Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.


 


Joël Robuchon

Joël Superstar

When a Quiet Man Reaches Perfection

By André Gayot

Impression by the "Manet of the ovens"

Joël Robuchon gained stardom status in spite of himself, for he has always been a discreet character: unconcerned with publicity; occupied with his research and dreams in his workshop, a.k.a. “atelier”; imbibed with spirituality since his studies at the seminary. Fame came to him naturally. Why? Because genius does not need trumpets, even in Las Vegas. Make no mistake: he is one of the few who made contemporary gastronomy what it is today. Were we to compare cooking to painting, he would be one of the very first impressionists, a Manet of the ovens. Honestly enough, Robuchon never forgets to mention the now defunct Jean Delaveyne, who in the '60s shook the tyranny of the great Escoffier and thus paved the way for a totally new culinary world, dubbed “nouvelle cuisine” in the '70s by GaultMillau/Gayot.

When Robuchon opened the cozy but smallish Jamin in the 16th arrondissement of Paris in 1982 with very little fanfare, he immediately earned, without even asking, an 18/20 rating from GaultMillau/Gayot. “Le tout Paris” rushed to Jamin, savoring his caviar in cauliflower crème and what became a cult dish, the “pommes purée.” The quiet man, continuing to work his way to the summit, received the top rating of 19.5/20 in 1988, the highest award ever bestowed on a chef. In a larger and more elegant setting, in the very chic Le Parc Hotel on avenue Poincarré in Paris, more enthusiastic diners could gain access to Robuchon’s art.

The kitchen: Here's where magic happens

Everyone was stunned when, quietly as usual, Robuchon announced his retirement in 1996, at the age of 51. Reason was probably that it’s an almost impossible task to produce masterpieces every day. Although he had left the kitchen, the food world agreed with the choice of GaultMillau/Gayot to name him “Cook of the Century” in 1999. The honor—shared with Freddy Girardet and Paul Bocuse—was not enough to lure him back to the ovens. As time passed, Robuchon probably missed the action and the climax that rises in the kitchen during service, and he tiptoed his way back with casual, sub-Robuchon ventures, first in Macau, then in Tokyo and finally in France.

Surprisingly enough, at Joël Robuchon, there re-appears a full-fledged Robuchon. In the food universe that’s breaking news. Why in the world would he have elected to operate such a perilous comeback almost ten years after his eclipse in the fine dining galaxy, and why would he do it in a location—at least for his Old World admirers—as unexpected as Las Vegas?

Without being too emphatic, Las Vegas is in the process of becoming if not the, at least one of the capitals of the world of gastronomy. Many top chefs shine there and more are coming soon, such as Parisian star Guy Savoy. The arrival of Robuchon is a milestone in this evolution. His presence is recognition of the status of Las Vegas. Sin city exists now as a restaurant town.

Main room, softly illuminated by a
teardrop crystal chandelier

Rumor also has it that Robuchon, who rejected numerous offers, was charmed by MGM Grand President Gamal Aziz. He was so convincing and open-minded, we are told, that the French chef decided to take the risk of returning to haute cuisine in grand style. There’s also the murmur that Robuchon opened his two restaurants at the MGM on the faith of a handshake, no contract having been signed. Not a surprise, when one is aware of his true nature.

Here we are entering into Joël Robuchon, welcomed by the experienced and knowledgeable general manager Loïc Launay through a gleaming foyer opening on the main room, softly illuminated by a tear-drop crystal chandelier hanging from a high ceiling. On the sides of the foyer, a private dining room on the left faces the bar on the right. Architect Pierre-Yves Rochon found his inspiration in the Art Deco era, using black, purple and crimson hues to create a refined and cozy atmosphere centered around a monumental black fireplace with an actual fire. Don’t miss the anecdote placed on the mantelpiece: a statue in the very Art Deco style represents two lions, a humoristic allusion to the famous MGM symbol.

Strongly supported by his landlord, Robuchon and his team wanted this setting to be nothing less than perfect. Air conditioning is modulated to make diners comfortable. Lighting has been measured to properly illuminate the dishes and to create enough shade to soften the wrinkles. The black lacquered tables are positioned just so, well separated but close enough not to feel isolated. The seats are comfortable enough for diners to remain at ease for as long as a sixteen-course dégustation menu lasts. The reduction of noise aims to shelter our ears. Indeed, this is the perfect showcase for Robuchon’s feast, prepared by executive chef Claude le Tohic, who worked with Robuchon at Jamin.

Art Deco-inspired bar

Depending on your appetite and your wallet, two dégustation menus are offered, composed of ten or sixteen courses, paired with a selection of wines by the glass, some of modest origins but flavorful (and affordable) such as the Coteaux du Languedoc Bronzinelle.

The first mouthful of his lemon gelée flavored with vanilla and topped with an anise cream tells us right away that Robuchon stands as high as can be in the culinary Gotha, for the refreshing and complex taste of this amuse-bouche can be found nowhere else. Robuchon has not changed, pursuing his eternal quest for the best, trying new ideas and products in the intimacy of his kitchen when the fever has subsided. He researches and experiments with new ideas and submits them to the jury of his impeccable palate. When they pass they will flourish on the next menu.

Impeccable tastes

Who could have imagined the extraordinary marriage of caviar with a green asparagus garmented with melisse leaves? Chlorophyll dots wrap the fresh tomato and king crab millefeuille in a verjus coulis. This incredible constellation of miniscule green spots necessitates a workmanship of twenty minutes per plate. After seducing the eyes, the beautiful art caresses the palate. A light lettuce cream in a silver pot is meant to be poured over delicate sweet onion custard. The plate comes with a tiny bouquet as pretty as it is tasty, composed of garlic flowers wrapped in a lettuce leaf. This is the most delicate and exquisite rendition of a consommé that one could ever think of. When the seaweed lemon butter scallop melts in the mouth, it’s like breathing in the ocean. We stay in the marine environment with a superb pan-fried sea bass with lemon grass foam with baby leeks. When you think you have reached heaven, the sautéed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable taglierini flavored with pesto boosts you up to new heights of satisfaction. Let’s admit it: this is the best veal we ever tasted.

Dégustation dreams

There must be a secret for that, one of the many secrets that Robuchon has uncovered and that make him so unique. We could explore the confit of lamb with Mediterranean semoule, the tuna tartare with a confit of red bell pepper with bergamot and ham, or the extravagant Brittany lobster under a disappearing saffron hostie in a seafood bouillon, but even in the minute details, we would find that Robuchon’s bill of fare is flawless.

Pastry chef Kamel Guechida brilliantly brings the Robuchon festival to an end with his tequila sorbet and fresh strawberries in lime syrup, and his melting Araguani chocolate with a hint of peppermint. The wine list contains 750 labels with many good finds from small American and French producers at reasonable prices. Let’s put it simply: there’s only one Robuchon in the world. An evening there is a unique, unforgettable experience worth the money it will cost. Robuchon and his mentor Gamal Aziz wanted this place to reach perfection. As far as it is humanly feasible, they’ve made it. We are glad to bestow on Robuchon his first 19/20 rating in America.

Restaurant Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-891-7925


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