They walked in unison towards our section to present the next course. I’d been anticipating that first bite of the famous beef and foie gras burger for a while. The two gentlemen paused and looked at each other. With a quick acknowledging nod, they swiftly presented the burger up and over the counter, placing the dish directly in front of us.
And then one of the two burgers fell onto the countertop.
Stars and Staying Power
After a long four-year wait, Miami finally has its very own L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, an essential modern French cuisine concept. In our city’s culinary version of Monopoly, filling the world-renowned chef’s category, acquisitions continue growing rapidly: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, José Andrés, Daniel Boulud, Fabio Trabocchi, and Thomas Keller, to name a few. It’s not that we are new to the celebrity chef game. In the past, many have attempted a lengthy stay in Miami and quickly realized diners weren’t impressed with the heartless incarnations of their name-only ventures. Bringing us numerous successful concepts, Vongerichten and Andrés have always been the dedicated exception until now. Very much like in New York City, South Florida’s L’Atelier and Le Jardinier are relatively new simultaneous openings on the Miami Design District’s Paradise Plaza.
Our location is almost a replica of their other mostly Michelin-starred spots: two restaurants in Paris (2 ** each), Tokyo (**), Las Vegas, New York (**), Hong Kong (***), Taipei (*), Shanghai (**), and Montreal. The late Robuchon received 32 stars during his lifetime and is usually referred to as “the most Michelin-starred chef in the world” — a term the Michelin Guide itself scolds as incorrect (there is no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef ). Given the impact and magnitude of his success with his namesake restaurants, I think he should be the sole deserving recipient of that title.
Although he has been with the team from the beginning, Jackson Morrow (formerly at the Las Vegas location and Guy Savoy) has recently taken over as chef de cuisine, “I have been waiting for a few years for this location to open. I was highly anticipating the opportunity to move out here and be a part of the Miami team. As time got closer (culinary director), chef Christophe Bellanca called me and offered me a position here, so I accepted with no hesitation. The team is very happy to be here amongst great chefs and restaurants and to be a part of the growing food scene in the city. ”
South Florida has never had a shortage of impressively designed restaurants; this one is no exception. It’s what we do best, isn’t it? The pretty packaging? Equally beautiful, dark and sleek lacquered wood with exposed cherry wood grains, and signature pops of cherry red surround the open kitchen. Black leather placemats with their distinctive logo serve as neutral backdrops of the plates to come. Dramatic lighting shines directly on each place setting, offering them a well-deserved spotlight. The staff completes the look, donning on-brand black and red attire. A modern spiraling staircase connects L’Atelier with the downstairs Le Jardinier. Robuchon’s photo hangs on an otherwise bare wall, overlooking the kitchen: perhaps a reminder to execute as he would have and to honor his legacy. “His standards for quality, excellence, attitude, craftsmanship, and integrity are something that I carry with me every day in my personal life and in the kitchen,” says chef Morrow.
What about substance? I’m happy to report, they’ve got it. And more.
Unable to hold my excitement, I first dined on opening night. I figured there was no better way to follow its progress and watch the restaurant evolve. I sat on one of the (surprisingly comfortable) barstools and took in my surroundings. The collective nervous energy was palpable. Diners of all ages and backgrounds filed in throughout the night and joined the main event.
The counter format took some getting used to at first. Unlike a traditional omakase seating of six to eight diners, here, 34 counter seats make up the majority of the restaurant with a few tables for larger parties available behind them. With this setup, the expected formality of white-tablecloth fine dining disappears. A tall vitrine-style counter, with seasonal rotating decor inside, serves as a barrier between the diner and the kitchen. On the opposite side, an energetic team of at least six glide from side to side confidently taking orders, pouring water, opening wine, and serving course after course. The kitchen’s every move exposes itself behind them, making it nearly impossible to look away: organized chaos, art in motion.
Despite an undeniable sense of urgency, a wave of calmness washed over the kitchen team. Together, they worked showing incredible focus, restraint, and finesse. Was this really opening night? Morrow describes that evening using one word, “Intense!”
To date, I have tried the ambitious Evolution Tasting Menu twice (perfect for a first visit), and also enjoyed creating my own, ordering off the ever-changing a la carte menu. Ingredients have shifted with each visit based on seasonality. Setting the standard high from the very first bite, dinner usually begins with a luxurious classic amuse-bouche duo, the Foie Gras Royale, and Zucchini Espuma (and butternut squash on a separate occasion).
The signature bread course then arrives. While not as over-the-top as Las Vegas’ Joël Robuchon Restaurant (photographed above) where the bread service is out of an am-I-in-heaven rolling cart, believe me when I say it is not an afterthought. Perfectionist master baker Tetsuya Yamaguchi (20-year Robuchon protégé) and Miami head baker Melissa Catra continue the Robuchon bread tradition featuring the crisp mini-baguette, flaky escargot roll, and decadent comté cheese bread. And it will be hard to control yourself.
Their foie gras interpretations made the biggest impression: the classic LA CAILLE, Caramelized Free Range Quail & Foie Gras served with a small serving of the famous potato purée on the side and the Chilled Foie Gras (plum and rhubarb marmalade). It’s obvious much thought, skill, and experience have gone into both. That first taste of the tender quail stuffed with the rich foie and the touch of the caramelized sweetness changed me forever. I thought I knew, but I had no idea it would make me pause, fork down and all. What is happening? Why did I eat so much bread? How can such a seemingly simple dish be so powerful?
Back to the burger fall: listen, sh*t happens. I don’t care that it fell, and I am not above implementing the three-second rule. This is about the pursuit of perfection, attention to detail, and care about the diner having the ultimate journey from the time one enters the door. Honestly, it is really the only small mishap I have ever experienced there, and the recovery was impressively graceful. The kitchen became almost paralyzed. I swear I wanted to stand up and remind them that it wasn’t such a big deal. It’s just a burger; I will live if it takes a little longer to get a new one. Instead, orders were given (in French), and all hands appeared on deck to recover. Soon after that, a second plate arrived and triumphantly made its counter jump and descent to me.
I have both taken my wine to the restaurant ($75 corkage fee) and ordered off the wine list. Service by the sommeliers on staff has been equally professional each time, even assisting with the decanting of a special bottle hours before our arrival so that it would be ready to go by dinner time.
Miamians might be surprised to learn that the overall service at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is neither stuffy nor intimidating. The staff is incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to please.
- Park in the covered underground garage. Once there, take the elevator to the second level. The restaurant is on the opposite side of Kaido.
- Consider trying one of their tasting menus during the first visit. It takes the guessing out of the equation and allows you to sit back and enjoy the experience.
- Talk to the sommelier about a pairing or a by-the-glass option.
- Call or e-mail the restaurant if reserving for more than two guests. The system only reserves two diners at a time.
- If possible, plan for pre-dinner drinks downstairs at Le Jardinier before your dinner reservation. Then take the beautiful staircase upstairs to L’Atelier.
- Allow plenty of time to dine and not be rushed. This is not the spot in which to grab a quick bite and go.
L’ Atelier de Joël Robuchon
151 NE 41st St suite 235
Miami, FL 33137