Tuesday, August 05, 2014

La Table de Joël Robuchon

If you've been following my blog, you know that I recently visited Tokyo for a business trip.  After sitting in a room for meetings all week, I had a few free days to do my type of exploring: fine dining.

Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else, and I was determined to cram in as many as possible in our very short time.  Luckily, my co-workers (and friends who flew in to join us for the weekend), were happy to entertain my ridiculous agenda.

On Saturday, we started with a 2 Michelin star lunch at Tateru Yoshino, that was pretty mediocre, and we didn't really feel double Michelin star worthy.  Things improved as we moved on to dinner that night at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, another 2 Michelin stars, and the most casual of Joël Robuchon's restaurants in Tokyo.  That meal was quite good, and certainly worthy of the star rating.  Lunch the next day was a quick break from French cuisine: Michelin star sushi at Sushi Kanesaka.  And for dinner, it was time for another 2 Michelin stars, this time at another one of Joël Robuchon's establishments: La Table.
La Table is located on the first floor of the chateau with his flagship restaurant in Tokyo.  That one has 3 Michelin stars.  We settled for the more casual La Table, since we didn't have the proper attire (or, checkbooks) to handle the best one.  La Table is still much more formal than L'Atelier, where we'd dined the night before, even though they are both 2 stars.

And just like L'Atelier, it was incredibly reasonably priced.  We all chose the smallest set menu, consisting of an amuse bouche, bread service, our choice of appetizer, choice of main, dessert, coffee/tea, and mignardises, for only ¥6,300 (~$63).  I was again blown away by the pricing.  So many courses, multiple Michelin stars, very, very reasonable for dinner.  Had we desired larger meals, we could have opted for the ¥8,800 option that included a second appetizer, or the ¥12,800 set with two appetizers and two mains.  Of course, a tasting menu of ¥16,000 is also offered.

Chef Robuchon has 28 Michelin stars throughout the world, the most of any chef.  It is clear to see why.  Our meal the day before at L'Atelier was very good, the execution of every dish total perfection.  But our meal at La Table was in another league entirely.  The execution was again perfect, but this time, the creativity of the dishes was much higher.  If this is what a 2 star establishment of his is like, I can only imagine how amazing the experience is upstairs in this 3 star.  Next time ... maybe (for comparison, the meal prices there are substantially more:¥22,500, ¥36,000, or ¥40,000).
Royal Purple Decor.
Just like at L'Atelier, I was struck by the decor the moment I walked in, not that they were at all similar.  L'Atelier is decorated in rich red tones, casual elegant, surrounding a large open kitchen.  La Table is more formal, with tea candles on the table, velvet ribbons on the napkins, and purse stools.
However there are still no white cloth tablecloths, keeping it comfortable feeling.  Instead of red, the color palate is royal purple.  Even the water glasses were a shade of purple.  Just as stunning as the red tones.  I loved it.  The only aspect of the decor that I didn't like were the stools we were seated on, as they made it a bit hard to sit up properly.
Happy Group, looking forward to our dinner.
We started with a few cocktails and champagne, and then our orders were eventually taken.  Service throughout was good, albeit a bit slow.
Amuse Bouche: Carrot Mousse with Orange Espuma.
The first thing to arrive was the amuse bouche of a comforting chilled carrot mousse, topped with a thin layer gelee that we couldn't identify, and a layer of frothy orange espuma.

The mousse was very creamy, and well, yes, carroty.  The espuma was a bit sweet, but balanced by rosemary.  I really appreciated the balance of flavors, a bit sweet but also a bit savory.  A great way to wake up the palette!
Bread Service: Baguette, Brioche.  Olive Oil with Dot of Balsamic.
Next came bread service, the only disappointment in the entire meal.  The bread was served cold.  Sigh, I always prefer warm bread.  At L'Atelier the night before it was also served cold, but I liked that bread far better.

The brioche was light and fluffy, but not very buttery, and not remarkable.  The baguette was very crusty, and seemed perhaps whole wheat.  A second bread service, which I declined, contained slices of baguette.

At L'Atelier we were not provided butter or oil, and this was a step up.  We were all impressed that the waitstaff carried over the little bowls of olive oil without disrupting the tiny dot of balsamic.  The olive oil was clearly high quality, with a strong grassy undertone.
Appetizer: LA NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES marinée et servie avec une crème à l’oursin et caviar, coulis de poivron rouge.  +¥1,050.
For the appetizer course, we had 7 options to pick from.  I wanted almost all of them.  Luckily for me, Emil also wanted almost all of them, and agreed that we'd split 2.  Narrowing down to just 2 was hard enough, I don't know how I would have picked just one!

We passed up the lobster, the meats, and, gasp, even the foie.  You know that for us to pass up foie meant there were some pretty amazing sounding other options.

Like ... the scallops, described as "marinated scallops accompanied with caviar and sea urchin cream, red bell pepper coulis".  Scallops, uni, and caviar, all in one dish?  We couldn't resist this one.

I was surprised when the dish arrived, as it wasn't a skimpy appetizer portion.  Instead, a very generously sized dish of 6 scallops, each topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, a bit of uni cream, caviar, and even gold leaf and a flower petal.  Stunning.

The scallops I think were raw, marinated in a way that made them seem almost cooked.  The uni cream wasn't as intensely flavored as I would have hoped, but perhaps a stronger flavor would have wiped out the delicate scallops.  The caviar was totally lost amongst all of the other components.  I loved all of the ingredients, but I felt a bit like they weren't quite the right combination to have together.

This was a really stunning dish, and a good lighter option to start the meal.  It carried a ¥1,050 supplement, which was justified by the slew of higher end ingredients used.  It was good, but the best was yet to come.
Appetizer: LE TOPINAMBOUR en cappuccino sur une royale de crustacé.
The other appetizer we picked was the Jerusalem artichoke velouté, served on a crustacean custard.  I kinda adore sunchokes, so I really wanted to try this one.

Another visual stunner, both the vessel it was in, and the garnish on top (which, of course included truffle).  The velouté was incredibly frothy, delicately salty, but the flavor very light.  I wouldn't have known it was sunchoke.

Underneath was a chowder-like custard, filled with bits of assorted seafood.  I really liked all of the textural contrasts, from the frothy top, the firmer custard, and the bits of chew from the seafood.

This was good, and another light start to the meal, but did disappointment me slightly since I really wanted to taste the sunchoke.  My (slight) disappointment did not last long, as the meal just kept getting better.
Main Dish: LES SPAGHETTIS aux langues d’oursin avec un œuf mi-cuit et une crème légère. +¥1,890.
It was time for our main dishes.  Just like the appetizers, there were way too many amazing sounding choices, 8 total, and I wanted most of them.  Emil again agreed to split with me so we could enjoy more dishes.

And enjoy we did.

First, I started with the pasta dish, described as "sea urchin spaghettis served with a soft boiled egg and cream emulsion".  It was topped with a bacon foam and truffles.  Like it needed more awesomeness.

OMG.  This was the dish of the night, the dish of the trip, one of the best dishes I've ever had.

The pasta was perfectly cooked, al dente, a bit of bite.  The sauce, so creamy and rich, topped with shaved parmesan.  Even just those components made a stunning dish, probably the best pasta dish I've ever had, anywhere  But, it didn't stop there.

 A layer of froth covered the dish, which I initially took one look at and rolled my eyes.  Sigh, foam.  Trendy.  But this wasn't just foam, it was bacon foam, and yes, tasted intensely like bacon.  Who doesn't love bacon?

A soft boiled egg lay hidden under the foam.  I don't really love eggs, but I discovered in Japan that their eggs are different.  Jidori eggs are a thing of wonder, the yolk larger, more intense.  And this egg was no exception to my newfound love of eggs.  Once cut into, the slightly runny yolk coated the pasta, adding yet another layer of richness and flavor.

At this point, it was basically like the most amazing carbonara I'd ever consumed.

But it just keeps getting better.  Generous, generous hunks of uni.  So much uni.  I love uni, but sometimes it can be a bit funky.  Not here.  It was creamy, even a bit sweet, perfect.  It somehow didn't get lost in the dish, the uni flavor was incredibly strong, so if you don't love uni, this was certainly not the dish for you.  But for me?  Yes.

And, the grand finale, several large slices of truffle, providing an earthiness, but not necessary for me.  Emil of course loved them.

I honestly couldn't believe how delicious this was.  I savored every single bite.  I started with this dish, and had only consumed about 1/3, when I could see that Emil was waiting for me to switch.  The other dish looked good, but I was devastated on the inside as I handed it over, knowing there was no way it could compare.  So we switched.  And, somehow, Emil saw what was going on.  Perhaps my face reveals more than I realize.  Perhaps I was sitting there talking about how that pasta dish was the best thing I'd ever consumed.  Perhaps he is just awesome.  Either way, after taking a few bites, he offered to switch back with me.  I know he loved the pasta too, and was just being generous.  I probably should have said, "oh no, it is ok, eat your half" and then taken my final remaining few bites.  But, I couldn't.  I loved it too much.  I gladly took the rest back, and devoured it within seconds.

It cost an additional ¥1,890, and was worth every penny.

I wished I could have substituted out my dessert for another bowl of this.  The portion was large, but I totally could have eaten a second bowl.  Incidentally, this is one of Robuchon's signature dishes (for a reason!), and is available a la carte at L'Atelier as well, which was right downstairs from my hotel.  I'm kicking myself now for not going down and just getting that dish another night.  If I could turn back time ...
Main Dish: LE TURBOT gratiné à la poutargue avec une romaine farcie aux oignons confits.
The second entree we picked was a fish dish, "gratinated Halibut with dry mullet roe, romaine lettuce with onion confit."

Now, this was good, don't get me wrong.  I enjoy halibut.  Like everything at Robuchon's restaurants, the fish was perfectly cooked.  It had a lovely crust on it, was tender and flaky.  Cooked in a butter and cream sauce.  These are good things.

The brown sauce drizzled on the plate was a smoked bacon sauce, and inside the lettuce leaf was bacon confit.  There was sooo much bacon flavor in this dish, undeniable bacon goodness.

This was good.  But, honestly, I couldn't get past the uni pasta.  Everything else paled in comparison.
Main Dish: LA LANGOUSTINE coraillée servie avec une sauce épicée et des pâtes à la mousse de crevette. +¥1,575.
One of my other dining companions picked this dish, "Panfried Dublin Bay Prawn with a spicy gravy, pasta with shrimp mousse."  Over the course of the trip, he had a knack for picking the best dishes everywhere, and causing quite a bit of food envy for me.

But not this time.  I looked good, he said it was good, but I was so in love with my pasta that it didn't matter.

This also carried a supplement of ¥1,575, which seemed a bit odd, as it didn't have any premium ingredients, and the other main dishes didn't have supplements.  The diner who had this dish also said that it was too small for a main dish, and he was left hungry.
Dessert: L'ALMONDO blanc manger à l'amande douce, fruits rouge et noirs sorbet à la muroise.
And finally, time for dessert, always a highlight for me.  We had only 3 options, and none of them sounded amazing.

I went for the blanc manger, since I do love puddings, described as "blanc manger served with red berries and a red berries sherbet."

I was a bit surprised when this showed up.  The thin white chocolate layer on top was beautiful, and mimicked the similar artistic style that we had seen earlier in the plating of the scallop and velouté dishes.  But where was my blanc manger?
Under the lid ...
I pushed aside the white chocolate to reveal the contents hidden beneath.  It wasn't really what I'd think of as a blanc manger.

A ball of strawberry sherbet was in the center.  It was good, sweet, fruity, flavorful, but just sherbet.  The custard was creamy, lightly almond flavored.  Also within were whole blueberries and blackberries, providing additional fruitiness and a cookie crumble for some crunch.

This was all fine, but not all that memorable, and not really the style of dessert I prefer anyway.
Dessert: LES AGRUMES avec une gelée de citronnelle et une crème au fromage frais.
The other dessert choice my companions ordered was the "seasonal citrus fruits served with a lemongrass jelly and a cottage cheese cream."

It had a mandarin sorbet, passion fruit, lemongrass gelee cubes, and a mascarpone cream.  I took a few bites to try it, and they were fine, very citrusy and fruity, but this wasn't really my style.
Freeze dried passion fruit and banana.
Their desserts also came with a bag of freeze dried fruit to sprinkle on.  Emil didn't want his, so I tried it just on its own.  It was intensely flavorful and crispy, and I see how it would accent that dish well.  A bit strange that they were provided on the side in a bag like this however.
Finally, like all set meals in Tokyo, we were offered tea or coffee.  I went for the decaf coffee, and, like everywhere else, it wasn't good.  Very bitter.
Mignardises: walnut brownie, caramel, macaron.
And of course, we each received a plate of migs with our coffee.  I'm pretty sure everywhere we went gave us caramels.  And macarons.

The brownie was a bit more unique, sweet, with a crunch from the walnuts.  But, not remarkable.
The Good Stuff.
Our wine selections for the night, picked by two of my dining companions.  I didn't take notes on these, but I know I enjoyed them very much, particularly the bubbles we started with!
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