Tuesday, August 12, 2014

La Boutique de Joël Robuchon

As you know, I recently spent time in Tokyo on a business trip.  It was there that I first experienced the greatness of Joël Robuchon.  It turns out, there is a reason he has more Michelin stars than any other chef!  Our dinners at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and La Table de Joël Robuchon, both 2 stars, were the highlights of my trip.

But, before I went to either of the restaurants for dinner, I stumbled into La Boutique de Joël Robuchon, a simple pâtisserie & boulangerie, located in the mall attached to the hotel I was staying at in Roppongi Hills.  There are other La Boutiques in Marunouchi Brick Square and Yebisu Garden Place as well, but I didn't visit them.  I knew nothing about the pâtisserie, but I figured that since it was attached to Joël Robuchon's name, it was worth a try, and somehow wound up there within just a few hours of my arrival, seeking treats.
Petit canelé. ¥231.
I had my first canelé a couple years ago at Keiko a Nob Hill.  It was the perfect end to a downright phenomenal meal.  Since then, I haven't really been able to get canelés out of my mind.  When done properly, they can be a wondrous treat.  Few places even dare to try making them.  It had been ages since I had one.

So, when I saw it on the menu at La Boutique de Joël Robuchon, I had to try it.  It didn't matter that I did not have coffee, or a after dinner drink, to pair with it.  There were canelés, at a fancy bakery, and I had to try one, right then and there!

Unfortunately, I didn't like it.  The crust was very crispy, as desired, but it tasted more burnt than caramelized.  I know that is a hard line to walk, but I think they went too far in the burnt direction.  The inside, moist, custardy, but too eggy for me.  And the whole thing was a bit soggy.  It missed the mark on pretty much all the essential aspects of the pastry.

They were offered in two sizes, the petit size for ¥231 or full size for ¥336.  Since I wanted to try several treats, I went for the petit version.  The price for either was totally reasonable, but since I didn't like it, I wouldn't get another.
Chausson au Marron. ¥378.
The selection of treats was fairly picked over since I arrived near closing time.  But I couldn't settle on just one item.  I needed to get adventurous.

I had no idea what a "chausson au marron" was.  But almost everything else looked savory, and I wanted a sweet.  It seemed to have powdered sugar on top, so I figured it must be sweet.

It turned out to be a chestnut based pastry.  The pastry dough was flaky, with a decent butter content, but was a bit more doughy than expected.  Inside was a chestnut paste and a full, soft, roasted chestnut.  The whole thing was lightly sweetened, but more savory than I was hoping for.

I don't dislike chestnut, but it is certainly not something I'd ever pick.  I was intrigued by it the whole time, as it was unlike anything else I've ever had, but I wouldn't get another.  I could imagine it being a decent breakfast item perhaps?  But it wasn't quite the dessert I was looking for.

 ¥378 was a fine price for a fresh baked good.
“Croc” foie gras et pomme. ¥598.
On my first visit, I spied a thing of wonder.  I was just minutes off a plane from California, the land of banned foie gras, and this little bakery had foie gras sandwiches!

I did not get it that first night, since I was just stopping in for a dessert, but I couldn't get it off my mind.  So, a few nights later, I stopped in to get one for a snack.

I didn't quite know what to expect, besides that it seemed to be topped with potato strings, and promised to have foie inside.  The two slices of bread were clearly brioche.

I first took a bite of it, at room temperature, as served.  I bit into it like a sandwich, since it was a sandwich, but that was quite awkward, and the toppings came sliding off.  The bread was a bit soggy, and made a mess of my hands.  The potatoes on top were a bit mushy, like hashbrowns.  But, I could taste foie.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but I was determined to do better.

It seemed to be a play on a croque monsieur, which is normally served warm, so I carried it up to my office toaster oven, and heated it up.  And, I got silverware.

This improved things a bit.  The hashbrowns on top crisped up. The bread slices did as well, the bottom slice a little too much.  Whoops.  I'm not quite sure how you were supposed to heat this, if you were supposed to at all.

Along with the potato sticks on top were whole and cracked pink peppercorns.  More mild than black pepper, but intensely flavorful, a bit floral.  They dominated everything else, but I did like them.

The top slice was soggy at room temperature, and was still just too buttery and moist when heated up.  I love decadent brioche with my foie, but this was too much, particularly as it made it all mushy.
Interior Shot.
As I took my next couple bites, my happiness with tasting foie was replaced by something else.  I thought the inside filling was going to be all foie, a pate, a mousse, I wasn't sure what, but I wasn't expecting other meat.  And, what I found instead, seemed to be pulled pork.  It might have been shredded duck meat, which could make sense, but I'm pretty sure it was pulled pork.  Pork does play along with the croque monsieur idea somewhat.  But I don't like pork, or duck, really.  I tried a few more bites, but it was all I could taste.  Undeterred, I removed the offending meat, and continued on my way.

The remainder of the filling was indeed a foie mousse.  It was creamy, flavorful, and plentiful.  There was also some sort of fruit component providing a sweetness.  I originally thought they were grapes, but by the end I decided them must be chunks of stewed apple.  When I tried to look this creation up, I saw that "pomme" means apple, so, I think I was right there.  I had assumed that "pomme" was referring to the potato sticks on top, since one of the very few French terms I know is of course "pomme frites", aka, "fried potatoes" or "french fries".  Does "pomme" mean both?

Overall, this was certainly interesting, but it failed to come together for me.  I still don't know if it was supposed to be warm, it seems like not, since they didn't heat anything up there, but it seemed far too soggy to serve cold.  The brioche, foie, and fruit all went together well, but the pork (?) and peppercorn overtook everything else, and masked the more delicate flavors.  And, the ratio of bread to everything else was off, far too much bread.  I think it would work better open-faced, and the sandwich form factor certainly wasn't useful for picking up like a sandwich, due to the potato on top, and the sogginess.

All criticisms aside, I'm glad I tried it, and ¥598 for a foie gras based sandwich was beyond reasonable, but I won't be getting another.
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