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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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We went to Joel Robuchon while we were in Vegas, and I celebrated my 31st birthday. It was on the bucket list, and now that that’s done, I doubt we’ll return. It was an impressive meal, but far from the best I’ve had. The recipe was, more or less:

  • Lots of truffles
  • Lots of caviar
  • Lots of gold leaf
  • Lots of foams
  • Lots of excess

It’s hard to go wrong when you toss all of that into a dining experience. The service was generally good and all of the dishes were generally good if not great. Very little of anything, however, was exceptional.

The bread cart is the first of the three carts you encounter; it’s several dozen types of breads and rolls; all are good, but none are truly exceptional. Having had exceptional bread and pastries from legendary p√ɬĘtisseries and boulangeries in Paris (which is in and of itself a claim, as there are perhaps better offerings outside the city), Robuchon’s offerings just aren’t up to the same level. Realizing this, they seem to have opted to succeed via excess and quantity, with more offerings to distract one from the fact that their current choice may not be the greatest bread they’ve ever had. I’d much prefer a single small perfect demi than twenty good rolls, but perhaps I’m taking the wrong approach. But perhaps I’m not, and Robuchon is the most American French restaurant?

The philosophy is pervasive; the first half of the courses are either stuffed with fine caviar or copious amounts of truffles. I don’t want to give the wrong impression; the asparagus was the best I’ve ever had, but I think that was more because it was a third, by weight, caviar, than that it was so expertly cooked, selected, or prepared. So it works, but it all feels like cheating; nothing feels like magic.

The most amusing dish was the amuse, which was a decomposed/inverted sangria (the sangria was pudding, in effect, and the things in it were liquid) served over a globe of dried ice in water (I presume) to create a nice visual effect. As a bit of a hint of what was to come, however, the glass of my amuse was chipped visibly and substantially around the rim; the attention to detail was just not there.

Platings ranged from elegant to obnoxiously tacky and over the top. This is perhaps the trademark of the restaurant, but I found it distracting from the dining experience itself.

There were some goofs; our first sommelier completely failed to deliver the red wine pairing with the ribeye. With only two savory courses designated to be paired with the young Bordeaux from the right bank, this gave us an awful lot of wine to drink with the savory grains and an awful lot of nothing to drink with the ribeye. After realizing her mistake, we were given the senior sommelier for the rest of the evening, who granted us a “bonus” glass of relatively extraordinary white Burgundy with our cheese course to try to smooth things out. Ever professional and attempting to smooth over the gaffe, no mention of any of this was made, but completely fucking up wine service when there are only five wine servings in a four-figure meal is inexcusable.

Another goof came with the bill, a point I didn’t argue — I was under the impression the champagne we selected pre-meal was ostensibly included in our wine pairings (when we selected the pairing, she mentioned “and you’ll start with the Champagne as part of that, which you’ve already received.” Yet, we were charged $150 for the Champagne.

Melissa having a bivalve allergy, one of the courses had to be prepared without clam juice in the sauce. When the dishes arrived at the pre-service station, the servers got into an argument about which was the special order and which was the regular, with one of the staff making an executive decision seemingly at random after several exchanges. I should never be exposed to this sort of behavior and there should never be a question when food allergies are involved. I’m sure some of you are thinking “what a blowhard douche bag” as I write this sort of thing, but we are talking about ostensibly one of the best restaurants in the country which ostensibly prides itself on exceptional service. This was not that, this was Applebee’s bullshit that should never belong in the front of the house.

Finally, the menu we received as a commemorative document of the evening was not even close to accurate — in many occasions it mentions courses wholly different from what we consumed! Since it’s something made after we make our dinner selections, and printed before we leave, I don’t even understand how this is possible.

I don’t want to give the impression that we had a bad time — our server was extremely professional and attentive, without being overbearing or distracting (far different from my experience at Le Bernardin). Despite the epic goof, our first sommelier was quite professional and knowledgeable and catered to our interest in wine; the second (and far more senior) sommelier was, however, incomparably better, offering in-depth details from his visits to the makers of the wine he was serving. The other wait staff, which were often never really seen except when a dish was provided (to explain what it was) were all exceptional; on the way out each that I ran into quietly wished me a happy birthday.

Little of what went into my mouth was downright exceptional. The two that were probably the most memorable bites were the foie gras carpaccio, whose texture, seasoning, and balance with the white truffle shavings was exceptional, if somewhat classic and predictable. The sheep’s milk Roquefort was the other one, and I can say with little compunction, that it was perhaps the best single bite of anything that has ever entered my mouth. It’s perhaps silly to praise a bite of cheese that much, but this cheese was an incomprehensibly good example of balance, assertiveness, elegance, and complexity.

The restaurant was not crowded, and indeed could not be, given the need to push the various carts through. There are but a few tables in the restaurant itself, and there are a handful in the private room adjacent to it; we were seated in the best of the tables in this alcove, and I can only offer praise to that — being given a full table for four to dine was far more comfortable than the experience several other couples had with a much smaller table.

Anyway, a lot of mixed messaging above. I’m glad we went and would say that the experience was worth the money to do once, but I would not pay to repeat it. Just for the sheer excess of much of it, it’s probably still one of my top five most memorable meals, but I’m not sure it’s in the top ten for best meals. Go here if you want to just be awed by that — the carts (bread, cheese, dessert), the caviar, the gold leaf, the truffles — it’s hard to imagine another experience that so delights in this particular approach to excellence.