L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino is the more casual, lively sibling restaurant of the neighboring Joel Robuchon. The quality of Robuchon’s award-winning food is the same, but in an environment intended for a more animated and shared dining experience. Chef Claude Le-Tohic, who oversees both kitchens, assures that L’Atelier is not to be overshadowed by its big brother, and promises a meal just as delightful and memorable as next door. The long and varied menu focuses on simple and delectable contemporized staples of French cuisine. Diners can choose a nine course tasting menu, a selection of tapas or something off the traditional menu of full size entrees.
The restaurant is very sleek and modern, with glossy black walls and furniture accented by red leather stools, bright red glasses, and fresh cut roses on the tables. A long counter runs along the right side of the restaurant, where guests can face the open kitchen and watch their food being methodically prepared. This setup is the inspiration for the name L’Atelier, which means “the workshop” in French. The restaurant is mostly empty when we arrive, but the chefs are hard at work already, quietly and diligently preparing for the rest of the evening. The colorful artwork is a celebration of food, honoring the beautiful variety of colors and textures the ingredients embody just as the menu celebrates their tastes. Large multi-paneled frames on the wall contain modern patchworks of different seeds, beans, nuts and spices; and in the exposed kitchen, shiny metal racks showcase perfectly aligned rows of vividly colored fruit and tall glass cylindrical vases of spices layered like sand art.
Before our meal begins, we are brought a bowl of warm crusty country bread. It is one of several varieties that are made daily in the kitchen by the seven bakers on staff, and is served with French Échiré butter. This particular bread is made with the natural yeast of apple juice and grapes, which makes the dough rise slowly. The process can take as long as three days – a testament to the thoughtfulness given to every element of the experience at L’Atelier.
L’Amuse-Bouche that is brought out shortly after is a warm, decadent foie gras parfait. It is served in a shot glass with a small spoon with which to scoop through all the layers of foie gras, port wine reduction and parmesan foam. The parfait is extremely rich, as would be expected, but the strong flavor of the port wine and the delicate texture of the foam keep it balanced and irresistible. It is a promising prelude to the meal we are about to enjoy, which consists of several dishes off the small plates menu.
The first dish to arrive is Les Huîtres, which is something of a modern art piece itself. A dramatic square black plate houses five poached baby oysters with French butter. They are perched in a line on a wall of salt and accented with a slice of lemon. The garnish on the display is a small line of crushed Piment d'Espelette, a red pepper from southwest France that helps add a subtle heat to the dish. The small but meaty Kusshi oysters have a clean taste and are topped with butter, lemon and a delicate dusting of spices, making each one a tasty bite-sized morsel.
Le Jambon, a signature dish of the restaurant, is a cured ham that you can watch being carved off the leg in the kitchen. This particular type of ham, known as Iberico de Bellota, comes from free range pigs that are fed only acorns in the last phase of their life, which imparts a subtle hint of nuttiness to the meat. It is extremely smooth in texture, and tastes rich without being fatty. We are informed that it is even better a day after being carved, once it has dried out a bit in the air, perfecting the texture and flavor. The ham is served with a triangular bruschetta topped with tomato and basil.
La Cebette is a white onion tart which consists of a crisp and flaky phyllo crust topped with onion cream, smoked bacon, baby asparagus, arugula and shavings of parmesan. It is sprinkled with the same Piment d'Espelette seasoning that dusted the oysters. While the onion flavor is strong in this dish, it is balanced by the mellowness of the cream sauce. The baby asparagus spears add substantial crunch, and complement the more delicate textures of the other ingredients.
The menu is also sprinkled with dishes that are more comfort food than sophisticated fare, such as Les Spaghettis, a traditional spaghetti carbonara. This dish is a swirl of tender pasta, mixed with a light cream sauce and bits of the salty Iberico ham, and topped with shaved parmesan. Although it appears on the Appetizers menu, it is an amply satisfying portion of spaghetti. Another basic and sumptuous choice is the Pommes Purée, an incredibly rich swirl of whipped mashed potatoes served in a miniature red cast iron pot. It can be ordered unadorned or, for an earthier taste, topped with flecks of truffles. Both of these dishes, though simple, are so impeccably executed that they cannot be considered mundane.
If the whole menu could be summarized in one dish, it would be Le Burger, a miniature burger with seared foie gras, caramelized red, green and yellow bell peppers and watercress on a brioche bun. All the components are arranged in a tiny tower, and held together by a clear plastic skewer. The fries that are served alongside have been individually sculpted by hand into the iconic crinkle-cut fry shape. This painstaking detail is an interesting choice, and one that seems to tacitly advocate micro food production in a world that subsists largely on mass production. These are served with a ginger gastrique, a tangy alternative to the usual ketchup. The dish is an appropriate culmination of the meal, blending all the ingenuity, thoughtfulness and, of course, flavor that makes the cuisine at L’Atelier so remarkable.
The sweet finale comes in the form of La Framboise, a globe of white chocolate and raspberry sauce. The server sets it on the table and pours warm raspberry yuzu sauce over the top in a star pattern, melting the sphere and revealing the lemon ice cream “surprise” that is hidden inside. Fresh raspberries and cubes of raspberry gelée are sprinkled generously around the plate. It is a fresh, clean and light dessert that cleanses the palate and finishes the meal off on a bright note.
Every dish at L’Atelier is exquisitely presented, and eating them reveals the careful planning, thoughtful philosophy, and meticulous execution put into them. The extraordinary food and vivacious, celebratory setting assure the fun and unforgettable dining experience that the L’Atelier reputation promises.