Ever since my last visit to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei, I couldn't stop thinking about my meal there. In fact, for a while, I found myself a little jaded and unimpressed by meals elsewhere. Nothing I ate could live up to the same level of execution or deliciousness. I got a little worried. Of course, in time I got over this and reminded myself of the importance of "eating something for what it is." I can't always expect to get perfection in a meal.
Thus, one of the first things I did upon arriving in Taipei, was begin composing an email to Chef Suga, letting him know I was back in town and ready for another meal at L'Atelier. Since my family and I had already experienced the Menu Decouverte, and my dad had revisited multiple times afterwards, we wanted something different and new. I asked Chef Suga if we could have the honor of him creating a special menu just for us, and to my delight, he agreed to do so.
What we received was an inspired menu composed of à la carte menu items and some of Chef Suga's newest creations that haven't even made it on the menu yet. As a result, there was no printed menu for referencing. Therefore, the description and titles given to these dishes are what I managed to deduce from the description given in Chinese by the servers. In a nutshell, I made these names up. Just trust me when I say, everything was absolutely delicious.
Also, these photos can't even begin to do these plates justice. Keep in mind I was still pretty jet lagged and, as the meal progressed, more than slightly tipsy off our bottles of champagne and wine. The restaurant also seemed to have installed a new display in their bar area--a summer seascape scene consisting of white pepper sand, star anise, and dyed pieces of edible fungus for anemone. Cute, but unfortunately it was either fluorescently lit or LED lit because it affected the quality of my photos. I find them a little overexposed :(
We began with the usual spectacular L'Atelier bread basket. This time, however, we had a different amuse. From what I understand, this is a very classic Robuchon amuse--consisting of a foie gras mousse, port wine gelée, and parmesan cheese foam. Served in a little shot glass, one little spoonful of this warm concoction was luxuriously rich and creamy. Definitely left me wanting more--which is exactly what you want in an amuse.
Ossetra caviar and sea urchin in a tender consomée jelly with cauliflower cream
The sweet, creamy sea urchin suspended in what tasted like a seafood consomée was only elevated by the salty bursts of caviar. All together, not only a beautiful dish to look at--with its perfectly spaced, micro-piped green dots--but also a light flavorful start to the meal.
fresh tomato, capellini angel hair pasta, dried mullet fish roe
This was the first of Chef Suga's creations we had that night. It was unlike any other pasta dish I've ever had. I watched at he put an immersion blender to a bright red sauce, as he had a taste of it with a plastic spoon, tossed the spoon, slightly wrinkled his eyebrows, sprinkled a little of what I assumed to be salt, and immersion blended it again. I watched as he carefully wound a mound of long thin strands of pasta around a fork and laid it on a plate. It was only later, with my first bite, that I realized this pasta dish was delightfully cold. The bright red sauce tasted like a sauce of fresh tomatoes--uncooked. The pasta was just al dente and the amaebi shrimp sweet and supple. The crowning touch--salty slivers of dried mullet fish roe from Taiwan.
white asparagus, San Daniele ham, summer truffles
The thick, meaty pieces of tender white asparagus bathed in a light, creamy sauce were enough to make me swoon. Add in the paper thin slices of salty proscuitto and fragrant summer truffles from France and I was powerless to stop the silly grin spreading across my face.
foie gras, baby arugula, apple purée
Eel, foie gras, apple, arugula--the same exact ingredients found in this dish I had at a Hatchi BreadBar dinner except this time, it was executed a million times better. Thus, this dish, to me, was the perfect example of how the same ingredients can either work harmoniously or fall short of perfection. Needless to say, the ingredients in Chef Suga's version worked together so harmoniously, they could've been singing Handel's Messiah. This dish also represented an exercise in restraint and subtlety. While the unctuous foie gras and oily eel needed the sweet, tart contrast of the apple purée, it was only sweet enough to serve it's purpose. Taken with a bite of foie, eel, and bitter arugula, the purée didn't scream apple, but it was enough to balance the bite.
LE SAINT PIERRE
steamed pomfret with clam jus sautéed leeks and seaweed butter
Another beautifully plated dish--served underneath a porcelain dome so that when lifted, the wonderful aroma of the briny clam broth hits your senses. The vibrant, colorful vegetables cooked in the clam broth were not only appealing to look at, but also cooked perfectly. The steamed pomfret was amazingly tender and flakey--a perfect blank canvas for the flavors of the broth and other garnishes such as the lightly fragrant celery leaves, salty bits of olive, and what I assumed to be a piece of sweet roasted red bell pepper.
spice roasted duck breast with sautéed ginger leeks
I believe this dish is on the à la carte menu, though I'm not completely sure the description is of what I ate. There were indeed slices of duck breast and leeks, but were they "ginger leeks?" Not sure. All I know is, this is probably my favorite preparation of duck breast EVER. I always order duck if it's on the menu, but I've never had duck this tender at such a beautiful medium rare temperature. I watched, appalled, as my mom took the skin off her pieces of duck breast. Deliciously spiced, and slightly sweet, the skin was one of the best parts! The leeks I didn't love because, in general, I don't love leeks. The turnips were surprisingly pleasant, though I was too absorbed in the duck breast to really appreciate their presence. Finally, I will say, I actually enjoyed the pomme purée a lot more this time. I still couldn't finish it though--it was just too much butter on my conscience.
peach liquor granita, wild strawberries, peach
A refreshing pre-dessert, I liked this preparation a lot more than the one I had last time. The peach liquor granita was fragrantly boozy, with the strawberries and chunks of peach probably also having absorbed a good amount of this liquor. Topped off with a sprinkling of what I can only deduce to be freshly cracked black pepper, it was definitely a nice shot glass of palate cleanser in preparation for MORE dessert :)
grapefruit segments, grapefruit foam, milk ice cream, basil mint sorbet
This dessert is best described in one word: refreshing. Served in a decently-sized glass cup, the bottom layer was composed of a gelée of Taiwanese yuzu--comparable to the flavor of a Southern California Oro Blanco grapefruit. Inside the gelée, there were segmented pieces of fresh grapefruit. The combination of grapefruit, basil, mint, and milk worked surprisingly well. This is one dessert that, while satisfying, won't weigh you down.
saffron honey mousse, violet, wild strawberries, lychee, port gelée, pomegranate, vanilla sauce, milk ice cream.
Although I've had a similar dessert from this L'Atelier, I still can't surpress the excited squeal that escapes my mouth every time I see one of these sugar spheres. I just can't resist the crackly, crunchy sugar shards that intermingle with the creamy mousse and fresh fruits once you break open the perfect sphere. The quenelle of cold milky ice cream is just as welcome as always, and the pieces of port gelée added not only a different texture, but a deeper flavor component. My happiness in devouring this sugar sphere hit a climax when I chanced upon the pieces of fresh, fragrant lychee fruit.
Outside the beautiful Bellavita that houses L'Atelier here in Taipei with my wonderful parents. I'm so lucky they love food almost as much as I love food!
All in all, another wonderful experience at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei. I can't imagine a fantastic meal more suitable for the humid, summer heat currently enveloping the city of Taipei. The progression of cold plates to hot plates could not have been handled more expertly, and we left the meal feeling full and satisfied but also feeling light and lifted. Chef Suga's newest dishes (denoted with an *) were not only creative, but also executed perfectly--not an easy feat. Anyone can be creative, but only some are skillful enough to realize their creations.