As one of the representatives of Nouvelle cuisine, Monsieur Robuchon’s culinary style, nevertheless, has all the elements of Classical spirit.
A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives much pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity.
Stated Italo Calvino concerning reading Classics. Concrete or abstract, simple but enduring, themes treated by classics are usually recurrent concepts and motifs among the various incidents and frames of a story, like love, honesty, beauty and death. They never get out-dated with time, epochs only provide new settings for storytelling. The masters never invent, they only discover, explore the themes that already exist, they only create new forms and formulate new ways of narrating. Time never ceases to produce tendencies, but after shadows and buzz have faded away; left still, something familiar, precious, endearing and Classic.
This is true to the music of Mozart, an archetype of Classical style, marked by his clarity, balance, and transparency. The expressive beauty of his work seems to convey in the simplest terms all the durable themes— elegance, beauty, dignity, loneliness, and affection. This simplicity also featured Robuchon’s culinary approach. On his menu, we find each dish, named after a key ingredient: Le Black Cod, Le Veau, Le Langoustine… After the tone is settled, the ingredients and subjects are selected and unified accordingly. Each items on the plate is given an independent soul and attention, and put together in certain purpose, even the most adorable ones are not abused. His tremendous talent make possible crafting the grandeurs into pithy flesh.
Inevitably there’re doubts concerning L’Arteliers: how the cooking be consistent when the chef is mostly not on-site but has his spirit been translated onto the plate by different hands in his kitchen? Is there something lost in translation?
Interpretation of music is a comparable case. There’re many occasions that I heard the master pieces of Mozart interpreted by different performers. Those melodies and rhythms, despite so familiar, with Horowitz, present a spectrum of dynamism while with extraordinary elegance and equilibrium;with Mitsuko Uchida cheerful strands of melancholy; Clara Haskil, otherwise develop an elongated meditation in a light-hearted mood. I enjoyed them either way, by grand masters or by the adolescent sitting there practicing alike. The notes, the scales, the phrases, are unmistakable, not only due to the familiarity but also a sense of vivid, simple happiness imparted, a feeling evoked in my heart that has transcended any human languages. A master is the one whose spirit so versatile that could be transferred into various forms. Miraculous is the retrospection on my staggering times of dinning at L’Ateliers of Joel Robuchon —where I experienced the same soul and ego, from Joël Robuchon, been executed by different hands, incarnated with local specialties, flourished on the plate in various fantasies.
L’Atelier, as suggested by appellation, already distinguished from a museum, a gallery, here no masterpiece is found, but authentic joy of creating, of experimenting, of playing.
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
So said Mozart himself, whose most important works were composed during soiree, poker time, Without deny, this gaming attitude is but the spring of the contagious joy and frisk suffused throughout his works. Food and music are alike, entertaining the tongue or the ears, by leading appreciators to a process of recreating, reconstructing a fancy, a dream, a rhapsody.
Despite of the frisky casual dining style, L’Ateliers of Monsieur Robuchon are actually very serious about gastronomic experiences. It certainly not a betrayal of fine dining, but rather strikes another dimension: Instead of waiting to be served and impressed, the clients are granted the chance to converse with chefs in the kitchen, the possibility of arranging the orders of their episodes; and the channels to contribute their creativity, imagination in constructing the ultimate pleasance.
Around the table, nobody simply stays as spectator, everyone is participator.
Encountering and Reunion
It was my first visit to Etoile, I was welcomed as an old friend. The atmosphere are convivial and festival, chatting and joking sprinkled between neighbors and staffs. The service is warm and attentive. Antoine, the director of the restaurant, is an amazing gentleman, hospitable and professional, who regularly came by and checked that order and services are proper. We had a brief chat before the restaurant getting more busy—a great chance to share his expertise and passion of wine and food.
During this visit, I intentionally avoided the Classics (for example my favorite spaghetti and langoustine) thus to make it a entirely adventure.
My brand-new journey was introduced by an old friend—foie gras mousse, creamy, yeasty, warm and inviting, as always.
Le Caviar par Joel Robuchon
The presentation of this Caviar reminds me of the inverted-pyramid, in front of Louvre—-the ingredients were in the reversed sequences than the Las Vegas version where the caviar laid upon the bed of unctuous creme of chou-fleur. I enjoyed it immensely.
The leading actor of this plate is L’Anguille rather than foie gras, despite the latter acclaimed almost half the portion. This seems a cousin version to what I had in New York, where the foie gras is actually in terrine, and the plate was presented as a mille-feuille. Here a rustic brochette of two warm escalopes of foie gras sandwitched with caramelised eels, less elegant but more spontaneous. The molten creamy texture of foie gras emulated that equally rich tender one of glaced eel, a sweet touch followed by delightful saltiness, and ended in a pleasant piquancy.
Le Black Cod
A strip of black cod, with its flesh flaky and tender coated in a sweet, raised the meal to culmination. A spectrum of the sweetness was presented when the sweetness of black cod quietly glided into a crispy ocean of yuzu, transmitted and bridged by the subdued sweetness of daikon: clean, pure with a hint of enlightening perfume introduced by fleur de shiso and bulbe de lys. Those nice accompanies of the black cod used to be coupled with L’Amadai in NY, I found this “remarriage” is quite brilliant.
This dish seems to me, a case-study of French meaty omnivorousness. I found it interesting but not particularly impressive.
Came with the veau the famous smashed potato—my favorite side dish chez robuchon, but this time, I surprisingly missed it out. Unlike its usual ethereal texture, this version of Puree was apparently thicker and denser. However, I loved it immensely.
After I grabbed the last drop in the bowl, my server came to ask if I’d like to have another one, thousands of YES if my stomach is as big as my eyes.
Le parfum des îles
The only perfect ending of a fairy tale is “happily ever after”. Since this is not only an ending, but also an opening for a possible sequel. This was the feeling brought to me by Le parfum des îles—upon the underlying bed of granite infused by Rhum, within a white landscape of coco nuts cremes, nestled a pinky raspberry tuile, and pink raspberry flower. Light, dreamful, delicate, each wandering seemed in the cloud, while each bite was a sheer pleasure.
My charming neighbor, a spanish girl with beautiful curly hair, teased me that: I would feel guilty if I eat such a cuddly sweetie. Soon, a same dish came to her table: aha, it’s your turn to feel guilty.