Over the last few years the Las Vegas culinary scene has become more than cheap all you can eat buffets and $2 steak dinners, with celebrity chefs opening restaurants all along the strip and turning Vegas into a culinary destination. The vanguard of the fine dining places is Joël Robuchon, a classic french restaurant at the MGM Grand, is the namesake restaurant of acclaimed French chef Joël Robuchon. Chef Robuchon has been awarded the most Michelin Guide stars of any chef, 28 in total and his Las Vegas restaurants “Joël Robuchon” and “L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon” provide four stars towards his total. Mrs. Nom and I ate at Chef Robuchon’s “L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon” in 2010, and found the small plate restaurant to be amazing (and at the time the best meal we had ever eaten!) We vowed for our next trip we would go try the next level and have dinner at Robuchon, a classic formal French restaurant which regularly appears on lists of Vegas’s top restaurants, but also on national lists.
On our next trip in early 2011, Mrs. Nom and I found our way to Robuchon where we shied away from eating the famous 16 course degustation and settled for the six course prix fix menu. Our dinner that night introduced us to a new level of dining experience, impeccable service, artistic dishes and re-imaginings of classic french cuisine. When we finished we only regretted chickening out from going for the full 16 course service.
Fast forward to our latest trip, and we have our entire evening devoted to Robuchon ready to go for the gusto, no matter what was on the menu (we had a pretty good idea, as Robuchon does an excellent job keeping their website updated with the latest menus.) We were staying at Aria, and were sure to enjoy one of the coolest perks of dining at Robuchon, the limo ride! Robuchon will send one of the famed gold MGM Grand limos to pick you up from your hotel if you are not staying at MGM Grand. Our limo arrived right on time, and took us to the MGM Grand Mansion entrance, a private porte cochere for the ultra high end and very exclusive section of MGM Grand. We were met by one of the hostesses of Robuchon, who gave us a quick walking tour of the Mansion on our way to the restaurant. Upon arrival at the restaurant, we were greeted by the Maitre d’ by name and escorted to our table, beautifully decorated in rich seasonal golds (we were there just before Christmas.)
Before we were even seated, the intricate choreography of service starts, as the table is moved aside so that Mrs. Nom can easily take her seat, and a small bench/table is placed next to our table for Mrs. Nom’s purse (and my camera.) Without delay, our server quickly welcomed us, handing us menus and the wine list and inquiring about our choice of water, still, sparkling or mineral. As we already knew we were going for the full 16 course degustation, we were able to spend more time with the extensive wine list, which in reality is more like a wine book, with well over 50 pages of wine. Our server quickly departed to get our meal entered, while another server cleared the initial table setting and prepared our table for the first course. Small details are incredibly important at Robuchon, be it a individually painted plates or having a specialty silverware for a specific course, and watching the staff quickly and efficiently perform their duties so that the dining experience is flawless is like watching a finely tuned machine.
One of my favorite parts of dining at Robuchon is the bread cart, which arrives overflowing with 16 different varieties artfully arrayed. Our server described each type, detailing the flavors and getting our mouths watering with anticipation of fresh baked bread. When we have finished making our selections, a server takes them back to the kitchen to be warmed before serving the breads to you. Accompanying the bread cart is a butter cart, featuring a huge chunk of fine French salted with sea salt, creamy and smooth with a rich fatty sweetness and a hint of sweet grass. The butter is matched with the different types of breads offered, as on our previous visit the butter was from England and was sweeter than the French variety. Mrs. Nom only tried two types of bread, a milk bread and a sourdough roll. I however could not resist the bread cart and in the interest of completeness for the review, I managed to try all 16 varieties. My personal favorites were the bacon baguette and the milk bread, but I did not like the mini baguette, as it was dry and was the only bread I did not finish.
As we were enjoying the bread, our Amuse Bouche was served, La Pomme Verte, a sweet green apple foam above a chilled layer of tart ruby red grapefruit gelee with creamy avocado pieces. Fresh mint sprinkled on top of the foam gives a cool bite that pairs well with the avocado. Served over a bowl of liquid nitrogen with an orchid floating in the bottom which is revealed as you eat the amuse bouche. Our wine arrived, a slightly sweet white from Washington, which Sommelier Harley Carbery said was an excellent selection with our menu and would pair perfectly with the amuse bouche.
Our next course was the Le Foie Gras, a Carpaccio of Foie Gras and potatoes, covered with white truffle shavings. The foie gras was shaved from the lobe forming deliciously buttery rolls that melted away in your mouth. The potatoes were beautifully cooked, fork tender with a tangy mustard sauce, fresh micro chives and garlic shoots. White truffle shavings finish the dish with a nice earthiness that adds to the luxurious feel of the dish.
We had finished our foie gras when Mrs. Nom commented that that she was disappointed that we had missed out on the caviar amuse bouche served with the 6 course menu, when our third course arrived, Le Caviar par Robuchon. All thoughts of disappointment were swept away when we saw the trio of caviar dishes that were set before us.
The first dish, red turnip and carrot leaves with yellowtail carpaccio, featured a thin slice of Yellowtail tuna atop slightly sweet and tangy red turnips and carrots. Fresh radish gave a spicy slightly bitter bite that complimented the saltiness of caviar. The tangy flavors were reminiscent of ceviche.
The second caviar dish featured Salmon tartar with shiso sprouts. The salmon tartar was creamy with a deep brininess from the caviar. A small floret of red shiso added a spicy herbal heat and a rich purple color. The spicy dish was a nice counter to the sweet tang of the first caviar dish.
The final caviar dish was a Chilled Cauliflower Cream, a beautiful pool of chilled cauliflower cream with a beef gelee and caviar in middle. Surrounding the caviar, edible flower petals and drops of olive oil give a splash of color to the white cream. The cauliflower, creamy and cool, picked up a depth from the beef gelee and helped smooth the heat from the tartar dish. The three dishes combined to take us on a luxurious journey across the palate.
Our fourth course, La Noix de Saint Jacques, came plated on a large gold rimmed white plate with a solitary seared sea scallop surrounded by a golden kumquat and fennel foam. Atop the scallop is a kumquat marmalade and small delicate basil flowers. The scallop is perfectly cooked, delicate and buttery with a crisp seared crust. The kumquat chunks in the marmalade are soft and slightly chewy, similar to the fruit found in a good preserve.
Following the scallops, another trio course is served, Les Champignons or Mushrooms Three Ways, served on a large black charger. Our server instructed us eat the dish starting with the dish closest to us, and proceeding clockwise around the platter.
The first mushroom course, had a large grilled Matsutake over a Daikon ravioli with white truffle and capers, had a meaty earthy flavor that was awakened by the tang of the capers. The Daikon ravioli was perfectly al dente, with a slightly spicy filling from the Daikon.
The second mushroom dish was Porcini ham Royale with parsley emulsion served in a Japanese white porcelain soup bowl. A vibrant green soup, made of pureed porcini mushrooms and fresh parsley, was pleasantly salty and herbaceous, while surprisingly thick like a cream of mushroom soup. Atop the soup, thin “noodles” of crispy ham, similar in texture to bacon, form a sweet and salty tangle and a satisfying crunch to the emulsion.
Our final mushroom dish was a steaming cup of ginger-matsutake tea. Fresh chives, parsley and gold flake float on top, while whole chunks of mushrooms sit just beneath the broth like surface. Brewed with matsutake mushrooms, the tea picked up a deep earthy body, with a fragrant bouquet of ginger and chives. The notes of parsley and the chunks of matsutake mushrooms brought this course full circle.
The sixth course, Le Homard, rice vinegar roasted lobster on crushed potatoes, arrived beautifully plated with colorful pieces of sea urchin, chiles and bean sprouts. A sauce made of clarified butter and lobster broth was drizzled over the dish. The classic lobster and butter combination was taken to a higher level with the inclusion of the sea urchin. The crushed potato base was reminiscent of a pilaf, with a rich deep flavor.
Our next course arrived with our server commenting that the plate can double as an old 33 RPM record (see the picture!) The dish, Le Kabocha, was a delicate kabocha pumpkin veloute served over a foie gras custard with a ginger foam in the middle. The veloute is creamy and sweet, with the ginger foam providing asian flavors to the dish. The foie gras custard has a texture similar to a poached egg, rich and buttery, giving the veloute a smooth meaty depth. Roasted kabocha seeds are arrayed around the foam, giving a nutty crunch that pairs well with the richness of the foie gras.
The eighth course, Le Bar, a pan fried sea bass served on a ver jus sauce and 5 spice. The sea bass is pan fried, delicately tender with a crisp seared skin. The oil dark sauce of verjus (made from the juice of unripened sour grapes) and 5 spice was sour with a bitter bite. The sour sauce cuts the richness of the fish and again shows the Japanese influences that Robuchon mixes into the traditional French cuisine. I found this dish to be good, but this was Mrs. Nom’s least liked dish of the evening.
Following the sea bass, our ninth course, Le Veau, a sautéed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable taglierinis was served. The veal was delicate, finely grained and sauteed to a perfect medium. The meat was sauced only the natural jus, shows off the fine quality of the veal. The natural jus was silky smooth with a full meaty flavor, elegantly simple. A tangled curl of vegetable taglierini (a thin type of egg noodle,) was grassy and fresh and al dente. Small edible flower blossoms added a bright splash of color. The accompanying pesto sauce was nutty and garlicky, and a nice counterpart to the veal. Roasted garlic cloves and fresh rosemary perfumed the dish, engaging the the senses and pulling the elements of the dish together.
Our tenth course, L’Epeautre – Sault Farrow prepared risotto style, might have been the most ostentatious yet simple presentation of the evening A simple risotto made from farro (a type of wheat similar to barley) has flakes of gold leaf and white truffle sprinkled liberally across the top. The farro risotto, rougher and more rustic feeling than a rice risotto, has a nutty quality to it that held up to the pungent white truffles. The gold leaf adds nothing to the flavor, but the flash from the flake makes the dish look as rich as the flavor.
We now moved into the sweet portion of the dinner, and we once again utilized the amazing sommelier service, looking to find a nice wine to pair with the dessert courses. The sommelier service at Robuchon is exceptional (and required with that extensive wine list) as at any point they may have two or three sommelier walking on the floor, assisting with the service and helping in the lounge area. Head Sommelier Harley Carbery was assisting a large party, so a second sommelier assisted us in selecting two dessert wines, a French sauterne and a Hungarian Tokaji. Talking with the sommelier was a pleasure, as his passion and amazing range of knowledge was evident and engaging, and once we showed an interest in learning more about the differences in the various wines he was happy to educate us. One of the recommendations he had for us was a Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, a sweet amber colored wine with notes of citrus, honey and the unique sweetness of sun dried grapes. Our recommended selection was Sauterne 2eme’ Cru, Chateau Lamothe Guignard, a sweet well balanced French wine with hints of apricot and citrus.
As the sommelier was finishing up, our first desert course arrived, L’orange, a light pecan coffee cake topped with caramel infused orange segments surrounding a yuzu ice cream. Yuzu (sour Asian citrus) fruit sections served as a foundation for an arch of pulled sugar. The pecan cake’s nutty toasted flavor provided a nice base for the interplay of sweet caramel oranges and the sour tanginess of the yuzu ice cream. The bright citrus flavors refreshed and opened our palettes and was a great start to the sweet courses.
Our next course, Le chocolate, was served, a whimsical presentation, with large fluff of bright yellow banana cotton candy supporting a dish of dark chocolate ganache flavored with fresh mango. A scoop of refreshing passion fruit and banana sorbet cuts the rich bitterness of the dark chocolate. The banana cotton candy melted away with a fruity sweet burst, an unexpected item to find at a restaurant like Robuchon.
Our last dessert course was a selection of treats from the dessert cart. Like the earlier bread cart, the dessert cart has a huge selection of petit fours, candies and pastries artfully displayed. Our main server Jen, rattled off the list of more than twenty selections, detailing ingredients and techniques used in the making of each. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for the food was evident throughout the meal, but she really shined when it came to dessert, as in her words “Dessert is my weakness!” After Mrs. Nom and I had made our selections, she noticed that our tray of desserts was not even, so Jen teasingly goaded us into adding a few of her favorites to make sure “the pictures would look good, as after all a good review is the best publicity you can get!” She also said that since I had tried the entire bread cart I should try to do the entire dessert cart as well, but I had to humbly pass as I wanted to not be in a food coma after dinner!
Our selection of desserts consisted of cherry cheesecake, dark chocolate macaron, white chocolate pistachio chew, a white chocolate crunch, strawberry cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake, salted caramel chew and a pear gelee. The dark chocolate used in the desserts was exquisite, semisweet and rich, the dark flavors balancing the sweetness of the desserts. The cheesecake petit fours had fresh fruit and fresh fruit compote fillings, the smooth chilled fillings oozing out when we bit into them. The pear gelee was one of our favorites, filled with pear liquor and candied ginger pieces exploded in your mouth when it hit your tounge. The caramel chew had a deep creamy caramel flavor with a hint of salt, enhancing the sweetness and making the caramel incredibly satisfying.
A French meal is not complete without coffee, and Robuchon being a fine French restaurant does coffee service with flair. Robuchon offers your choice of espresso, cappuccino, or cafe’. I chose the cafe service, which arrived immediately after our last bit of dessert was finished. A french press with a rich dark french roast, a bowl of brown and white sugar lumps, and a small china pitcher of cream. The cafe’ was a perfect end to the meal, rich and intensely flavorful. For the folks who don’t do coffee, Robuchon also offers a tea service. Mrs. Nom was in the mood for tea, and as my cafe’ arrived the tea cart was rolled over to the table. The tea cart featuring fresh herbs and a variety of teas allowed Mrs. Nom to pick a special unique blend of teas for her after dinner tea.
After we had finished our Cafe’, we were presented with the Chef’s Gift, a bag containing two full sized bars of dark chocolate embossed with Joël Robuchon and flecks of purple and gold. Also in the bag, we were given a personalized Menu Degustation, showing the courses we had enjoyed. The gift varies, depending on the whims of the chef, as in our previous visit we had recieved a full loaf of sweet bread with fresh jams and the menus. It is a nice finishing touch to the dining experience, as we were whisked away in the limo to return to Aria.
Joël Robuchon at the Mansion – MGM Grand Las Vegas
Service: 5/5 – Honestly maybe 10 points should be given here, the service on both of our visits was nothing short of perfect.
Food Quality: 5/5
Value: 4.5/5 – Your wallet is gonna hurt after this one, but hey sometimes you just have to go enjoy the experience!
Overall: 5/5 – Joël Robuchon is one of those restaurants that is worth making a special trip to visit. I can not understate the level of service and attention to detail, the way the staff makes your dining experience one of the finest you will ever have. The innovative takes on classic French dishes, elegantly and artistic, were some of the finest dishes Mrs. Nom and I have ever enjoyed. If you are making the trip to Las Vegas and want to experience one of the finest restaurants in the United States, definitely put Robuchon on your agenda!
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