This review of a Las Vegas restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage.
Although famed French chef Joel Roebuchon has branches of L’Atelier in both London and Paris (among others), my first experience of his cooking wasn’t in either of those close-by locations, but in comparatively far-flung Las Vegas. Strictly speaking it’s his style of cooking since the man himself is rarely, if ever, present since he has several restaurants dotted across three continents.
As expected L’Atelier looks very stylish in a masculine, retro, Eighties way with its red, black and chrome aesthetic. Since it is attached to a considerably more expensive formal dining establishment, simply named Joel Roebuchon, L’Atelier’s informality manifests itself in its bar seating. Sadly the bar stools become bum-numbingly uncomfortable after a couple of hours, especially if you’re a short-arse, while the lack of effective back support is almost literally a pain. It also seems effectively impossible to dismount one with any degree of dignity. There are a handful of tables for four, but with the same stool-style seating.
Most of the stools face into the kitchen so you can see your dinner prepared in front of you. I say most since I didn’t get to experience this as I was relegated to one of the stools at the drinks bar which is also close to the toilets. I didn’t take it too personally, if only because of the effortlessly friendly, efficient and chatty service from my waiter who bore a passing resemblance to Jack Palance.
Although there is a short menu of normally-sized starters and main courses, the food at L’Atelier is firmly focussed on small plates with an a la carte menu joined by two tasting menus. I opted for the most expensive tasting menu, if only to get as broad an experience as possible of L’Atelier’s style.
The endlessly refilled bread basket was unremarkable with the exception of a pair of croissant-like rolls. They were a touch too salty in places, but their flaky crumb and buttery taste were still a nice change from the usual suspects.
The amuse bouche was an avocado, coriander and grapefruit gel presented in a shot glass. As expected, given its ingredients, it tasted both creamy and sour at the same time. It was a little unbalanced with the sourness of the grapefruit predominating, but it’s still an interesting way to start a meal.
A tomato salad dressed in basil oil may not sound very interesting and in some ways it isn’t. The gently sweet slices of differently coloured fruit tastes exactly as you’d expect, with the main innovation coming from the artful, almost floral presentation.
The carpaccio is a commonly-featured dish on the menus of Italian and Modern European restaurants everywhere, but the langoustine version at L’Atelier is especially memorable. Despite its almost wafer thin thickness, the delicate compressed slices effectively captured both the texture and salty taste of the crustacean although the citrus dressing was sometimes overzealously zesty in places. Still, one of the highlights of the evening.
I was also impressed by the king crab a la plancha. Although the lone chunk of crustacean may not look like much, the fresh, soft flesh is very well complimented by the distinct, intense flavour of the accompanying lemongrass oil.
I was less convinced by the asparagus kebab served with quail egg and iberico ham. While the tender, peppery slices of asparagus skewered together tasted great and the quail egg was suitably creamy, the two didn’t really seem to go together and there was hardly any iberico ham. I was also puzzled by the mushrooms in a mushroom-like foam which added little to the dish and does one really need both? Overall, an interesting mish-mash of ideas that don’t really come together into a coherent dish.
The fish dish of the evening consisted of turbot and leeks in a shellfish sauce with lime and ginger. The creamy, buttery sauce wasn’t too viscous which, along with the distinct, but subtle ginger seasoning, really accentuated the flavour of the fresh fish. Even so, it was too easy to mistake the tender chunks of turbot, usually a very distinctive fish, for any other type of flatfish, but otherwise this was one of the most accomplished and thoughtful cooked fish dishes I’ve ever had.
What was supposed to be the ‘main course’ of the meal, and apparently one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, turned out to be something of a disappointment. The foie gras-stuffed quail contained hardly any foie gras, although the honey and ginger glaze on the bird added an interesting hint of tangy sweetness. The accompaniments were executed much more effectively. The mashed potato was exceptionally smooth and creamy with a slightly tart aftertaste, while the dill salad dressed in walnut oil turned out to be an addictive pairing of flavours not usually seen together.
The two intriguingly inventive desserts weren’t the bold combination of flavours I was expecting, but more subtle and understated. The soft mascarpone panna cotta wasn’t as creamy as I was expecting, but that turned to be a good thing as it could’ve spoiled the interesting contrast between the tart, unmistakable taste of the balsamic vinegar ice cream and the intensely sweet strawberries. A slightly crunchy biscuit base provided a nice bit of bite to a dessert otherwise filled with soft, yielding textures.
The second and final dessert also provided an interesting contrast between sweet and tart flavours. Here, the sweetness was provided by an almost syrupy blueberry compote, while the tartness came in the form of a bone-chillingly cold rhubarb sorbet that effectively captured the distinct flavour of the vegetable. The sorbet also served to intensify the spicy ginger accents of the accompanying cake, although I’m not sure what the soft marshmallows were supposed to bring to the mix.
Apart from a couple of missteps the cooking at L’Atelier is both inventive and accomplished. L’Atelier’s tasting menus are not cheap, but if you’re in any way interested in Modern European cuisine it’s well worth trying out. If only they would sort out their ridiculously uncomfortable seating.
Name: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Address: MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109-4319, USA
Phone: 001 702 891 7358
Opening Hours: Sunday-Thursday 17.30-22.30, Friday-Saturday 17.00-22.30.
Total cost for one person including coffee and tip: US$200 (approx. £122 at the time of writing)