelier in the foyer!) was the KÀ Theatre.
In Las Vegas, L’Atelier is a one-star Michelin French restaurant. A majority of the restaurant’s seating is at a bar surrounding and facing the open kitchen, similar to a sushi bar. An important part of the dining experience here is watching the kitchen staff make your food. It is for this reason that Robuchon calls this series of restaurants “the workshop,” or L’Atelier.
The decor was very modern with lots of reds and blacks. The kitchen was decorated by large vases of fruits, eggs, and vegetables floating in water, as well as giant fake apples and round hanging greenery.
Watching the food preparation was a great way to entertain yourself while waiting for the next course. This one poor guy spent about 15 minutes using water to paste a square piece of gold leaf onto a tall stack of plates. I was also mesmerized by the amount of wiping and re-wiping the staff did to each plate and cup in order to remove any trace of finger prints or drips.
The kitchen was quite quiet with little talking and mostly just the sounds of cooking and clinking plates and glasses; everyone knew his or her job and got things done – not necessarily quickly, but with efficiency, precision and care.
At one point there was absolute silence and I looked up from my meal. Everyone had stopped their work and was looking at a man whom I think was the sous chef. He looked kind of pissed off, but didn’t yell. I wish I had been able to make out his words. He said a couple of sentences and then suddenly everyone got back to work.
Okay, enough about the atmosphere. Let’s get to the food.
To get the best bang for our buck, we decided on the $75 per person Summer Tasting Menu (price does not include alcohol, tax or gratuity, the hotel website calls it this but inside the restaurant they call it the Club Tasting Menu). This gives you five set dishes, and includes a choice between two main entrées and two desserts.
méditerranéens en mille-feuille à la mozzarella
Mediterranean vegetables layered with buffalo mozzarella
dans une papillote croustillante au basilic
Crispy langoustine fritter with basil pesto
cuit sur la peau façon « grenobloise »
et relevé de sucs de tomate
Scottish salmon with capers and lemon
Le Porc Fermier
la poitrine fondante au confit d’oignon doux
Braised pork belly with confit sweet onion
de France sélectionnés par nos soins
Selection of imported cheese
Glaces et Sorbet
Ice cream and sorbet
We were first served a basket of bread with a large pat of cold butter. I’ve read somewhere that the French insist on their butter being cold. Normally I would prefer warmed butter, but this stuff spread so easily that it wasn’t a problem. The bread was fantastic. Crunchy on the outside, yeasty and chewy on the inside with lots of holes to catch the butter. The server gave us second basket without us saying a word, and I had a hard time resisting the urge to eat two baskets.
Next we were given an amuse bouche of a foie gras mousse (bottom layer), a port wine reduction (middle layer) and parmesan foam (top layer) served in a shot glass. Silly me, I tried to pick it up to drink it, and my server had to point out that it was easier to eat with my spoon. The foam and wine layers had very intense and individual flavours, while the mousse was light tasting and fluffy. I think I would have liked to have this amuse served in a different way as it was easier to taste each layer on its own rather than to experience all three flavours together. It was nice that the foie gras wasn’t heavy and rich but at the same time it seems overshadowed by the stronger flavours of the other two layers.
Les Légumes were grilled vegetables served cold and piled high in a cylindrical shape. A basil pesto sauce shaped into leaves, which would also show up on the next dish, decorated the plate and a piece of mint topped it off. The vegetables were lightly marinated and the dish served as a refreshing beginning to the full meal.
La Langoustine was light and crispy on the outside and, although just fried, was not greasy at all. Inside the langoustine was fresh, big and meaty, and cooked perfectly at the point between sushi and overdone. The basil pesto gave the fried fritter some added flavour, and the streak of (what I think was) chili oil gave the fritter a bit of a spike. It wasn’t hot at all though, as the amount of oil on the plate was minuscule. The plate was also garnished with a tiny salad.
My dining companion had La Saumon as an entrée, and declared it to be delicious. The skin was very crispy, the fish was cooked perfectly, the sauces complimented the fish very well, and the mashed potatoes, served on the side in a mini Staub pot, was some of the smoothest and silkiest mashed potatoes I’ve had in a while.
For my entrée I had Le Porc Fermier. I decided that during this trip I wasn’t going to worry about eating fat, or cream, or butter. I was going to enjoy myself, so bring on the pork belly! The mashed potatoes were the same ones served with the salmon, except I had a smaller portion probably because of the amount of fat in the pork. The generous piece of onion confit, sliced as a whole cross section of onion rings, was sweet and tender. The pork was… spectacular. Extremely tender and full of rich flavour. Even the fatty bits had flavour permeated into it – so much so that it didn’t taste like fat at all. The portion was perfectly sized but at the same time I wish there had been more pieces so that I could have stretched out the experience.
The next course was the cheese course, Les Fromages. I have to be frank here; I have no idea what these cheese were. I did ask, but the names went over my head and I was too chicken to ask again. From left to right: cheese #1 was hard and mild, cheese #2 was very soft and somewhat sharp, and cheese #3 was soft but harder than #2 and was very sharp tasting. Each slice was rather generous (we got one plate each), and the plate was garnished with a bit of salad as well.
It was at this point where we had a hiccup in service. Both my dining companion and I were puzzled that we were served sharp cheese without any bread or crackers, and we ended up eating about half the plate with some left over bread from our meal. Then our server came up to us with two plates of various breads that I assume were supposed to accompany the cheese plate. Oops? He didn’t apologize but he looked somewhat sheepish and I think he was hoping that we didn’t notice that the bread was late. The first two pieces had some nuts and fruits embedded in them and went very well with the cheese. The last two pieces were rather plain, and I debated whether or not they were slices of the dinner bread (but I thought the dinner bread tasted better) or if they were from a different kind of loaf. While we ate dessert another couple who were behind us in their menu recieved their bread at the same time as their cheese plate, so I’m fairly sure our issue was an accident.
For dessert, I asked our server which one was better and he highly recommended Les Tartes over the other choice. We both decided to follow his suggestion. From left to right: cinnamon dusted, pineapple and coconut, their version of a Snickers bar (a.k.a. peanut, caramel and chocolate), strawberry tart with gelée, lemon curd with gold leaf, and finally a chocolate ganache with a dusting of cocoa powder. Each tiny slice of tart made for 2-3 perfect little bites.
All in all, I was happy with the food and my experience. I think the $75 meal is a great deal that gives you a chance to sample a good range of dishes without breaking the bank too much. They also have a three course pre-theatre early dinner menu available, as well as their larger tasting menu and regular menu. We finished our meal in about 2 – 2.5 hours, and had plenty of time before our late showing of KÀ (which was also great, by the way).
As for the Michelin star, I couldn’t help but compare it to my two-star experience from a couple of years ago in London at the restaurant formally known as Pétrus and now renamed Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. The food was close to on par, but the big difference was the service. In London service was like a choreographed ballet, with servers floating in and out of range. Now, L’Atelier is meant to be a more casual place, so I didn’t expect a floating waiter. However, the staff in London were a little more friendly too, and made an effort to find out where we were from and how we were enjoying our meal. At L’Atelier, everyone was very pleasant but at the same time I wonder – two years from now will remember the servers there like I remember the ones at Marcus Wareing’s place?
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand, Las Vegas
N.B. Our meal cost was somewhat offset by a $35 activity credit I got for staying at the MGM Grand. Every little bit helps, right?