When you laugh, the world laughs with you. When you dine alone at a three Michelin star restaurant, the world is cold. It started when I stepped in the limo, the sky unusually dark for a hot Vegas night. Sitting in the back, the car was familiar, tastefully gilded in a sea of black. Leg room and Fiji water for the taking. Silent. In traffic, I looked out onto the people, close enough to touch, and I knew they couldn’t see me watching. The dignity of lingering in the atrium, watching the lights go on and off in the villas at the private mansion entrance is offset by a gentle hand at your elbow as you are seated in the lounge. They expected a party of two and are modifying a table, a plush velvet banquette in purple and gold, very Deco Paris. You can ask women to do many things with you in Vegas, but none of them will accompany you to dinner. On the plus side, now you have more elbow room. It is my last evening in Las Vegas, and I am dining at Joël Robuchon.Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ is your only company for a brief moment, until two parties are bracketed next to you. The seating is perfect, a 180-degree view of the trolleys, full of bread, mignardises, cheese, coming by, the bottles of wine carefully tasted and poured, and the conversations. To my left, a man surely gunning for a threesome whose only charm came from his nostalgic love of old 80’s sci-fi films and two companions who were unfortunately born too late to share his enthusiasm. To my right, a neurosurgeon who didn’t drink and his petite, non-English speaking date, who carried the weight of a bottle of pink champagne on her lips. My stark silence enhanced my senses, my ability to listen and taste and see the expansive ceilings and verdant ivy greenery in the dining room in front of me.
Robuchon is one of ten three-starred restaurants in the country, housed at the sprawling MGM Grand at the end of the Strip. It carries the opulence of Vegas and, in some unfortunate cases, its company, but it is a quiet reprieve at the end of a long walk or a long weekend. With the complimentary limo service to and from the hotel, even the ride there feels like a sojourn away from the noise and racket. As tempted as I was by the $435, 16-course tasting menu, I opted for a more modest menu that included an amuse-bouche, a larger, dish, dessert, and mignardises, and tacked on the supplemental cheese trolley and a bottle of wine to drink.
It was difficult to get a feel for the service, as there was very little consistency to go on. My personal expectations for service are dependant on the company I am with- if I am alone, I prefer more interaction and conviviality. If I am with a guest, I crave silence and service so I can focus on my interactions. This differed from server to server- one spoke French with me for a charming while as he took my order and explained the menu, switching almost immediately when I uttered a cheerful ‘merci,’ yet another was entirely silent after calling me ‘sir’ (which wasn’t a problem for me!) and barely responded to my questions. The knowledge is precise and the servers are willing to speak, but occasionally stumble on more particular questions regarding sourcing, origin, and preparation of specific items.I started my meal with a bottle of 2004 Domaine D’Oustric Cuvée Leo, a blend of dark Carignan-forward grapes from Carcassone. While a basic wine, and tight as an 18-year old virgin for the first two hours, it was evocative in a special way for me as it reminded me of the cheap country wines I’d so deeply enjoyed in Paris. Despite its $35 price tag, it brought me back to that place in a pleasant way, and as the evening grew, so, too, did the pepper and sweet persistence of flavor and memory. It was most mellifluous with the nasturtium from the dessert as well as a remarkable Camembert from the cheese trolley.I indulged in a few selections from the bread cart- milk bread, tender and sweet, a saffron brioche, and a Comte baguette, each crusty and flavorful. The star of the cart was the beurre de Bretagne, shaved in thick curls off a massive block and served with a generous sprinkle of fleur de sel and Spanish olive oil.The amuse-bouche was delightful, housed in a double walled soup terrine. Verdant petit pois soup was dotted with fresh spring peas, roasted pistachios, and carefully garnished with thin slices of duck proscuitto and mint marshmallows with chili salt. Seasonally, this was a delightful reprieve from the hot desert heat and was well-balanced, though the richness of the duck was overwhelmed by the peas and the fresh herbaceous mint from the mallows, tender and airy.
Langoustine, lobster’s little cousin, served as the main course. Three perfect rondelles of tender crustacean, garnished with a lemongrass curry foam, grilled pineapple cubes, and matchsticks of peppers of all colors. The langoustine was tender and rich, absorbing the flavors of the lemongrass without losing any of its briny, ocean flavors. The peppers were mainly a visual amenity and did not add to the flavor, but the pineapple brightened the more lackluster elements of the dish, adding a charming sweetness to each bite.Served alongside were two scoops of the famed Robuchon potatoes, velvety and creamy. The presentation was the most irksome aspect of this as they were served on a flat china plate that made it almost impossible to scoop up bites without smearing it around the china, as the potatoes are very silky and viscous. Additionally, they were lukewarm. This gave the main course the feel of being served at a dining hall rather than a famed restaurant, as delicious as the potatoes were.Following my entree, I sipped my wine and enjoyed a few slices of baguette and awaited the cheese trolley. Due to the difficulty of acquiring cheese from overseas in the hot summer weather, the trolley had a combination of American and French cheeses. Some were more common- two California chevre, two Vermont brie and chevre, and a Roquefort, but the more esoteric ones were delicious. While the server was able to answer most questions as to the origin and producer of the cheeses, I was baffled to hear that some of the cheeses were simply ‘Vermont’ in origin with no allusion or answer to the producer, despite pressing. My plate included a tomme, a bucheron, a sheep’s milk camembert, a California red hawk brie, aged mimmolette, a comte, and a fourme d’ambert. Of the selection, the mimmolette and the sheep’s milk camembert were the most impressive, both paired more for their nostalgic, powerful tie to memories of Europe rather than idiosyncracy. My swooning was noticeable enough to warrant an extra plate of gooey camembert, boozy and overwhelmingly thick, pungently infused with all the scents of the barnyard alongside thick-cut baguette slices and more butter to enjoy. The remainder were satisfying, but ultimately did not match the grandeur of the bread and mignardises cart, which were complimentary to boot.Dessert was refreshing- ‘les herbes,’ featuring a chartreuse sabayon, mixed herb sorbet, and a praline crisp on the bottom, topped with a green tuile cookie and a nasturtium flower. While the flavors were beautifully synchronized, the temperatures made for a rocky start. The sabayon was fluffy and calm at room temperature, with a pleasant, boozy bite, but the sorbet was rock hard and exceptionally cold as if it had been dipped in liquid nitrogen. The coldness of each bite totally overwhelmed the delicacy of the sabayon and I had to wait at least ten minutes before it was at a reasonable enough temperature to enjoy. The nasturtium was delightful alongside the wine, bolstering the floral flavors and sharp cracked pepperiness.I was most impressed with the mignardises trolley. I’ve seen larger and more expansive in my life, and the number and selection seems to vary at times at this restaurant. Personally, this was easily the most precise and well-executed. Other reviews have shown that the servers only allow five mignardises per person, but I must have been well-dressed and lucky as they gave me my unlimited pick of the litter. This was the most stirring of the entrees as the inch-tall opera cakes and religieuses, miniature half-shell macaron ladybugs, and translucent sugar candies really pushed Paris to the forefront of my mind. Each was perfect, an explosion of coffee, a perfect choux pastry, and delicate textures in the macarons. A vanilla caramel, pineapple lollipop, Mexican spiced truffle, and appropriately dice-sized pâtes de fruit were equally tasty. A tiny red velvet cupcake was whimsical, doll-sized in appearance, but dreadfully difficult to extract with drunk hands, so I recommend sticking to the French desserts. I also received a made-to-order baba au rhum, which beat out Pierre Hermé’s baba easily- so soaked with rum that it bled onto the tablecloth, with a fierce, spiced cream and delicate cake.
The bill came to $218 before the tip- this included the wine, $35, the cheese trolley, $30, and the meal. I was surprised that after I asked for tap and house water in two different languages I still received a $10 bottle of Evian. However, given the extravagance of the meal, as well as the limousine service, I did not find this unreasonable. It had the quality of a ‘once in a lifetime’ meal without the price tag. Given what the average person spends in Vegas, I found this relatively accessible. I received a candied citrus pound cake as a parting gift, which I ate for breakfast, as well as a copy of the menu.It stormed on the way home and the sealed limo was suffused with the scent of smoke and heat once the door was open. We took the long way back, past the Rio and the Hard Rock and winding around Sahara before lingering at a light near Bonanza’s Naughty Town and the rain pounded on the limousine as I sat in the backseat. Left with little but the sound of my own breath and the weather all around me, I wandered back into the hotel and fell asleep. Robuchon is a pleasure, Hedonism 201, but somberly enjoyed without compaignon, another set of hands to break bread alongside.