L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in St. Germain, Paris is one of the world’s most highly-rated restaurants. They rated #13 last year and come in at #24 in the 2013 rankings, which came out today. No less than Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert have stopped by recently, in their case to film a segment for AB’s “No Reservations.”
In addition to being highly-regarded, it’s also riotously fun, with seating organized around the open kitchen, a fun, smart staff and whimsical takes on French classics (with, say, gyoza thrown in just for kicks). And yes, it’s dizzyingly expensive as well but hey, you only live once. We went all-in during our time in Paris last June: tasting menu, paired wines, the whole nine yards. And because it was such an unstuffy atmosphere – seriously, there was a stroller in there, and 5 year-olds bellied up to the bar – I felt relatively undouchey about taking pictures of the food. Yeah, the food…
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Everything was excellent – really, really great. But a few transcended “holy crap that’s awesome” territory and will be forever-remembered. The gyoza dish and the foie gras-stuffed quail fit that bill for me. But there was still one course that did even better. Mrs. SMEs and I agreed that the seared duck foie gras (“Le Foie Gras de canard chaud,” or the fourth course) was the single greatest thing we’ve ever tasted. Rich yet balanced, classic but playful, it was a jaw-dropper. Nearly a year later I can recall the tart cherry reduction cutting the fatty foie; the crunchy greens and julienned apple playing off the creamy duck liver. From concept to execution, it was just perfect in every possible way.