If there were a high-end French chain restaurant, Joël Robuchon’s empire would be it. From Taipei to Las Vegas, Robuchon’s outlets have perfected what many foreigners have come to regard as contemporary French cuisine (though ironically he draws on Japanese simplicity as inspiration). A mentor to chefs like Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay, Robuchon aimed to pare down the excess of French cuisine, and offers modern menu items like dorade carpaccio and king crab and avocado salad. The décor is a blatant rejection of tradition as well: Etoile (and L’Atelier Saint-Germain, across town) are a sleek shade of black with bright accent colors.
The problem is that once a restaurant becomes a chain—from Tom Colicchio’s Craft to Charlie Palmer’s Aureole—the quality inevitably declines because the chef is not on-site, not overseeing, not instilling fear in the cooks. One meal at Paris’s Passage 53 or Frederic Simonin, where the extraordinary chefs are at the helm every day, will convince you of the difference. Not that Robuchon’s food is bad; it’s just not winning the race on this trip.
We were originally meant to dine at the older L’Atelier Saint-Germain across town, but our delayed flight due to snow in Europe caused half of us to miss the reservation. My two brothers and their wives, who had flown in on schedule, reported a disappointing meal there, not so much for the food but for the rude service. The chef laughed out loud when my sister-in-law asked if they could accommodate a nut allergy and the server was less than helpful in making alternative menu suggestions. They felt the tasting menu was well overpriced at 150 Euros each, and the stilted service certainly didn’t help matters.
So it was with a light suit of armor that we approached Robuchon’s three-week-old Etoile. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s on the tourist-blanketed Champs-Élysées and they have steeled themselves for an onslaught of foreigners, but the three gentlemen who waited on our group of eight—all lined up at the bar, Tokyo-style—could not have been more lovely. In fact, they were downright hilarious. Playful insults ensued over England and Italy; they joked that the multitude of accents in written French are “meaningless and just for show,” and the word for “married” in French is “prison.” We opened more wine, and ordered à la carte.
A popular amuse-bouche at most of the restaurants we visited: foie gras topped with a Port reduction and Parmesan foam. Heavenly, indeed.
Dorade carpaccio with lemon, microchive, and pimentón. This was my brother’s. I had a bite and immediately ordered my own.
King crab salad with burrata, avocado, and black truffle
Jamón ibérico, among other accents, on the bar
Chicken broth with foie gras ravioli, Japanese mushrooms, cabbage, and black truffle
Black cod with Japanese flavors. I think I forgot to take notes on this one because it was painfully oversalted.
Presenting the herb-stuffed roasted chicken
The plated roasted chicken with black truffles and (not pictured) a side of truffle-cream penne pasta
Simple baby lamb chops and (not pictured) a side of signature half-butter mashed potatoes
Refreshing: Stilton, Granny Smith apple, walnut, and endive salad
Caramel soufflé that had a slight marshmallow consistency, not necessarily in a bad way
Petit fours be damned; they served us freshly baked (still warm) madeleines—nice touch.
Other Paris restaurant reviews:
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret
Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?
Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent
Christmas dinner at Le Cinq
Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma
Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?