While I was on vacation in Las Vegas this week, I made the obligatory trip to L’Atalier de Joel Robuchon. This place is the kind of temple of gastronomy that typically induces an continual flow of vague superlatives as the writer attempts to convey how good a meal can be when engineered by one of France’s preeminent chefs and executed with no-expense-spared ingredients by fanatical cooks in the most labor intensive means possible. I’m not going to bore you with those superlatives, let’s just state for the record that it was EXTREMELY GOOD! To make this a good Las Vegas story, I’ll mention that I was dining with a former winner of the World Series of Poker and some friends. Professional poker players always make a meal more interesting, as they come equipped with an unending supply of interesting stories.
For the main part of the meal (aka, the warm up to dessert, being that this is a chocolate blog), I had an extremely good langostine fritter, an even more extremely good spicy sauteed calamari, and three extremely good versions of lamb. It was actually hard to concentrate on enjoying the lamb, as the L’Atalier staff insists on serving Robuchon’s pommes puree along side this dish; the near cosmic power of this marriage of butter and potatoes tends to distract from anything else vying for your palate’s attention.
The gustatory system now properly warmed up, I tried the chocolate dessert, which, predictably, was extremely good. The basic chocolate ingredients were pedestrian (Oreo cookie crumbs) and sublime (Valrhona’s Araguani), combined into a sort of ice cream plus ganache heaven. Interestingly, the restaurant doesn’t list the chocolate as Valrhona, but just uses the Araguani name. If you want to make ganache with the same basic material that Robuchon uses, Whole Foods sells “feves” (bean-shaped discs) of Araguani in bulk. This is a blend of two undisclosed bean varieties, and is what an Armani suit would taste like if it was chocolate. It’s extremely smooth with soft melt on the tongue, with no wild or dramatic single taste notes. The strong chocolate initial taste is complimented by both fruit and nut finishes, with lots of warm eggy/buttery/floral touches. It’s a chocolate that would get along well with other flavors.
(Postscript: While photos make for a good blog post, the proliferation of food blogs also seems to have resulted in a lot of people whipping out digital cameras in places like Chez Panisse. Call me old-fashioned, but this seems to skewer the effort the restaurant is making to create a relaxing environment for a meal. Also, photographing food is hard. I’m officially registering as a grumpy semi-old guy and harumphing to leave food photography to the pros.)