L'Atelier was our last dinner on our trip. (Bar Charlie and Lotus will be my next reviews.) I will discuss the décor and service first. I really like the concept of bar dining (Bar Charlie, IMHO, is the epitome). Admittedly, our seats were the absolute worst location so we were not able to get the full effect but I did like the interaction. And as much as I am a fan of the bar dining I am not really sold on it here. Obviously that is a singular expression because if it were the feeling of most people, the L'Atelier model would vastly different. The menu is structured (as I am sure most of you are well aware) in 3 groups, if my memory serves me correctly. You can order the tasting menu, you can create you own tasting or you can choose a more "traditional" style by paring a "small" dish (appetizer) and one of the entree sized dishes. You decisions are not limited to this but that is the way they seem to steer people. And one thing I really like is that the staff will accommodate any combination. So if you are 4 people (like we were) 1 person can have the tasting, one person can choose their own tasting...and so on. Nothing drives me more crazy than to have a place require the entire table's participation of a tasting menu. Seriously, what gives with that Mr. Batali...oops did I just say that? I decided to make my own tasting (as 2 others in the group did followed by 1 tasting).
Onto the food. The amuse bouche this evening was a shot glass filled with a sort of fois gras custard. It was warm and had a balsamic sauce at the bottom that had a parmesan cheese foam on top. It was delicious and when I saw how small it was I was a little sad there wasn't more. However, it was so rich that had there been more it would have been too much. I very much liked it. Next I had the Asparagus soup. It was a really delicious puree of asparagus that was vivid with flavor (and color for that matter). Beautify presented in a martini glass this soup was as good as it could be...except for 1 thing. There were these shaved pieces of parmesan in it that I felt were horribly misplaced. Maybe horribly is a little strong but after tasting the parmesan cream that topped the amuse bouche, it could have been my favorite soup that I had in any restaurant had it been served like that. Instead, you have these clunky pieces of cheese that were not incorporated in the soup that over powered the asparagus flavor. I guess I am being harsh but it really was a sensational soup that could have been my all time favorite (beside my own lobster bisque, that is!). The Lightly cooked kampachi on a confit eggplant stew followed. This was a nice dish that really didn't impress me. And I think it is more my fault as opposed to the preparation. It was well executed but as much as I like Kampachi raw I always am disappointed when it comes cooked. Next came one of my favorite dishes of all time from any restaurant. Braised pork belly with confit of sweet onion. When it arrived there was this perfectly braised the pan fried rectangular piece of braised pork belly. The ratio of fat to meat was perfect and the flavor was out of this world. The seasoning of the pork combined with the crunchy outside followed by the succulent interior, the salty followed by the sweet...OMG I was in HEAVEN!!! There are not enough accolades that I can heap on this dish. Absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately for the Stuffed Quail it had to compete with this. Not only that, one of my all time favorite chefs (Jean Louis Gerin, a Guy Savoy protégée) makes the most mind blowing sublime stuffed quail you would ever want to taste. This $32 1/2 a quail was not at all what I was expecting. It was a miniscule sized 1/2 boned, 1/2 of a quail with this sliver made in the over cooked breast and an even smaller sliver of foie gras stuffed inside. It sat atop a sweetish reduction (veal? Too sweet for me) and a dollop of truffled mash potatoes. The potatoes were a tad gluey for my but the flavor was sinfully rich and delicious. Over all this dish was forgettable, not bad just not memorable. The 2 desserts that we had were not worth the calories nor the price. The Green chartreuse soufflé with pistachio ice cream was perfectly cooked but was really devoid of any flavor. And the pistachio ice cream, dull and flavorless. Then the chocolate sensation. Again, not all that flavorful. I would pass on both.
All in all it was a very good meal. There were certain dishes that were stand outs and certain that were duds. I am glad that I finally had the opportunity to go, however I am not sure I will go again. I would be much more inclined to try Maison Joël Robuchon next time as I have never been. But at that price ($400ish for the grand tasting no tax/tip/drink) I would probably opt for Guy Savoy, as I have been there and can say that the $ I spent there was justified. Or for that matter, Bar Charlie, which is my next review.