Tuesday, July 29, 2014

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Tokyo

On my recent business trip to Tokyo, I had only three free days, and I was determined to take full advantage of all of the amazing cuisine Tokyo has to offer - more Michelin stars than anywhere else, France included!

On Saturday, we started with a fairly formal lunch at Tateru Yoshino, 2 Michelin stars, French.  As you read last week, it was good, but, didn't seem worthy of 2 stars.  That night, we moved on to dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, another 2 Michelin stars, also French (don't worry, we did mix it up later on, and experienced fine Japanese cuisine too!).

Joël Robuchon has several other restaurants in Tokyo, including his 3 Michelin star flagship and La Table de Joël Robuchon (also 2 stars), which we visited the next night.  But we began our journey into his cuisine with the Tokyo outpost of his L'Atelier line, the most casual of all of his establishments.  There are 8 worldwide, including Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Paris, Singapore, Taipei, and obviously, Tokyo.  All of the L'Ateliers are a similar style and decor.

The Tokyo L'Atelier was located in the same complex as the hotel I was staying at, thus it was quite convenient.  The restaurant is an upscale brasserie, and the ambiance was unbeatable.  I loved being able to get fantastic food in such a comfortable environment, without breaking the bank. The food was delicious, certainly worthy of at least one star.  It wasn't earth shattering, not super innovative, but the execution of pretty much every element was perfect.  This is clearly why they have their Michelin stars.  I feel confident that I can recommend this restaurant, and you will be guaranteed a fabulous meal.

Service was good, but not super formal.  There were little missteps, like things not being cleared from the table promptly, and not having any wine when the main dish arrived, but overall, quite good, polite, friendly.
Outside View, such large windows!
I absolutely loved the style and decor of the restaurant.  It felt casual yet elegant at the same time.  The color scheme was a dramatic red and black.

The decor was largely made up of food as artwork: beautiful jars of pickled vegetables, spice racks, pasta in vases.
Serious work pursuing the menu.
Although it has 2 Michelin stars, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is amazingly affordable, even for dinner.  Sure, there was the option of a ¥14,800 degustation menu available, but most diners seemed to pick one of the set menus.  The smallest set was only ¥4,800, and consisted of a amuse, main dish, dessert, coffee/tea and petit fours.  For ¥2,400 more you could add a soup course, for ¥4,000 a soup and appetizer, or for ¥8,000 you could add soup, appetizer, a second main dish, and cheese.

And there were several options to pick from for each course, so there was certainly something for everyone.  I loved how flexible the menu was, both in terms of the different set options and the numerous choices for each course, and they also offered an a la carte menu as well, although pricing definitely was in the favor of the fixed menus.  And, even more amazingly, not everyone in the group had to pick the same option, so I selected the smallest set, since after our multi-course meal earlier that day, three courses seemed like enough to me, but several others in our group opted up to the ¥8,800, and then supplemented on top of that too.
Large open kitchen, with jamón ibérico.
The huge open kitchen takes up most of the restaurant, with counter seating running down the length of it.  When I say huge, I mean huge.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of it, but it was an incredibly impressive working kitchen, with plenty of different stations, all operating at high efficiency, amazingly calm.  No Gordon Ramsey-esque folks in sight.  Above you can see the jamón ibérico that was occasionally carved to order.  There was a rotisserie spinning in the background with a full chicken on it.

Most diners were singles or couples seated at the counter, able to watch over everything, but since we were a large group of 6, we occupied one of the very few tables, a bit further away from the main action.
Bread Basket.
The first item we received were bread baskets, one for each end of the table, 3 different types of bread each.  No butter nor oil was provided, which bothered some of the group.  The restaurant is attached to a patisserie, and has a full bakery, and it was very obvious from the moment I took my first bite of bread.  This was quality table bread, not just filler! (Stay tuned for a review of the patisserie, which of course I had to visit too!)

I absolutely loved the fluffy roll, almost croissant-like, very buttery, perfect salt level.  It certainly did not need butter or oil added to it, and I could have easily eaten several of these.

The petit baguettes were ok, but it seemed sorta sourdough, which I never care for, although one member of the group was really impressed with these.  They were available at the bakery for ¥105 each.

The final offering was the petit pan a l'âme erre, a hard roll, with a really great crust, but again, sourdough, so not my thing.  Available at the bakery for ¥136.

Overall, a nice selection, and I liked that they provided one of each for everyone, I always hate it when an assortment is provided, but not enough to go around, and there is awkwardness in selecting who gets which piece.
Amuse Bouche: Pork Rillettes.
Next up, we all received an amuse bouche, pork rillettes.  Doh.  I don't generally like pork, and this was very porky.  And very oily.  Certainly not my thing, but the others all liked it, and when I offered mine up for the taking, everyone reached for it.
Appetizer: LES NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES en coquilles au beurre d’algues acidulé. +¥630.
Those who ordered the larger menu all selected the scallops as their appetizer, "pan-fried scallops cooked with seaweed butter."

The presentation was lovely, served on the shells.  Because he is awesome, Emil let me have one of his three precious scallops, as he knows how much I love scallops.  They were well executed, still translucent in the center, good sear on the outside.  The seaweed butter was fascinating, and there was lots of it.  Somehow light yet decadent at the same time, and a good start to the meal, but probably my least favorite dish.

In addition to the higher base price set meal that including a appetizer, the scallops also had a ¥630 supplement.
Soup: LES RAVIOLES de foie gras dans un bouillon de poule avec une fleurette pimentée.
Next, the folks with the larger menus moved on to their soup course.  Now, "soup" doesn't sound very exciting.  But this wasn't just soup, it was "duck liver ravioli in a warm chicken broth, with herbs and spicy cream."  The cream was dolloped on tableside.

Again, because he is awesome, Emil let me have one of the three raviolis floating in the soup.  This was a treat for both of us, since foie gras is still illegal in California.  I am so glad he did, as this was, hands down, the highlight of the meal.

The broth was light and flavorful, but the star was obviously the ravioli.  Hands down, the best ravioli I've ever had in my life.  The pasta was perfectly executed, slightly al dente, great chew.  And inside, foie gras.  Swoon.  When you bit into it, it just burst into your mouth.  The flavors, the textures, everything about this was incredible.

I almost went back several nights later, just to order this dish.  Best ravioli ever.  Best soup ever.  Best dish of the night.  Get this.
The other person who ordered soup went for the one that sounded far, far less exciting: "lettuce cream soup served on hot onion custard flavored with nutmeg".

Why anyone would pick lettuce soup when foie gras soup was an option, I don't understand.  But he did.  And he liked it.  I was far too distracted by the amazing foie soup to pay any attention to this, but it looked as interesting as soup possibly could, super frothy and foamy on top.

It turns out that you can make this at home, as he published the recipe, if you are into lettuce soups ... 
Main: LE FOIE GRAS DE CANARD à la plancha en risotto au parmesan. 
Now, for my main course.  This dish was why we were there that night.  A signature Joël Robuchon dish, seared foie gras served over parmesan cheese risotto.

My heart skipped a beat when the dish was brought out, even though I knew what to expect.  Yes, that is a giant hunk of foie on top!

It was pretty much everything you'd expect.  Creamy, cheesy risotto, perfectly executed, not mushy, not too al dente, but with a good bite, topped with slivers of very flavorful parmesan.

The foie on top was well seared, creamy, good foie.  It went very well with the risotto.  I'm not sure I've ever had foie and risotto before, but this is a great pairing.

Side note: this restaurant really has execution nailed down.  Every single dish was perfectly prepared, but this one really exemplifies it.  I think consistency like this is the difference 2 Michelin stars makes.  Perfection.

Overall, it was a really nice dish, comforting, rich, creamy, very, very satisfying.  My second favorite dish of the night, and no supplement required!
Main: L’ENTRECÔTE DE BŒUF poivrée puis légèrement laquée servie avec une purée de pomme de terre et des légumes croustillants au jus. +¥1,890.
Somehow, not everyone was excited about the foie, as only Emil and I ordered it.  The others did have foie earlier that day at lunch, and seemed satisfied with just one serving of foie in a day.  Two others opted for the beef, "peppered and caramelized Wagyu rib eye with mashed potatoes and crispy vegetables".

I'm not a huge beef eater, but I know Wagyu in Japan is obviously high quality, so I traded a bite of mine for a bite of this.  The beef was amazingly well seasoned, and the crust on it was incredible.  I did find it a bit chewy however.

The waguy had a +¥1,890 supplement.
Main: LES NOISETTES D’AGNEAU avec une compotée d’aubergine au cumin et citron confit.
The remaining diners opted for the lamb, "roasted lamb served with a cumin flavored eggplant compote and preserved lemon".  Since I don't like lamb, I didn't try it.
Hard at work scribbling down all the details.
Since we were rapid-fire eating so many great meals, I tried to take down as many notes as possible, so the individual meals wouldn't blur together.  Such hard work being a food blogger!
Cheese Platter.
The set menu included 3 dessert options, none of which were cheese.  But since Emil doesn't eat dessert, he asked to see the cheese platter.  This was some seriously impressive cheese.  Emil decided to get cheese, as did a few others.
3 cheese selections.
Emil's cheeses were served with some token raisins and crackers on the side.  One of his cheeses, plus one others ordered, were so runny, that they were served in spoons!  I tried the crackers, which were actually interesting, very flavorful with grapes and chestnuts inside.

I don't generally have cheese envy, as I'm a total dessert girl, but these were serious cheeses.
Dessert: LA MANDARINE et en sorbet avec un blanc-manger à la noix de coco.
Dessert is usually a highlight of a meal for me, but the dessert menu didn't have a single option I was really excited about.  I picked La Mandarine rather half-heartedly.

It was described as "mandarin and sorbet served with a delicate coconut custard."

The sorbet was orange-y, tangy, but just icy sorbet.  Meh.

The mandarin was just that, segments of mandarin.  Meh.

And finally, the only part that sounded appealing to me, the coconut custard, which was a bit like a pudding, but not very flavorful or remarkable.

On top was a coconut sable, which added a nice crunch.

Overall, I just really didn't care for this, although all of the components were fine.
Dessert: LA TENDANCE CHOCOLAT onctueux au chocolat araguani, sorbet cacao au biscuit pulvérisé.
And the guys all ordered the chocolate dessert: "araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder."

For some reason, they couldn't all finish theirs, so I gladly cleaned up.  I loved the play of textures here, creamy ganache, cold sherbet, crunchy biscuit powder.  Better than mine, but still, desserts were not a strong point.
All set meals in Tokyo seemed to come with coffee or tea service, which was really nice.  My decaf coffee was fine, but not remarkable.  At least they had decaf, which is virtually unknown in Tokyo.
Migs: Shortbread cookies, chocolate covered candied citrus, caramels.
Set meals also all include mignardises.  Our selection at L'Atelier included shortbread cookies (pretty mediocre, a bit buttery, but not all that great), chocolate covered candied citrus with some zing to it, and caramels.  Everywhere seemed to give us caramels, which always paired well with the coffee.
Still, hard at work!
As everyone enjoyed their final treats, I was still hard at working, capturing all the details.  It is amazing how many photos I have just of me taking notes.  I promise, I'm not always totally boring!


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