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A recent trip to Paris


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I suggest you guys start again something like Symposium where we used to discuss interesting side topics which engendered many interesting discussions and good insights.

We don't need to, Vedat. It already exists. Go to the following website:

forums.egullet.org

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I think Robuchon is guilty of trying to modernize haute cuisine. I'm just not sure that's necessarily a crime. A year of two before he "retired," Robuchon suggested the day of haute cuisine restaurants where the staff well outnumbered the diners was in danger of becoming extinct. Some will see his attempts as dreadfully misguided while others will view his efforts through rose colored glasses and find them noble. Personally I'm of mixed minds. I'm eager to support conservation of both our natural resources and our cultural peaks, but I'm also excited by new ideas and keep an open mind as to how they can serve me. A certain amount of the criticism of l'Atelier de JR seems simply based on the concept and some of it is based more on the spread of haute cuisine by bringing it to the counter, while more naturally the bulk of it is based on the debasing of haute cuisine by introducing what may be seen as the industrial revolution into the kitchen and dining room. Some of the criticism is based on what has been served and eaten, but even here I wonder how much appreciation, or lack thereof, is colored by the concept.

Clearly Robuchon is not bringing the 400€ meal to the table, or even the counter, for 100€ and it's very difficult to objectly compare the food served under such conditions with those served under the optimum condtitions of a fine dining staff. Dinner, or a meal, is far more than the food, even for those whose focus is heavily on the food. Although little offends me more than pretense in a dining room or a restaurant where the service outshines the food, I have come over the years to appreciate service in a top restaurant as I would good theater as an art form. Nevertheless, I think Robuchon is suffering from curmedgeonly attacks on several fronts. I don't know what the current price of his tasting menu has risen to. It was 98€ when I was there and we thought it an appropriate value. Vedat makes good reference to some shortcuts, but I suspect many of those same shortcuts are taken in kitchens behind closed doors more often than not, but again, I wouldn't claim that l'Atelier de JR is producing the finest meal in Paris by a long shot. It's just that I think he's doing something creative that is a potential bonus for food lovers.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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A more thorough review from Vedat can be read here with images.

I would like to make a few comments on my own on l'Atelier.

First of all, I have no problems with the setting as such, even if the chairs could be slightly more comfortable and the smoke from kitchen could be less sticky than it can be at times, but seriously, I would eat and enjoy great food in miserable conditions even if it was served on plates of cardboard.

As Vedat has pointed out, putting courses on the menu with the same name as at Jamin does not in itself make food great or even good. Great food comes from the practising of extreme attention to detail in the sourcing, selection, storing and handling of the ingredients, the extreme attention to detail in the execution of the dish (cooking, seasoning, taste calibration etc etc), the exceptional taste and ingredients marriage and the careful presentation of the dish. Without these components, the conceptual level or its menu description of the dish means little or nothing. From what I have seen during a year and a half (my first visit was in November 2003) on several visits are significant shortcomings in all these components that make food great. And the shortcomings are such that food has not even been good. Most problematic to me have been the low quality level of the ingredients. The langoustines ravioli has on three occasions been a mushy mess just like Vedat describes it and I have come to the conclusion that they use frozen langoustines or langoustines that have been handled poorly. But one could be sarcastic and say it is to the better since on the few occasions they have worked with exceptional ingredients, like their jabugo ham, they have nevertheless shown a complete disrespect to it by cutting it hours if not the day before and placed the slices on a paper sheet and stored it in a fridge until serving it cold on the paper. Of course there are not much flavours left in the ham. Cooking has almost always been flawed to a greater or lesser extent and always noticeable is an inconsistent seasoning. The plates have on every occasion I have been there been quite greasy. The shortcomings are so significant that the food is not even a shadow of what it could be and it certainly does not resemble great or even good food.

I just do not see how there can be a “good night” for this place. In my opinion there are such fundamental flaws in their ingredients sourcing and handling chain that even if the chefs have a good night, the raw material will not be there to ensure a good result. It is not strange. They serve hundreds of meals every day. Ensuring quality of raw material and ingredients, from sourcing to quality control and handling, for that type of operation is very labour intensive and requires high skilled people and such costs they obviously think they are better off without.

The prices are much too expensive if we weigh in the quality and the quantity of food that is served. I much rather eat at inexpensive bistros. They may have their shortcomings too, but the price/quality ratio ensures me leaving the meal without a bitter aftertaste.

When my glass is full, I empty it; when it is empty, I fill it.

Gastroville - the blog

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I

Yes the whole operation is an affront to French restaurants, and perhaps the very tiny segment of the Parisian polulation who might ever eat at a three star restaurant is ignoring l'Atelier for any number of reasons, but I suspect it has no place in their pace of life, rather than that they're acting as gastronomic critic. As a destination restaurant it is a curiosity offering none of the customary comforts of a destination restaurant. It's never likely to have a star, and certain never more than one. So it gets a strange crowd and that may doom it more than anything else.

Let me add one thing I did not include in the gastroville post.

I agree with Bux that there is no model in Paris which offers something different than both the customary comforts of fine dining and the efficiency of the fast food. I, for one, always yearn for casual dining where you can either sit on the counter or stand up and eat as much or as little as you want. Of course, if the food is very high quality to boot, I am one very happy camper. So somehow I was expecting this type of atmosphere and delivery from Atelier on the basis of many reports I had read, in egullet and elsewhere.

I was wrong. The expectation at L'Atelier is that you have to order everything(except desserts)at the outset of your meal. And you should order in line with their ideas of what constitutes a proper meal. I wanted to order a couple of small portions and then gradually ask for more depending on how much I liked the food and getting ideas from other diners(which I always do in Spain) if I want. The server was very hostile to this strategy which is my strategy in the great tapas bars of Spain. He wanted to take all our orders and he pushed very hard for that. He also played hardball with me when I ordered only 3 items, saying that "it is not enough, people here order more". I then literally dismissed him by saying that I have eaten more time in Robuchon (about 30) than his age (looked early 20s) and I decide on what and how much I will eat and not he. Clearly this attitude is part and parcel of their overall business strategy which must have changed for the worse after they settled.

I also thought that their pretension to serve an accessible form of "haute cuisine" basically consists of adding some tasteless slices of truffles to the dishes to justify price tag. But in terms of the quality of raw materials I will argue that there will be not a handful but as much as 100 bars in Spain which will offer higher quality shellfish and more variety to their customers. Including truffles and mushrooms(Ganbara in Donostia serves wild mushrooms of various sorts which are picked at the dawn and they will not serve them the next day). Not to mention jamon iberico which l'Atelier serves but I will be surprised to find there the same quality that I can find, say at one of the Cinco Jotas locations in Madrid.

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Haute cuisine was always regarded an etalon, where excellence in both ingredients and execution was a measure of success of every high-end establishment. Whether Robuchon decided to reinvent his cuisine through a less demanding environment and reduced gastronomic expectations, or he sincerely attempted to take haute cuisine to the masses, creating a completely new genre (independently of what we call it: Robuchon’s McDonald’s as vmilor suggested, haute utile, as I once described it, or a Spanish tapas bar, as was perceptively noted by Joe H), it seemed to be taken with a grain of suspicion by the native public, both diners and press (who seemed to view Robuchon’s initiative as opera without a theater or a picnic indoors), surviving primarily on the curiosity of a less demanding or more-forgiving and flexible international clientele.

I personally welcomed this new concept and sincerely hoped it would succeed. However, Robuchon was doomed to be always judged from the perspective of the highest criteria traditionally applied to haute cuisine, the implementation of which at this level was hardly possible under his new scheme, which was, however, offset by the relatively low prices. (Our total bill for two came to approximately 160 Euros last May.) The drawbacks of such a “semi-staged” performance, however, raise several concerns. Can haute cuisine be appealing when served in a casual environment? In my view, absolutely yes. However, the décor at L’Atelier suffered not so much due to the informal setting as to the lack of architectural and structural logic: the servers struggled to pass heavy dishes to the diners due to the wide separating counter, which also prevented decent communication; the spotlighting brightly highlighted individual plates, while imposing darkness around the diners. The second and more important concern is whether perfection can be maintained under the pressure of multiple seating, especially when the incentive to maintain quality control is low, since the restaurant seems to lack support from a local clientele, which I believe drove Robuchon to “correct” the situation by opening a more conventional establishment. (La Table receiving a star only confirmed my assumptions.)

Our waiter chatted with us at the end of our dinner, in the small bar area between the hotel and the restaurant, where I had coffee while my husband enjoyed a cigar. He said that La Table served the same menu and used the same source and quality of ingredients (I wonder whether it is still the case) as l’Atelier, which prompted us to cancel the reservation we had made for our last day in Paris. The ingredients, though not exceptional, more than justified the price. What lacked perfection was the execution: an imbalance in flavor intensity, specifically a strong acidity, in the sorrel bouillon, which if served in full portion (we ordered a half) would’ve been hardly enjoyable; overdone eight-week lamb (using a lower quality ingredient), though still acceptable for the price; mashed potatoes, oversaturated with butter, the heaviness of which was slightly offset by the roasted garlic served on the side. As to Robuchon’s ravioli with langoustine and truffles, they were most definitely fresh (May is the season for langoustines), though masked by somewhat strong preserved truffles; an excellent dough hat and a thin foie gras sauce were quite complementary (the version of the sauce we had was different from what vmilor was served, judging by his description and picture).

Ravioli.jpg

The definite winners were L’oeuf cocotte à la crème légère de morille

Loeuf-cocotte.jpg

...and Les oeufs au plat 'Bernard Loiseau'.

Les-oeufs.JPG

As I wrote on Gastroville “... the most important attribute of Pacaud’s style, which secures his unique and contemporary significance, is that he manages to create such a synthesis of flavors that not only does the palate not tire from the dish (generally of a significant portion), but it becomes more open and receptive with each bite, as a result of a clever and natural relationship between the ingredients, transforming the amalgamated flavors gradually and creating a new sensory response with each spoonful, as in the amuse, morel consommé with foie gras. Instead of changing the palate’s response over the progression of multiple small courses, Pacaud achieves the same in one dish…. This is true mastery, and though I haven’t eaten Robuchon’s cuisine at its prime, there was not even a hint of the same flavor-evolving concept at his l'Atelier, which may indicate that Robuchon has changed his style or his style never really conceptually coincided with Pacaud’s even though both chefs cooked under the same nouvelle realm.”

My question to the long timers is: If the execution and the ingredients at l’Atelier were perfect, how much would you say Robuchon’s cuisine had changed stylistically, and what would be the correlation between Robuchon’s cuisine and Pacaud’s?

Edit (additional thought):

Judging by all the negative reviews, I wonder whether Robuchon has perhaps already written off Atelier, redirecting his efforts toward the newer establishment. My meal there last May, despite all its faults, was much better than more recent reviews would suggest.

Edited by lxt (log)
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. . . .

I also thought that their pretension to serve an accessible form of "haute cuisine" basically consists of adding some tasteless slices of truffles to the dishes to justify price tag.  But in terms of the quality of raw materials I will argue that there will be not a handful but as much as 100 bars in Spain which will offer higher quality shellfish and more variety to their customers. Including truffles and mushrooms(Ganbara in Donostia serves wild mushrooms of various sorts which are picked at the dawn and they will not serve them the next day). Not to mention jamon iberico which l'Atelier serves but I will be surprised to find there the same quality that I can find, say at one of the Cinco Jotas locations in Madrid.

I experienced what I thought was the product of some excpetional cuisine at l'Atelier. I will not dispute the quality of what's available in Spain, if not commonly, then in a wide range of seemingly middle class bars. This is particularly true of seafood and my sense is that much of it is local, although I've seen evidence that the best is immediately available in Madrid, but I'm thinking of the gambas from the southeast part of Spain that appeared, for a price, in good restaurants and bars. On the whole, I sense that great food in Spain is much more ingredient dependent that that of France, which is a great reason why we have not seen fine Spanish restaurants in NY the way we have seen French restaurants.

I think the fair comparisons for l'Atelier de JR are his own cuisine of the past, his peers in their formal restaurants and wherever else in Paris one can eat for 100€. What would be unfair, is to expect the cuisine to match that of say Pacaud or Passard given the difference in price. Where I think Robuchon's been successful is in paring down the price mostly in ways, but not entirely in ways, that don't affect the taste of the dish.

I've eaten there but once. Two of us had the tasting menu, the other two had a few courses. French people next to me had a small course and then a steak. That choice perplexed me. However, it's not a tapas bar in any way shape or form. Based on my limited experience, it's best appreciated by having the tasting menu just as if one came to a theater for a series of short one act plays, and perhaps at a threater with less than optimum seating conditions, if I may stretch the analogy.

I've said that the shortcuts have minimal effect on the food. That doesn't mean that there's no loss of flavor in trade for efficiency. If truffles are shaved well ahead of time. It would be a false economy as the flavor would undoubtedly suffer. If the dish is dependent on truffles, it could result in a disaster. If the dish is not dependent on the truffle, they it might be best to eliminate it altogether, but I don't find the issue symbolic of an endemic problem. I felt the price tag was merited by the quality of the cuisine I had.

Most of the dishes had me on the edge of my seat. By comparison, three of us ate at Dutournier's Pinxo for well under half what four of us paid at Robuchon that same week. We were all dismayed at how uninteresting most of the food was and how little thought went into creating the dishes as well how little effort went into preparing the food. Mrs. B, who was babysitting our grandson, was the only one who didn't think that was a wasted evening. At Robuchon, I felt exactly the opposite.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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.

I think the fair comparisons for l'Atelier de JR are his own cuisine of the past, his peers in their formal restaurants and wherever else in Paris one can eat for 100€. What would be unfair, is to expect the cuisine to match that of say Pacaud or Passard given the difference in price. Where I think Robuchon's been successful is in paring down the price mostly in ways, but not entirely in ways, that don't affect the taste of the dish.

Why do you think L'Atelier is less expensive than Pacaud? It is actually more expensive right now on a per ingredient/piece on the plate basis. Like the langoustine at 25 Euro. If Pacaud charges 3 times as much he is also supplying 5 times more langoustines on a per gram basis and besides, the quality difference in langoustines are very pronounced.

But, OK you can not ask Pacaud to serve you one fifth of the dish for 15 Euro but if you want to eat 6 raviolis at L'Atelier you will end up paying more. In this sense l'Atelier is the most undeservingly expensive restaurant in Paris that I am aware of.

I

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There are many restaurants in the world, or at least in the US, France and Spain, where I can order a three course meal for one price and a tasting menu of perhaps eight courses for twice the price. The amount of food I consume is not much more when I have the tasting menu. Clearly, the cost per item or per ounce rises disproportionately with the number of courses. I rarely assume there is a great corelation between the price of a meal and the value of the ingredients. I expect to pay for the labor, and if an eight course menu keeps me in my seat that much longer, I may have to pay for the length of time staff is employed. There is in the US, a "meat and potatoes" sort of diner who equates value directly to the amount on his plate. You are clearly not that kind of diner, so I'm surprised to fine the "more expensive right now on a per ingredient/piece on the plate basis" argument here.

In other terms, value is a perception that will vary from diner to diner and I can't argue with your perception. It certainly comes from great experience. Of course all of our "value judgments" are filtered through our own preferences. The question of whether Robuchon at 100€ provides as great a "value" as Pacaud at 200€+ is not entirely a reasonable one for me. It's too much of an apple and oranges thing in my view. I have trouble ordering dissimilar things. My only response is to say I enjoyed my meal and that it was worth my time and money.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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There are many restaurants in the world, or at least in the US, France and Spain, where I can order a three course meal for one price and a tasting menu of perhaps eight courses for twice the price. The amount of food I consume is not much more when I have the tasting menu. Clearly, the cost per item or per ounce rises disproportionately with the number of courses. I rarely assume there is a great corelation between the price of a meal and the value of the ingredients. I expect to pay for the labor, and if an eight course menu keeps me in my seat that much longer, I may have to pay for the length of time staff is employed. There is in the US, a "meat and potatoes" sort of diner who equates value directly to the amount on his plate. You are clearly not that kind of diner, so I'm surprised to fine the "more expensive right now on a per ingredient/piece on the plate basis" argument here.

In other terms, value is a perception that will vary from diner to diner and I can't argue with your perception. It certainly comes from great experience. Of course all of our "value judgments" are filtered through our own preferences. The question of whether Robuchon at 100€ provides as great a "value" as Pacaud at 200€+ is not entirely a reasonable one for me. It's too much of an apple and oranges thing in my view. I have trouble ordering dissimilar things. My only response is to say I enjoyed my meal and that it was worth my time and money.

if you add labor and staff time then L'Atelier is not exculpated but on the contrary. As I tried to explain in my gastroville review, l'Atelier is basically an assembly line operation with minimum staff and pre-prepared run of the mill ingredients. Your arguments cut against l'Atelier and not in favor of it.

Also please take it into account that prices has risen considerably since you have eaten there. But I understand your emotional loyalty and this I see it as a positive thing. I also believe you that it might be better than Pinxo as Dutournier has not been interested in cooking for a long time so he is not likely to supervise this place.

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if you add labor and staff time then L'Atelier is not exculpated but on the contrary. As I tried to explain in my gastroville review, l'Atelier is basically an assembly line operation with minimum staff and pre-prepared run of the mill ingredients. Your arguments cut against l'Atelier and not in favor of it.

The last thing I want to see is for this to turn into a debate. I agree that there is a machine age efficiency at work in l'Atelier. We differ on how much of the savings are pocketed by Robuchon and how much is passed on to the consumer. I don't think that point can, or should be won of lost on debating points.

Also please take it into account that prices has risen considerably since you have eaten there.  But I understand your emotional loyalty and this I see it as a positive thing. I also believe you that it might be better than Pinxo as Dutournier has not been interested in cooking for a long time so he is not likely to supervise this place.

I'm familiar with prices as of last fall. If the prices have risen considerably at l'Atelier since then and out of line with the general inflation, that would change things. As would any decrease in the quality of food since I've been there. I'd only note that I am disagreeing with some members who were last there sometime before my visit. Therefore some of my comments may seem less responsive to your more recent visit. My loyalty to Robuchon is not personal. I am simply expressing my pleasure of one meal at l'Atelier. The meal at his three star restaurant doesn't come into play for a number of reasons.

I'm sorry to hear that about Dutournier. I have not eaten at Carré des Feuillants in some time. A dinner there was superb, a prix fixe lunch was less suberb, but still faultless. If anything I was upset because I felt loyalty to him. I've thought Carré was undervalued.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I also believe you that it might be better than Pinxo as Dutournier has not been interested in cooking for a long time so he is not likely to supervise this place.

I too want to avoid too much disputation but I must note that I was very happy with Pinxo a few months ago. The staff was ultra-sympa, the food very good, the prices quite soothing.

I saw it as a very different experience than my experiences at l'Atelier which (I felt) was straining to be serious not sympa, great not just good, and expensive not affordable.

I think we are, as someone said earlier on this or another thread, dealing with apples and oranges. And I think Robuchon and Dutournier are not necessarily stamping out the same food in their separate places any more than Les Anges is a copy of Bon Acceuil or Refectoire a copy of La Famille.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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There is an optimum point ending discussions and I think we are there. I have no qualms about it as I said and wrote all I can about L'Atelier. It is not a place I will return again unless they change and a palate I trust reports otherwise. Three things:

1. I disagree about "apples and oranges" can not be compared type reasoning in our context. All restaurant can be ranked. Interested readers can look at our criteria in gastroville. We are not claiming that they are the best criteria one can come up with but until somebody can actually come up with more comprehensive and rigoruous criteria, these will be my(and degusto's)governing criteria.

2. lxt has a very interesting, intelligently written and insightful post. I am hoping to offer my tuppence worth of comments(perhaps starting on another topic)when I have time.

3. I am reading John Talbott signed posts with great interest and admiration(for the objective facts they offer)and will try Pinxo. I used to like Dutournier when he was at Trou Gascon. I would like to know about special recommendations at Pinxo.

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