Early October, I'm in New York with my band, Barenaked Ladies, to do some publicity before we go on tour. It’s going to be 31 shows in 30 cities across the country in 42 days, so we’ll be busy. But at least it’s an opportunity to try some new restaurants, and return to some old favorites.
We arrived late at night after 90 minutes on the tarmac in Cleveland, and then our van couldn’t get out of the parking area at Newark for nearly an hour, as they chose that night to start testing a new parking-ticket system. I’m guessing it’s not working as well as they’d hoped.
Finally got to the hotel around 9:30 p.m. and was famished. I knew that what I needed was a brisk walk and a quick bite before bed, but is that what I went for? Of course not.
In the New York Times, Frank Bruni gave a three-star review to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the great French chef’s new restaurant in the Four Seasons. In the review, Bruni mentions that the restaurant tries to keep some spaces open at the counter for walk-ups, so, in jeans and t-shirt, I walked up. And, behold, a seat was waiting for me! And thus disappeared my notion of a "quick bite." Eight courses and two hours later, I stumbled back to my hotel a happy man.
The counter-centered “Atelier” or “workshop” concept works OK, I guess. It’s nice to watch the apprentices slicing serrano ham in front of you, but, for better or worse, it gives the place the vibe of a 1980s sushi bar. The food, however, is magnificent.
Highlights included the amuse bouche of foie gras with Port reduction and Parmigiano foam (it’s served in a shot glass; I lifted it to my lips and was instantly scolded: “Sir, use your spoon—it’s solid”). Also wonderful was the meeting of earth and ocean in the first course of sea urchin with lobster gelée and cauliflower cream, decorated with perfect green dots all around the circumference of the little glass egg in which it was presented.
The quail was served with Robuchon’s signature potato puree with shaved truffles. When the server saw me swoon, he brought another little pan of the potatoes. And though solo dining can often be a lonely experience, the counter-sitting ended up being a pleasant social situation. When the complete stranger next to you offers you a bite of his (divine) kobe rib eye, you know the concept works. (Refer to the lyrics of our new song, "Quality," for the line, Look at them now, they’re rubbing my cow there, and feeding it beer).
The wines that the sommelier matched with the individual courses gave mixed results. The one-dimensional tropical fruit of Bonny Doon’s Malvasia overshadowed the glorious sea urchin dish, whereas an aged Chablis, with its minerality and sometimes human aromas, would have gone better. The soft-cooked egg in an haute ratatouille was accompanied by a Marcel Deiss Riesling, served in a large Riedel Burgundy glass (presumably to underplay the acidity); that seemed to try too hard, when a more traditional Bandol rosé would have worked just as well.
On the other hand, the Champagnes by the glass were by Bruno Paillard, one of my favorite houses, and some of the other daring choices were very good. A white Coteaux du Languedoc—a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc—brought out the seriousness and complexity in Robuchon’s otherwise ethereal fried langoustine. A rustic Ribera del Duero red matched perfectly with the cod in ham broth. (Everyone, your assignment is to write a sentence using the phrase “cod in ham broth.”)
I woke up early writhing in agony, which is sometimes the price I pay for eating like a Roman emperor, but now I feel fine enough to venture out into New York for another adventure before we head off to do the Conan O’Brien show. Prime Burger, anyone?
Delmonico Stkhse @ Venetian — Las Vegas, Nevada — October 24, 2006 9:00pm ET
Errol R Kovitch — Michigan — October 25, 2006 7:25am ET
Anthony Clapcich — October 25, 2006 8:08am ET
Steven Page — October 25, 2006 11:05am ET
Steven Page — October 25, 2006 11:07am ET
Steven Page — October 25, 2006 11:09am ET
R M Kriete — October 25, 2006 3:33pm ET
Errol R Kovitch — Michigan — October 25, 2006 4:00pm ET
Robert Fukushima — California — October 25, 2006 4:50pm ET
Ari Glazer — Florida — October 25, 2006 5:15pm ET
Tom Fiorillo — Denver, CO — October 25, 2006 5:34pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — October 25, 2006 6:08pm ET
Kevin Iselli — October 26, 2006 9:53am ET
Steven Page — October 26, 2006 11:31pm ET
Robert Williams — Toronto, Canada — October 30, 2006 1:24pm ET
Robert Williams — Toronto, Canada — October 30, 2006 1:28pm ET
Robert Bennett — November 3, 2006 12:02pm ET
Dr M Vinciguerra — Port Washington, NY — November 11, 2006 2:11pm ET
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