Paris is known to have some of the best restaurants in the world. They are also known to have some of the stuffiest, where all men must where a jacket the entire meal. Service is ultra serious with no casual conversation and, especially, no joking between waiters and clients. We wanted some of the best food in Paris without all the stuffiness. From many recommendations from friends (one told me it was the best meal she ever had), we chose L'Atelier Joel Robuchon. This restaurant is also highly recommended by The Michelin Guide (receiving two Michelin stars--rating it one of the 24 best restaurants in Paris), Gault Millau, and it's rated #18 of the top 50 restaurants in the world in 2009.
The dining area is very modern (glass pictures filled with fruits or vegetables lined the shelves) and very casual, especially for French standards. Casual dress was fine; some were even in jeans. There are no tables, the seats are at the bar which is shaped in a "U" around the open kitchen. On one side of us was a German family and on the other side was a group from the U.S. Guests can see exactly what's happening in the kitchen and with their meal. You hear the chef firing orders and the response of "oui chef" from the crew. We watched the plating of each of our dishes, everything placed on the plate with the precision of a surgeon.
I had the tasting menu. It was 9 courses of small seasonal plates. My friend didn't want the tasting menu and wanted to choose as he went. This can create a timing problem and at many fine dining restaurants it is required that each table order the same way, either a la carte or the tasting menu. Here, it was absolutely no problem.
My dinner was a symphony of spring flavors. Highlights of my meal were Le Foie Gras, L'Oeuf (simply titled "The Egg), all the foams (foam was another theme of the night), and my two desserts (yes, I said two!).
The foie gras was the best dish of the night. It was a sauteed slice of foie gras perfectly seared so that it was slightly crusty and carmelized on the outside and melted when I cut into it. Under the foie gras were cherries, and on top of it were thin ribbons of rhubarb, with hibiscus sauce drizzled on the plate to accompany it. Our waiter said it was also his favorite of all the dishes.
"The Egg" was a martini glass of parsley cream, an egg (which was steamed in the martini glass so it tasted like a soft-boiled egg, but was cooked out of its shell), and a morrel mushroom and cream foam. On top of the foam they added 4 or 5 sauteed morrels.
The first dessert was a three-herb sorbet on top of a sabayon cream. The sorbet of basil, mint and cilantro was a fresh and cool contrast to the rich sabayon. I only wish they had given me more than the melon ball-sized scoop of it. The second dessert was a chocoholic's dream. It was a Tahitian vanilla ice cream covered with a chocolate dome and served with warm chocolate sauce.
My friend's dessert was also spectacular. He got a souffle that was light and airy and never fell. It stayed perfectly upright even after the waiter pierced the center with a spoon and slid a spoonful of pistachio ice cream down the middle. My friend devoured it in seconds before I could ask for a taste.
(Souffle with Pistachio Ice Cream)
The dinner was not cheap, but it also was fairly priced based on the quality of the food. The tasting menu was 140 euros. I also had the cheese plate (12 euros) and a glass of Sancerre wine (9 euros) that were not included. Yes, it was a splurge, but the price is still much less than a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes or a Dior outfit. It was a great evening of dining, and the wait staff were efficient, friendly, and quite happy to oblige my questions and photos. The waiters even joked with us. It was one of the best meals I've had in Paris.
More detailed information on each of my 9 courses:
* Amuse bouche of chicken bouillon, foie gras and a Parmesan cheese foam served in an egg shell
* Le Crab Royale was a crab salad sandwiched between two paper-thin slices of daikon radish
* Cappuccino of Asparagus -- a foamy asparagus broth with small dices of white asparagus at the bottom of my coffee cup and baby sorrel leaves floating on top
* Le Foie Gras
* Sea Bass with a shrimp placed on each side of the bass. The dish had two foams, one was a cream foam and the other a foam made from shrimp sauce
* Lamb cutlets with the famous Robuchon mashed potatoes. His mashed potatoes are supposed to have equal amounts of butter and potatoes. The lamb was so tender I could cut it with my fork.
* A cheese plate of Tomme de Brebis -- the cheese was finely sliced and served with toasted hazelnut bread and black cherry jam
* First dessert of basil, mint and cilantro sorbet with sabayon
* Second dessert of vanilla ice cream under a chocolate dome and chocolate sauce
5, rue de Montalembert; 7th arrondissement; Metro-Rue du Bac