Food and Food: Las Vegas and Travels14 Jun 2009 11:21 pm

I was alone in Las Vegas for two nights, and decided to visit another restaurant by myself. I made the reservation, knowing that if I did not, I would chicken out.

So for 7:30 pm on a Wednesday evening, I reserved dinner for one at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion at the MGM Hotel. I have walked by the doors and peeked at the menu so many times on other visits, I have lost count.

The restaurant is one of a select few in North America to receive three Michelin stars for 2009.

Joël Robuchon

JR

The doors opened, and I entered. I assume I was the only solo diner that night making me easy to recognize, and the hostess addressed me by name as I entered. She was so quick to do so, in fact, that I lamented not being able to take in the room and bar a bit more first.

JR @ the Mansion is located in the corner of the sprawling MGM casino. Look beyond the smoking slot machine players and the crowds gathering for the next showing of Cirque du Soleil’s “KA”, and you will see the peaceful entrance.

Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon

The room is intimate and cozy. A banquette divides the room, and a small side room holds a (live?) rose garden and living ivy wall. I believe the restaurant can hold 60 people, and on this night there were probably 20. So not very full, but still shockingly so considering the price of the average meal there.

I was seated on a the bench seat dividing the room, in between two couples. The room is done in rich, heavy fabrics in a deep royal purple colour, with silver accented Lalique vases and black furniture. It was designed to mimic a feeling of being in 1930s Paris and feels very luxurious and opulent.

From the photos I have seen of the room, the colour accents change with the season. For spring, coral red seemed to be favoured, and was featured in the fresh flowers, coral shaped accents and decor, bringing a pop of colour.

On the banquette, silver plate framed photographs line the top, highlighting celebrities that have dined at Joel Robuchon.

A large chandelier hangs above, and the entire dining room is bathed in warm, subdued lighting.

Joël Robuchon

I asked for a glass of champagne when I sat down. Unlike Guy Savoy, they do not use a trolley to cart around the champagnes available by the glass, and I was limited to two varieties. I chose the Billecart rose. I will admit to being a bit nervous at dining alone, but knew the staff would take care of me. The champagne helped relax me even more.

However, within minutes of sitting down, the man in the couple dining to my left struck up a conversation.

“You must really love French food,” he said.

I replied to the positive, stating that I had also dined at Guy Savoy earlier in the week.

And so it began.

“Ohhhh, we were served by Guy Savoy himself!” he blurted out, as he poured more Cristal champagne for his wife. “We must have spent $10,000 that night there,” he went on.

They were Las Vegans, dining out in celebration of their 10th wedding anniversary. The husband spent more time talking to me than to his wife, and even sent over a course from the 16-course tasting menu they were having that night, claiming he was too stuffed.

I won’t say that it ruined my evening, but it did diminish some of the adult enjoyment I was hoping to gain from eating out on my own, with my own thoughts. He complained about being too full to enjoy the meal, then being too drunk.

I also found their name dropping and money discussion (and politics! imagine!) during dinner a bit distasteful. I was too timid to ask to be moved, however. In a dining room so small I did not want to risk offending anyone, or embarrassing the staff. I did find it odd the hostess chose to seat me next to a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary though. I would have been much happier next to the other fellow recent Bachelor of Science graduate out celebrating (awesome coincidence!) However, this was my own doing.

Robuchon is experimenting with lowered set prices on various meal configurations, from three courses up to six. I got the six-course option, which came with an amuse bouche, an appetizer, soup, seafood and meat course, cheese course and then dessert. I selected my own dishes for each course. My only regret was not being able to order the frog’s legs that Robuchon is so famous for.

A bread cart made a few rounds, but stopped after I refused bread with two courses. I suppose if I had asked, they might have brought some more. However, filling up on bread is a terrible idea, except when the bread is as good as it is here.

Joël Robuchon

The amuse bouche took some time to arrive, but finally came to the table on a holographic platter. It reminded me of a figure skating outfit I once had, infact.

The amuse was Os(s/c)etra caviar, over a hidden layer of three species of crab. I had a small saffron roll and a piece of carmelized onion bread from the bread cart. These were warmed before being brought to the table. The cart’s item stock was very similar to Guy Savoy’s. There were more rolls, however, and more softer items like milk breads. Again, a brick of butter imported from Brittany.

Joël Robuchon

Soup: Lettuce velouté with nutmeg and sweet onion foam. If you have ever read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, you surely remember all the times Charlie had to eat watered down, bland cabbage soup. Not far from it’s green cousin, lettuce soup has to sound like the stuff of nightmares, right?

It’s not.

There were lardons of ham sunk on the bottom, and the foam imparted an extraordinary texture to this surprisingly flavourful soup. The bowl arrived as a bowl of foam, which the veloute was then expertly poured into by the server. It was like a lettuce latte.

Unfortunately I did not take photos of the next course, which was the starter, which was sea scallop a la plancha with a sauce of kumquat and caviar. I remember the scallops being the star of the show, with little citrus added from the kumquat, and an abundance of caviar.

Joël Robuchon

Seafood course: this dish arrived in a beautiful presentation. It had a sort of glass halo around it, which held the bits of the lobster carapace within. It was lifted off to reveal this inside: Spiny lobster in a sake broth, with turnip and shiso sprouts.

The sake broth was salty and slightly alcoholic, and a light addition to the lobster. The most adorable baby turnips with greens attached were hidden beneath and offered the bite and crunch needed.

Joël Robuchon

Meat course: Braised veal cheeks with Thai herbs and green curry. Looking back, I had to make sure this was the course I got. I do not recall anything green curry-ish about it, but the lemongrass and strong memory of rich veal melting in my mouth tell another story. Small chunks of fine tofu accompanied the dish, which was the height of savoury. It was garnished with long stems of lemongrass which appeared to be taped to the serving dish beneath. Odd.

A side dish of pureed potatoes were lovingly spooned out by the server. They were not studded with black truffle as at Guy Savoy, however.

The diner next to me sent over his course of vegetables and couscous in Argan oil. Again, baby turnips and other vegetables were nestled in a delicious, if plain, couscous. Argan oil is supposedly an extremely rare oil…I remember it being smooth and faintly nutty, but not overwhelming.

Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon

Oh, jeez, cheese.

The cheese server was an expert recommender and my interactions with him were the highlight of my meal. When I said I couldn’t make my mind up on which brie I wanted to try, he gave me samples of both. (The triple cream was the best.) I also got a very alcoholic tasting (and smelly!) Époisses. It’s the runny one on the bottom, there.

Again, I had to summon the bread cart and was not offered anything unusual for the cheese course, unlike at Savoy. Cheese is delicious on its own, of course, but I wanted to see how a fruit bread or baguette changed it. 


Joël Robuchon

A perle of chou, Tahitian vanilla cream with fresh raspberry. The chou was quite awkward to eat in the bowl, and kept sliding all over the place.

The two couples celebrating were brought a special raspberry ice cream cake.  I don’t know where they are finding ripe raspberries this time of year, but I would love a hook up.

Joël Robuchon

A sorbet course. I chose the lemon, out of raspberry (again!) and chocolate.

Joël Robuchon

The mignardises trolley. There were over 30 treats on this thing. They didn’t even tell me what everything was and didn’t seem interested in listing them, so I just requested the raspberry macaron, meringue, cocoa dusted truffle and a chocolate bombe.

I asked for an earl grey tea to end my evening, which came with no sugar or cream, forcing me to ask for it.

Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon

This was the small dark garden room to the side. It smelled like a forest after a short rain on a warm day, green and moist with the faint scent of roses. I popped in after my meal to check it out.

Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon

As a parting gift, I received this beautifully wrapped present. Inside…an entire banana loaf, topped with gold dusted chocolate pieces and drizzled honey and glaze. I have to admit, I found this odd for a mainly tourist frequented restaurant. Maybe others had better appointed rooms or were staying in Las Vegas a few more nights and could enjoy it.

I ate a bit the next morning before checking out of the hotel. With no utensils in the room, I ate some of it with my bare hands. How crude. It was mostly just an average banana loaf, though.

So; was it worth it?

I remain undecided. Maybe I was tapped out on French food or high end restaurants. Maybe I set the bar too high. Perhaps if I had not been a solo diner my experience would have been different.

I won’t knock the cuisine, however. The food was great; imaginative, beautifully presented, well-executed and thoughtful. What I think fell short was the service.

It was all small things that sound absolutely ridiculous in hindsight so I won’t go into details. However, after experiencing service at Le Cirque and Savoy (click for my experiences at each), then having it at Joel Robuchon, I noticed the differences. Perhaps it is a difference of opinion. I know others enjoy that the service is non-intrusive, where you request things and the request is never denied, but I find I enjoy it when the staff anticipate my wants, sometimes before I even knew I had them. I’m a shy diner, what can I say?

I found the service mostly mechanical, lacking passion and excitement. Le Cirque and Guy Savoy made me want to go back to experience both the food and service again. They were both delightful, surprising and joyful to eat at, and I got the feeling that they wanted you to experience everything and try everything. Joel Robuchon left me wanting…it kind of felt soulless, actually.

In any case, I’m glad I went, for now I can share my experience, and know that I may never go again. There are too many restaurants in the world to return to one that charges that much and doesn’t leave me in a dreamlike trance thinking about every detail afterwards.

One Response to “Joël Robuchon at the Mansion”

  1. on 15 Jun 2009 at 7:51 pm H.Peter

    Dinner with a local……you experienced it all on this trip.

    Respect!