Last Monday, Ms Pomme, Madame Colombe, her friend L2 and I called our inaugural “ladies who lunch” meeting into motion. While my group of lady friends loves food and the camaraderie around the dining table, we are neither encrusted in jewelry nor enrobed in fur, to wit, the “real” ladies of leisure. We are rather “ladies who lunch once a month”, and aim to dine in style without breaking the bank.
We started out with a bang at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon’s right bank branch, tucked away in the basement of the Publicisdrugstore building right by the Arc de Triompe. Anyone with a peripheral interest in the realm of haute cuisine knows who Joel Robuchon is. After all, with 2 dozen eponymous establishments around the world and 26 Michelin stars, he is one of the most successful celebrity chefs right now. While L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is more casual than most haute cuisine temples, its counter seating model a shocker when it was first introduced, meals here do not come cheaply, and one can easily drop hundreds on a single dinner. However, for my frugal kindred spirits, a three course lunch from a simplified menu costs only 37E, comparable to the menus at many less distinguished neighborhood bistros. Even though the lunch menu is devoid of pricey items like truffles, foie gras and caviar, this is still a veritable steal.
Instead of sitting along the highly polished counter, we opted to sit in the quiet dining room to facilitate conversation and the passing of plates. We ordered a large swath of the lunch menu and found everything very good, particularly the starters. The Zephyr au Fromage was as advertised, a gentle cheesy breeze, light as air and unctuous without being cloying, the flan-like souffle containing barely-there filaments of comté. In its more luxurious iterations, the souffle is sometimes covered with truffles. That said, I don’t miss the fungus with cauliflower and savory chorizo bits providing crunch and spicy notes to my dish.
Of the two well received soups (Potiron and Daikon), it was the radish soup that was the more interesting. For one, we were expecting the soup to be a clear bouillon Asian-style, and were surprised by how creamy it was. The peppery flavor of daikon is offset beautifully by the mild sweetness of beets and a drizzle of olive oil.
The fish dishes that we tasted, both the mackerel entrée and the seabass plat, were competently cooked and seasoned, though the toppings of Mediterranean vegetables on both dishes were repetitive and not very interesting. The quenelle of smoky eggplant purée did not disappoint however.
Blanquette de veau seemed too traditional a dish for L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, but here, the standard brasserie dish is souped up with ultra-soft veal that melts in the mouth and a lighter-than-most cream sauce. The poppy-seed flecked rice however was unnecessary in light of the fact that each of us were served a small bowl of Robuchon’s famous potato purée that uses an outrageous 2:1 potato and butter ratio to get it to that rich, sticky, sinful state.
After finishing the hefty savory dishes, we were glad to find the desserts small and manageable.
The warm, toasty chestnut flavors were evident both in the slightly-sweeten ice-cream and the Mont-blanc studded with cooked chestnut bits.
The sorbets were excellent, the pear flavored sorbet tasting as crisp and sugary as the fruit atop an eggy custard and dark chocolate sauce. In fact, P (keeping us girls company) thought the chocolate was a distraction to his enjoyment of the sorbet.
The passion fruit sorbet was deliciously tart, and the pairing with the mango mousse was one that transported us, albeit for only a short while, away from Paris’s deep freeze to warmer, more exotic climes.
The meal was not without fault. The ingredients, as mentioned above, were limited to less expensive options; the bread and butter were mundane; and service was underwhelming for a 2-star restaurant. But to us, it was a success, and as we wound down our meal, we began discussing future lunch plans, eager to conquer more Parisian restaurants together. Therefore stay tuned to further adventures of “the ladies who lunch once a month”!
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Etoile)
Address: 133 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008, Paris