Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Joel Robuchon at The Mansion: The Ultimate Indulgence

Some people plan a Vegas trip around upcoming nuptials. Some plan it to celebrate the big 3-0 birthday. Others, like myself, plan it around one of the best dining experiences. We've been planning to reward ourselves for graduating from grad school with a fancy, extravagant dinner. The 16 course tasting menu at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas was top on the list but since I wasn't much of a Vegas-lover, it was hard to get motivated to plan the trip. Almost a year after graduation, we finally decided to make it happen.

Joel Robuchon is the renowned French chef who has garnered the most Michelin Stars in the world. His Vegas restaurant Joel Robuchon earned Michelin Three Stars, the maximum awarded. In a city where every chef opens an outpost yet many chefs never set foot in those restaurants let alone cook in them, it's good to see that this specific location earned high marks. The restaurant is so popular that the only reservations we could score a month in advance was the early bird 5.30pm time slot. In retrospect, this timing works best especially when you are embarking on the extensive tasting menu because the whole experience will last 3-4 hours.

Joel Robuchon is located in the lavish Mansion at MGM Grand. The restaurant arranged for a limo to pick us up from our hotel. For a moment, we felt like the high rollers that belonged at The Mansion.

You'll pass through the grand gates of the Mansion where a hostess will be waiting to greet you and escort you to the restaurant. When you walk through the marbled foyer with high ceilings and through the courtyard, you feel transported into a Tuscan villa.

The courtyard in the day.

The courtyard in the evening with all the pretty lights. This shot really doesn't seem to belong in the regular glitzy, gaudy Vegas scene. The Mansion houses about 30 villas, all overlooking the gorgeous patio. Rooms start at $5,000 a night.

We were seated in the dining room area at Joel Robuchon and were the second party in the room at the time. It did fill up quickly soon after. Guess Joel Robuchon is immune to the recession. There was also patio seating through the large french doors just off the dining room.

The theme of the decor appeared to be rose pink. A large chandelier graced the center of the room. The restaurant was elegant yet still seemed comfortable and approachable. Don't worry, for once I wasn't in my regular hoodie and flip flop gear. For Joel Robuchon, I busted out the dress and heels.

The table scape itself was beautiful, decorated with fresh pink flowers and a bird cage that housed faux butterflies were in line with the color scheme of the rest of the room.

The restaurant offers the Menu degustation, a few other less pricey and smaller prix fixe options as well as ala carte. We didn't even have to ponder about the menu options. Full tasting it was! After all, we didn't fly all the way to Vegas to *gasp* gamble. The menu degustation includes 13 courses, which at some point in time used to be 16 courses, which comprised of 12 courses + bread course + mignardises. But speaking from experience, that bread course will likely result in 2-3 courses in itself. Trust me. The full tasting costs $385 and might sound hefty, but I think is really something that every foodie should experience at least once in their lifetime. Also be sure to prep for dinner like I did. A light meal all day and a 6 mile run before dinner. It would be a pity if you filled up too soon prior to dinner or started counting calories at the table. After our waiter cleared the menus, they brought by customized menus with the name of our party printed on the top. I know it shouldn't mean much but I thought that was a nice touch. Very classy and served as a nice keepsake.

With a $385 menu, you'll need to find ways to save on alcohol, such as play rounds of blackjack to score free pre-dinner drinks at the casino. You can also be smart when selecting from the winelist. We were in the mood to start off the night with Champagne. There were only two Champagnes by the glass and the cheapest was $34 a glass. Thankfully they also served a half bottle of Tattinger that was priced at around $50. Since the half bottle yielded about four flutes, this was definitely the way to go. We also ordered a bottle of wine with dinner. Surprisingly, there were many good wine options in the $60-80 range.

My greatest weakness on wheels rolled over to us. Alas, the reputed bread cart. There was a total of 17 bread choices, and after sampling most of them, I can say with certainty that this was by far the most superior bread selection I've had in my life. And as a carboholic, I have much experience in this area, so take my word on it.

Fresh French butter was carved from a hunk of butter and served with sea salt.

The butter was soft and gratifying, although for the most part unnecessary as the bread selections were mostly moist and flavorful by themselves.

I wasn't lying when I said I was a carboholic. Below were some of my servings.

The selections included bacon baguette, milk brioche, olive pastry, cheese brioche and saffron bun. I think I must have had 4 plates in total, with the cheese brioche as my favorite.

It was tough to put down the bread but shortly after, our journey through the Tasting Menu started.

1) Le Caviar
Caviar on a fennel cream served as a surprise
What better way to start this epicurean experience than with this luxurious dish. When you opened up the caviar tin and broke through the precious black pearls, you come across the "surprise", which were huge chunks of fresh king crab. The fennel cream added a creaminess to the sweet crab mixture. The best part of course was the generous portion of caviar that topped the crab mixture. I tried to slowly savor every single roe which burst in my mouth and released a salty-fishy flavor.

2) Palette aux Saveurs Estivales
Tomato mozzarella gelee, basil and olive oil, almond blancmange with vegetable medley, chilled cilantro gazpacho
The trio started off with a sort of deconstructed caprese salad. The tomato wasn't juicy or firm but instead had more of a pureed texture. The blancmage was like a panna cotta, both in texture (silkiness) and flavor. The three dishes had a thoughtful succession from one dish to the other. If you started off with the tomato gelee, the dish was dominated by tomatoes. Tomatoes were present, although subtlety, in the panna cotta. You did taste the cilantro garnish on the panna cotta which transitioned to the cilantro gazpacho. I'm not a cilantro fan so I wasn't in love with the soup but I could tell that it had some good flavoring besides the cilantro.

3) L'Oeuf
Egg yolk and herb ravioli with spinach sprouts and morels
The ravioli was seasoned well with a runny yolk in the center. Runny yolks never get old. I really enjoyed this dish because it was rich and flavorful, yet rather simple with just a mushroom pairing. The quail egg on the side was for decoration.

4) La Grenouille
Crispy frog leg, garlic and parsley puree
This was the fancy version of finger food. The frog leg was breaded and fried, and looked like a chicken drumette. The tempura veggies were salted well and not greasy. Rose water was served alongside this dish to wash your fingers in.

The meat was combined with garlic and parsley, then the combo was breaded and fried. If you've never had frog legs before, the fried preparation is probably the best first try for you. I've never had frogs leg cooked this way. I've had it sauteed in French cuisine and stir fried in Asian dishes. The drumette was tender and yes, it tasted just like chicken.

5) Les Crustaces
Roasted lobster on cauliflower with green curry, herb flavored coral broth, uni on mashed potato with roasted coffee beans
The lobster was tasty from the curry flavoring and sat on a bed of creamy cauliflower puree topped with couscous. I love uni so I was glad to see this on the menu, even if it was only one part of a trio instead of its own dish. The coffee scarcely sprinkled on the uni added a bitterness that worked really well with the creamy and rich seafood essence of the sea urchin. The shrimp ball in broth was interesting and reminded me of a matzo ball.

6) Les Fevettes
Savory scented fava bean veloute with sweet onion foam
The veloute was warm and in a way, quite soothing after the heavy dishes that preceded. The green color was vibrant. It appears from the dishes that Joel Robuchon loves to play with colors and create dishes that are both appealing visually and in flavor.

7) Le Foie Gras
Duck foie gras in cabbage, bacon and spicy jus
Foie - another one of my favorite ingredients. Rich fatty foie was wrapped in a nice cabbage roulade, enclosed with buckwheat tuille and emulsion of foie, pancetta and mushroom. There were a lot of rich flavors going on in this dish. I thought the use of cabbage was a smart choice because it has a mild flavor and would not interfere with the foie gras, which was the star of the plate.

8) La Turbot
Pan fried turbot with a lemon grass emulsion and stewed baby leeks
So this was bound to happen! I forgot to take a photo of the turbot dish. I must have been so excited about the leeks that I got distracted. The fish was served with leeks, asparagus and tomatoes and topped with fried leeks. The sauce was flavorful and worked well against the light white fish.

9) Le veau
Sauteed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable taglierinis flavored with pesto
The veal was sou vide so it was tender and evenly cooked. I really enjoyed the spinach pasta which was so intricately woven together with basil. The spinach itself was not lacking in flavor and tasted like it had been cooked in chicken or vegetable broth.

10) Le Soja
Risotto of soybeans sprouts, lime zest and chives
This was a palate cleanser, between the sweet and savory courses. I liked the use of soybeans over rice in this risotto, however I did not care for the sprouts which had that undercooked sprout flavor.

So this marked the end of the savory courses and on to dessert! Surprisingly, I wasn't uncomfortably full at this point.

11) La Verveine
Light tangerine cream with lemon verbena sorbet
Cream and orange is always such a good combination. This tasted just like a creamsicle. I do love a creamsicle (I actually have them in my freezer at home). The candied kumquat was sour and a bit chewy.

I liked their choice of utensil.

12) Le Chocolat
Chocolate mousse sphere, passion fruit coulis
Even though I enjoyed the tangerine cream dessert, you gotta end dessert with rich, decadent chocolate. And this mousse sphere hit the spot. The mousse was mixed with creme fraiche with ganache at the bottom. The sphere was coated with a layer of passion fruit coulis which was a bit too sweet for my liking.

Coffee was in order, to keep us awake for the second leg of the night i.e. gambling and clubbing. We are in Vegas, after all.

Just when we were ready to pass out from the two dessert courses, our waiter brought by the mignardises cart. What a display. If you are a sweet lover, you will not be disapopinted because there are about 50 different options. I heard that you could pack some to-go if you were too full to consume this at the table, but IMO, this is the type of thing you should enjoy in a gorgeous setting such as the dining room at Joel Robuchon.

We selected about four items each and our waiter probably knew we were being too shy, so he loaded up the plate with some of his favorites. Some of the mignardises that we sampled were the chocolate macaron, canale, eclaire, a ferrero rocher looking truffle, strawberry cheesecake with white gold, pistachio chocolate and nougart, passionfruit ganache.

Love the imprint of the chocolate ganache. Also love the macro function on my new camera!

Lastly, a to-go box with marshmellows and a booklet with photographs of all the dishes on the tasting menu was presented with your check. Yes, that's the check that added up to a little over $1,100 including tax and tip for two persons. This included two tasting menus, a half bottle of Champagne and a bottle of Pouilly Fusse.

I would venture to say that the night was flawless, from the impeccable service which was attentive but yet not overbearing, to the food that was spot on. Every dish was flavorful without being over salted. The dishes were perfectly executed and there was nothing lacking in flavor. Each plate was gorgeously presented with vibrant colors and subtle decorative ingredients. Oh, and the bread and cheese carts. Two of the most impressive displays I have ever laid eyes on. Even though 13 courses might seem a bit of an overkill, I was not uncomfortably full at the end of the meal. It seemed like they paced the dishes well and were able to master the portions. We were definitely in less pain than after the 11-course menu at Ortolan.

I know this was an extremely indulgent dinner. Does anyone really need to spend that much in one sitting? Does anyone really need to be partaking in a 13 course meal? The answer is Yes. Joel Robuchon embodies everything that is elegant, perfection, precision, extravagance. When you decide to dine at Robuchon, you really have to go all the way. Yes, there is the 6 course menu as well, and there is also the less expensive sister restaurant L'Atelier (also at the MGM Grand) but when you've dropped the dough for a flight to Vegas plus hotel, and you don't waste much money on gambling or shopping, the 13 course tasting menu at Joel Robuchon will be that memorable dining experience that you will forever treasure, reminisce with your dining companions and maybe even make some of your friends jealous. And you'll feel like such a lucky gal, even if you didn't win at the blackjack table.

Hits: food especially the foie, caviar, ravioli, frog leg, bread cart, service, limo service
Misses: it's definitely not cheap
Rating: *****

Joel Robuchon at The Mansion
3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-7777


Daniel S. said...

Wow that is so awesome that you got to experience such a great meal. And congratulations on finishing grad school--you deserved the full tasting menu. Wonderful pictures--I'm drooling just looking at all the bread =). How long were at the restaurant? And how were those marshmallows? I think I would frame the booklet and hang on a wall :).

Diana said...

This was a complete delight to read. I feel like I was there experiencing every dish, every bread roll and every piece of chocolate with you. Hopefully some day I'll be able to write a similar post. You've sold me on the experience 100%!

stuffycheaks said...

Daniel - thanks!! It was a dinner to remember. Im glad the photos came out too! We were there for 3.5hrs. The marshmellows were good, I think we ate them after we got back from the club ;-)

Diana - Thanks!! Anytime you wanna indulge, let me know ;-)

Cookie Chomper said...

Now this is a meal..if you dont mind me asking, how much per person for the TM?

stuffycheaks said...

Hi cookie chomper. No worries! It was $385 for the tasting per person, without tax and tip, so it came up to about $560 per person after we factored in one bottle of wine and a half bottle of champagne. There was only two of us in our party.

Cookie Chomper said...

that's an Urasawa right there! thanks for the quick response. you're post was making me very excited!

stuffycheaks said...

I'm so glad I don't care for raw sashimi (except for uni and octopus) so I wont be tempted by urasawa! Thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

Holy cow, stuffy! You are my heroine! Amazing.

Gastronomer said...


I'd pay a pretty penny just for the bread cart and dessert cart. Wonder if that's a possibility... ;-)

stuffycheaks said...

Heather - am I ur hero cuz I ate so much? haha

Gastronomer - Ain't it awesome? Once you go JR bread and dessert cart, its hard to go back...