L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel
Has anyone eaten at this restaurant in Arles? I'm trying to decide how much effort to make to have a meal there.
I'll post my full (and lengthy) review along with photos tonight.
Suffice it to say that this was a unique dining experience, a bit theatrical and mostly tasty. For dinner, you only get the 14 course, 65 Euro menu (a smaller, 45 Euro menu is served at lunch). Some of the dishes were incredible, some fell short.
Six of the courses were desserts and that proved to be too many.
They emphasized that the desserts were presented to range from salty to sweet.
A lengthy treatise on each course was presented by the waiters.
Although this was a fascinating experience and some of the dishes were marvellous, I am not sure I would rush back. Again, I'll put up a more lengthy review tonight...I tried to take notes on each dish presented and have photos of each.
OK, guys...here goes: my report on my recent visit to L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles.
First, let me apologize in advance if my account of each course falls short of being complete:
the dishes came out fast and furious mid-meal and I found it easier to eat than to write.
Having read in several publications about M. Rabanel, his illustrious history and his philosophy of giving fresh, local ingredients his touch, we were anxious to try L'Atelier.
We booked our table at least five weeks in advance (via email). My request was in French, the reply in English. We were asked to reconfirm by any method about five days before our reservations. After arriving in nearby St. Martin de Crau, we realized that our party would be larger than anticipated, owing to the enthusiasm for Monsieur Rabanel among our host family. They then phoned (one day in advance) and requested a larger table and were cheerfully accomodated. We were asked whether we wanted to sit outdoors or in and chose an outdoor table. This proved to be a wise choice, as inside diners reported the dining room was uncomfortably hot.
The restaurant is located at 7, rue des Carmes, a smallish side street lined with shops and apartments. Easily accessible from the center of town or from parking spaces on the periphery of town, several signs point in the direction of the restaurant. The outdoor seating was literally in the middle of the narrow street. A few times during our meal, the sound of a neighbor's television could be heard, passing scooters could be heard and diners from other restaurants, some of whom obviously enjoyed their wine, passed through.
The storefront of the restaurant features a flat-screen monitor, showing all the action in the kitchen. I counted at least seven staff at any time in the kitchen. Owing to its small size, the kitchen necessitated a careful ballet as staff members prepared dishes and handed the off to servers.
The evening menu is 65 Euros and consists of 15 courses (could I be off by one or two? it's entirely possible) served tapas style. Each table was served by more than one server.
Dishes were presented with a flourish, along with a narrative of what we were getting.
So, here goes. Be aware, the menu changes regularly, according to the market.
But several of the dishes mentioned below are recurring themes throughout the year.
--Salsify served with two sauces along with a tomato cappucino
--Sardines and asparagus on toast, dressed with creme d'amandes and fleur de sel
--Contraire-nems de loup de mer avec citron et gigembre (Nems being the French term for eggrolls; contraire nems being like inside-out eggrolls. Loup de mer is a variety of sea bass)
--Fleurs des courgettes, coquilles/palourdes (clams and mussels) with ratatouille
--Yogurt of mascarpone, yellow peppers, spinach bread with a vegetable chip confetti (the confetti literally tossed onto our plates by servers)
--Parmesan cracker, confit of tomatoes and raviolis in a bouillon of sweet citrus
--Artichokes in light onion emulsion
--Wild salmon, potatoes in a mousse containing grilled sesame seeds
--Red Mediterranean Tuna with haricots verts en coco (the meat eaters got lamb)
--a selection of cheeses, including a brebis from the Basque region served with a citrus confiture
and now the desserts:
--patate douce (not exactly sweet potato) glacee with coconut
--tiramisu of framboise, rhubarb, lime in a sabayon containing roasted sunflower seeds
--ice creams: basil, lemon, mint
--roasted apricot with rosemary
I count 15 courses. I think the salad should be considered part of the cheese course and therefore I must have missed one dessert.
What were the most satisfying dishes: certainly the tomato cappucino (served with a straw!!), the reverse dim sum and the sardines. Of the desserts, I think the ice creams were most welcome, particularly since some members of our party were young folk and they were ready for something familiar. The tiramisu was also excellent.
Did anything fall short? Some thought the "main course" of tuna was a bit of a letdown after the creative preparations of the dishes that preceded it. The mascarpone yogurt garnered less than enthusiastic responses, as well.
Any overall flaws? Yes...the desserts were too much. After nine or ten courses, did we really need so many desserts? I think not. But desserts were a concept, being presented more rapidly than the earlier courses, following an explanation that the philosophy of the desserts was to go from salty to sweet.
A comment on the wine list: there were a generous number of wines hailing from the region, including the Cote d'Aix en Provence, Cote de Luberon, Cote de Provence. We chose a cassis blanc, priced at 42 Euros. It was crisp and had enough fruit to linger but not to overtake the meal. We finished our first bottle early on, but experienced a considerable delay in getting our second bottle. The service was otherwise fine. The narrative was given in French, but I heard servers narrating in English to other guests nearby.
L'Atelier is certainly worth a try. It is a concept restaurant and I have a feeling it is a concept in evolution. It's not exactly a relaxing meal: you've got a constant flow of servers clearing plates and bringing new plates, conversation is, of necessity, interrupted by the narrative from the servers. And then there's the price: 65 Euros translates to nearly USD90 at current rates of exchange. With wine and a bottle or two of water, that's $200 a couple.
We walked away full and comparing notes on which dish was whose favorite. But two weeks later, few of the dishes remain memorable. I'd certainly like to hear from others, but I give L'atelier 3 toques out of 4.
Photos to follow. Maybe a few more in a separate posting.
re: Oakland Barb
We had a wonderful lunch here the last Sunday in July. We also had the 15-course tasting, and it remains one of the highlights of a fantastic 15 days in France. We dined outside, and although the tables were filled, we enjoyed a 2 1/2 hour leisurely experience. The service was perfect -- attentive but not hovering, and the courses were perfectly timed, we never felt at all rushed. It is obvious why this is called an "atelier" and not a "restaurant," each dish was a work of art, but not fussy or pretentious, just creative, beautiful and delicious. At the end of the meal, we asked to be introduced to the chef, and he couldn't have been more gracious or charming.
We drove to Arles from Aix-en-Provence, and it was so worth it. Arles is an adorable town, and we stopped at Les Beaux on the way back (great idea to walk off the meal!)
One of the nicest things about this meal is that although there were 15 courses, we really didn't leave feeling over-full. Everything is based on the vegetables from his garden, and each dish is so light that we didn't leave in pain :-) And the server kindly asked if we wanted the cheese course, this was the one time we skipped it, and it served us well.
Definitely reserve by email, and you might want to write it to Muriel, who was so great in our email exchange. I didn't know until I was there that she's actually Rabanel's wife.
Have a wonderful time!
Well... we're home. And I have to say, less than underwhelmed!
This was a very strange dining experience.
The day we chose for lunch was overcast, but the restaurant was still serving outdoors. I guess I hadn't quite pictured it as "in the street" as it was. We had someone move into an apartment around us (quite literally) and an older woman fall as she tried to negotiate the tiny area between the tables and the high curb.
It rained, but there wasn't room for everyone indoors so the umbrellas overhead were pushed together, more sucessfully for some of us than others (we were lucky). The table next to ours was constantly dripped on, mid-table.
I'm aware this isn't the food (that in a minute), but it does give a sense of the attitude we found.
Before we were asked the number of courses we would like, we were brought two. This also preceeded any inquiry about wine, water etc.
We wanted to begin with a glass of champagne. By the time we had it we were onto course three!
Not once during the meal was our silverwear changed. It became gooey and unpleasant and I was unhappy with being handed it from my plate time and again so that when the main course arrived, I asked for a replacement. The waiter was not happy.
This same waiter was bent on timing the outdoor section of the restaurant so that we all ate together, no matter when we arrived or how many courses we'd chosen. Perhaps this was due to the way the kitchen worked but it resulted in a huge rush at the beginning and a great slow down toward the end as more people had arrived and needed to "catch up".
On to the food.
We just weren't impressed! I really, really wish we had been. There were some courses that were so overwhelmed by a single flavor as to be inedible i.e. cliantro or ginger.
I had specified that I am allergic to mushrooms and yet they arrived in two courses, including my main.
The deserts went virtually uneaten. Things just had an "off" taste!
And, honestly, if I never go to another restaurant where they attempt to throw vegtable confetti at me, it's OK with me!
We actually started out photographing the courses but gave up once we realized a) we didn't care for the food, b) the wait staff was less than wonderful and c) the table was an awful mess from the silverware and the confetti!
Oh- and I got stuck in the bathroom! It was awful! They have some sort of wonky catch and the thought of this being my "last supper" was just too much!
re: Oakland Barb
Wow...I am so sorry about your experience there. One wonders whether M. Rabanel was absent or otherwise out of it. As my review stated, this restaurant isn't for everyone and not every dish was a success, but we certainly enjoyed excellent, attentive service, clean silver and 80 percent of the dishes. My biggest complaint was that there were simply too many dessert courses. We noticed that several guests had to be coached on the workings of the bathroom door. Did you ever consider speaking up: the dirty silver and the mushroom episodes are unforgivable. For what you were paying, you deserved much, much better.
I hope the rest of your trip was more successful. Let us know of any good dining experiences you had.
M. Rabanel was front and center!
I completely agree about the possibility of liking some dishes more than others, and there were a few we really enjoyed, a fresh sardine (not something I'd usually eat) on a sable being one.
My husband was furious about the mushrooms and asked me to speak up. I was not in a "confrontational" mood and it just didn't seem worth the effort. They were large enough to miss. Unfortunately this happened to me three times, this being the first. A least I speak a little French. In Spain and Italy it was more complicated!
I've posted another review of two wonderful restaurants we ate in while in Antibes (and one not so good). I will post a review of a similar meal to Rabanel, Comerc 24, in Barcelona, where the food was uniformly outstanding!
Thanks so much for the very thorough review that gave us a good idea what this restaurant could be like on it's good days!
my husband, daughter and I ate there oct 20,2007.this is an atelier not a restaurant with the works of art being mainly that,inedible,passe and declasse!of the sixteen offerings three were acceptable,the rest awful.the servers,except for the sommelier were rude and unhelpful.there were only three main course choices.we chose the lamb,which was fatty,and salty and the salmon which was inedible,overcooked and very salty.the chef was totally disinterested in any comments we had.we would definitly not reccommend this as an experience to have in provence,much rather go to christian etienne in avignon.
JLR has opened a casual bistro a few steps from his Atelier, serving tapas, small plates and wine by the glass. Prices are modest (tapas are 6 Euros average, wine by the glass is 2E50). Anxious to hear from recent visitors if their experience at the bistro, called "A Cote" is any better than the atelier.
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