Friday, February 16, 2007


If there's one thing you need to know about GrasGuy it's that, while I am a foodie, I am not food snob. In all honesty I can't afford to be. Sometimes a double cheeseburger is just as appealing as Foie Gras seared in a sherry-honey reduction.

So, when I heard the new L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon was serving burgers on it's menu, I knew I had to have one for my birthday dinner. When I heard they were Foie Gras burgers, I cursed my mother's womb for expelling me two weeks late. But, the wait would be worth it...and then some.

Not wanting to ruin the surprise, I hadn't read too much detail about the restaurant or the menu, putting my faith in the "once greatest chef in the world's" reputation to deliver on all the promises that title should, in theory at least, be good for. Judging a comeback chef by their cover is often a disappointment, but Mr. Robuchon's recent renaissance has been so well-received I figured that I could take the chance this time. I'm glad that I did.

Along with the burgers, the first surprise of the evening was to find over half a dozen dishes featuring Foie Gras in some form or another spread among the many small plates, appetizers, and entrees on offer. The revolution continues!

The burgers being one of the small plates, I supported them with a dish of Foie Gras stuffed quail. I would've ordered more, but the prices aren't exactly burger joint low and I didn't want to push my wife's credit card over the limit - we are expecting a new addition to the family any day now.

That being the case, I literally was at a loss for words when I was presented with surprise number two - an amuse bouche of Foie Gras mousse under a layer of port wine reduction and a Parmesan cheese foam served in a double shot glass. Eaten with a spoon - a bit to thick to do as a shooter, but, believe me, I wanted to - the flavors and textures were perfect. The port wine reduction adding just the right amount of bite to the delicate mouse and oddly mild Parmesan foam.

Having kept myself as blind as possible to the makeup of the burgers, I had absolutely no idea what they would be like. Described as "hangar steak and Foie Gras", I imagined the two ground together in a Salisbury steak like combination - the Foie Gras just adding a hint of its flavor to the overwhelming beef. As it turns out, the dish was a double double. Two tiny burgers - about half the size of a typical "slider" - each with a beef patty topped by a slice of seared Foie Gras and a few strands of caramelized peppers, all on the prettiest little glazed hamburger buns I've never seen before. While the Foie Gras was perfect, the hangar steak patties were what really amazed. I've had few full-sized burgers that were as juicy as these and - although they were cooked right in front of me in an open kitchen - whatever magic pulled off this feat in such a small piece of meat is beyond me. Of course French fries with a capital "F" are served on the side, and while they are very good, they are very ordinary. What can you do to a potato? You can put ginseng in the ketchup, that's what you could do. Although this Asian flavor might seem out of place on this otherwise very western dish, somehow it works. It works well.

I can't recall ever having three courses of Fois Gras in one sitting and there was definite concern that plate number three would disappoint through repetition. If this were a set menu with the dishes designed to compliment each other, I'd have been less worried, but I made my choices in a Foie Gras frenzy, so while I waited I was experiencing a bout of order remorse. It was unfounded.

The quail came in four small pieces. Two unstuffed legs and two breasts caramelized and stuffed with a Foie Gras puree. When you put two birds in one dish you're always tempting a "what's the point?" response , but while the quail itself in this dish was nothing to get excited about, the Fois Gras was powerful enough - almost like an aged cheese - to add both a different flavor accent and texture to the experience that it made the black truffle potatoes served on the side seem bland in comparison - though they certainly were not.

Was it the best meal I've ever had? To be sure it was one of them, coming up short only in the dessert department - I hardly remember what we had - which was a particular disappointment considering that Kazutoshi Narita is in charge of the pastries (I should have asked if he also did the hamburger buns, which were good enough to make up for this.)

Will I go back? With dishes like Alsatian Pastrami with Potato Salad and Foie Gras as well as Smoked Foie Gras Layered with Caramelised Eel waiting to be tried - it's likely, though let's see how my 401k does this year.

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