Global culinary icon Joël Robuchon has returned to the Big Apple. The French chef, 72, chose the former Colicchio & Sons’ space in the trendy Meatpacking District to relaunch his New York outpost of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
Characterized as the most influential French chef in the nouvelle cuisine era, Robuchon created the upscale L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon concept with mostly counter seating to allow dynamic interactions between the guests and chefs. Started in Paris, L’Atelier now has 11 other locations worldwide. Robuchon’s restaurants, including L’Ateliers, have earned him an impressive 31 Michelin stars, as well as three Wine Spectator Grand Awards, for Joël Robuchon Restaurant in Las Vegas, Robuchon au Dôme in Macau and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong.
In 2012, Robuchon closed New York’s L’Atelier, located in midtown Manhattan’s Four Seasons hotel, due to internal issues between the hotel ownership and management, he said. But business partner Alex Gaudelet, CEO of Invest Hospitality, convinced him that a return to New York City was necessary. “We started the journey looking for a space to reopen L’Atelier together,” Gaudelet explained to Wine Spectator, “and Mr. Robuchon asked to find a space that was independent, with street access.” The space at 85 10th Avenue, just under the High Line park and across from Chelsea Market food hall, fit the bill.
Designed with French architect Pierre-Yves Rochon, the space houses two distinct dining concepts: the tasting menu–driven L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, comprising a 34-seat dining counter with 20 additional table seats, and the more casual Le Bar de Joël Robuchon with table seating for 56.
“What’s incredible about the concept is, because you only have 50 seats, you can be very consistent in your cooking,” Robuchon explained via translator. “The kitchen cannot get overwhelmed. Physically it's not possible.”
L’Atelier will offer a nine-course seasonal tasting menu—which will include signature dishes incorporating New York–area ingredients such as Long Island spiced duck with baby turnips—and a nine-course vegetarian menu. In addition, diners can customize a menu or order à la carte from the selection of tapas-size tasting portions, appetizers and entrées. Le Bar’s menu, however, is focused on accommodating the frequent diner interested in an approachable, one-course meal. À la carte dishes include croque monsieur with Comté cheese and apple wood–smoked ham and grilled Dover sole with light herb sauce and green beans.
For the opening, Robuchon has brought on his A-Team: A L’Atelier veteran, executive chef Christophe Bellanca, will oversee the kitchen, which includes executive pastry chef Salvatore Martone, who has been with Robuchon since 2005, and head baker Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who has worked with Robuchon for 20 years.
L’Atelier will open with an impressive wine list focused mostly on France. “We're opening with 700 [selections], and then we will build from there. We have great aspirations for the wine program here,” Guadelet said.
“It is easy to put a wine list together, but it's not easy to actually get the right wines from the right producers from the right regions,” Robuchon added.
Robuchon’s sommelier for 30 years, Antoine Hernandez, has been instrumental in putting together the opening list and building the wine program. The day-to-day wine team includes beverage director Michael Peltier, formerly of Benoit New York and La Table Houston, and two additional sommeliers.
“Mr. Robuchon points out that the role of the sommelier is extremely important,” Gaudelet noted. “They bring the sense of hospitality and interact the most with the customers. Customers are a lot more prone to understanding wines than they were in the past. And really, [sommeliers] are here to complete the experience.”
Particularly important for Robuchon is the ability to serve Champagne by the glass from magnum “for the quality, for visual,” Gaudelet said.
At first, challenges with pricing and availability of magnums threatened this feature. However, the solution came in one phone call. “I called the president of Veuve Clicquot [Jean-Marc Gallot], and he came in yesterday and brought in magnums to fix the issue,” Robuchon said. Veuve Clicquot is now the preferred Champagne for the restaurant.
L’Atelier and Le Bar will open for dinner beginning Nov. 1. (Reservations can be made at www.joelrobuchonusa.com.) Lunch hours will be added at a later date.