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Jan 12, 2008 08:36 PM

Disappointing L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Experience

L'atelier is a mediocre restaurant, and bad for its price. It's located in the Four Seasons hotel, and clearly tries hard to be contemporaneous and hip: overhead lights pieced together as squares whose sides are triangle-ended rectangular towers; large blackish gray plates with stripes down part of them; translucent red glasses; pickled vegetables swimming in large jars fronting an open kitchen. I sat at the counter, which looks right into the kitchen. I asked if they could accommodate vegetarians, and they pointed me to their single appetizer (a slow-roasted vegetable & buffalo mozzarella dish) and entree (spaghetti, parmesan, and poached egg w/optional black truffles). I asked if the chef could make anything different, and the answer came back no.

The bread basket was decent, consisting of baguettes, rolls, and olive focaccio. The baguette was a little too tough. The slow-roasted vegetable dish was well-made, though nothing special (though I liked the flavor of the tomato confit). The spaghetti dish was not particularly memorable. I'm certainly glad I didn't opt for black truffles, which would have upped the price of the dish from $35 to a somewhat absurd $160.

Service was fine, though the server did not seem to make much effort to even attempt to get me the special dish I requested nor was he particularly put-out when he couldn't. So mark one off for that.

Nothing to see here, folks. I won't be going back.

The Vegetarian New Yorker:

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  1. Shiv
    It doesn't really sound as though your experience was all that bad. It sounds as though you chose a restaurant that did not have a menu geared toward the non carnivore Diner and were disappointed that they would not prepare something 'off menu' for you.Granted, it would have been nice, but it's not the wait staff's job to be "put out" on your behalf.
    Going forward, If something like that happens again, ask to speak with the Mgr and see if he/she can acommodate your request for "something different."

    1. If you have a restrictive diet of any kind, such as vegetarian, or even if you're just a picky eater, then do yourself a favor and check out the options AHEAD OF TIME before you go to a restaurant. Going there blindly and expecting the kitchen to cook off the menu is unfair to the staff.

      Now if you think the options they did offer weren't very good, then fine. But don't "mark one off" for the kitchen not cooking off the menu (or for your server not being desperately apologetic that they wouldn't do so).

      1. Tay and wax: good points, but I should mention that I did call ahead of time and the person who took my call assured me that they could accommodate vegetarians. Also, I'm measuring my experience against other restaurants of this caliber/price range (Jean-Georges, Daniel, Per Se, Gramercy Tavern), all of which have very good vegetarian options (in JG's case, they cooked something off-menu, but it was excellent).

        But even the on-menu vegetarian options L'A had and that I ate were not particularly great. If they had been, it would have been a different story.

        12 Replies
        1. re: shivohum


          Just a question for you. When you go to all the other upscales restaurants that you mentioned (JG, Daniel, Per Se, etc.), did you order the tasting menu?

          1. re: kobetobiko

            I had tastings in all cases except JG (all three of the others have vegetarian tasting menus). I might have gone with a vegetarian tasting at L'A if they had had one!

            L'A could have taken Eleven Madison Park's approach. EMP flat out says that they *cannot* accommodate vegetarians unless they've been warned a day or two in advance. Fair enough (and they've got an excellent brunch, so I'm willing to give them advance notice for dinner sometime). Anyway, the biggest problem was that the dishes that L'A had were just not that good.

            1. re: shivohum

              Hi shivohum,

              If you think about it, the other restaurants already have vegetarian menu set up, so of course they can prepare something delicious as they probably put a lot of thoughts to create the vegetarian menus. I am not sure how you phrased your question to L'A when you placed the call, but there were indeed very few, like 2 or 3 among a long list of other items that are vegetable-only. I assumed you have seen their menu online or somewhere before that this is not a menu catered to vegetarians, nor do they have a vegetarian tasting menu. It might have been a miscommunication on the part of the person who took the call (and that person might not know that the chefs could not change the menu).

              When you had the dinner at the restaurant, the waiter did tell you that they couldn't change the dishes and cook something off the menu. This was the same as EMP right? The waiter in the restaurant did tell you about the restrictions. May be you did not like the vegetarian dishes that you had, but it seemed unfair to say a restaurant is mediocre just by trying very few of the dishes (and happened to be the dishes that they weren't even known for). This is almost like going to say Keens or Peter Lugers and complaint about their salad. Granted, if they put the dish on the menu, it should not be bad. But I won't say Keens or Peter Luger is a mediocre restaurant just because their salad is bad.

              To be fair, I will say it was L'A's fault to have misinformed you about the vegetarian option availabilty. However, this only means that their service is not perfect. I won't say L'A is a mediocre restaurant just because of this reason.

              1. re: kobetobiko

                Hrm. I guess I just expect that really high-end places, unless they're explicitly carnivorous (like Luger's) can do a good job with vegetarian food, especially if they say they can accommodate vegetarians.

                At EMP they told me they couldn't take a walk-in vegetarian even before I got a table and spent any money. So that's the difference.

                You're right that not every restaurant can be expected to have the selection that a restaurant with a vegetarian tasting menu would have. Ultimately, though, even if L'A couldn't accommodate me off-menu, the bigger issue was that what they did serve wasn't that great. You might claim that the stuff I tried is not what they're known for, but the appetizer I tried was the first item on their menu, and the spaghetti dish, if I had gotten it with black truffles, was the most expensive item on the menu. So I'm not sure they're so unimportant...

                Anyway, you're right that my perspective is biased. Maybe L'A's meat dishes are fantastic. But what can I say? I admit my vegetarianism very openly, and I can only judge restaurants based on what I can eat.

                1. re: shivohum

                  Not trying to justify whether L'A vegetarian dishes are good not or, but for the spagetti dish, it used to be served with Osetra caviar and now truffle. I haven't tried the truffle verison before, but for the version with caviar, it was the caviar that gave all the flavor to the dish. I imagine for the current option, it will be the truffle that would complete the flavor profile of the dish. Could the chef have seasoned the dish a bit better? Probably. Did you miss out a big component of the dish? Absolutely yes!

                  As for the mozzarella dish, I agreed with you that it wasn't something particular great. I had once and have never ordered again. But then, I didn't like vegetables in general.

                  My conclusion from your post? L'A is really not a restaurant for vegetarians....

              2. re: shivohum

                shiv - Yes, you REALLY want to go to EMP for vegetarian! My GF is a vegetarian and las time we went to EMP we gave them 2 days advance warning and said she would like a vegetarian tasting menu with courses to keep pace with my traditional tasting menu. The veg tasting was fantastic, GF still speak of it. One of her dishes was never tried before but they were so happy with how it turned out they were going to put it on the menu (I cannot remember the dish). Another incredible veg tasting can be had at Bouley and Daniel.

                From the outside looking in (I'm obviously not a vegetarian) I am shocked L'A couldn't do something for you. We have had very good luck with getting good kitchens to create something "on the fly", most of the time they kitchen seemed to like the challenge.

                1. re: shivohum

                  None of those places are known for being vegetarian--quite the contrary. If you're looking for top notch veggie food why wouldn't you go to someplace like Bachue or Hangawi?

              3. re: shivohum

                "Tay and wax: good points, but I should mention that I did call ahead of time and the person who took my call assured me that they could accommodate vegetarians"

                Knowing this would have made a difference, actually a BIG difference in my response to your original posting. If someone with whom you spoke assured you that they could acommodate your request for veg options then I completely agree with Spiritchaser and several other Posters: A kitchen as talented as the one at L'A could have, and should have, been up for the challenge. Again I say, if this occurs in the future, be sure to inform your Sever that you called ahead and were informed that dining preferences would be available. If the Server cannot assist you, ask for the Mgr and let him/her know that you made this inquiry when you made your reservation. Additionally you should always ask for the name of the person booking reservation/answering your questions so that in the event of any difficulty, you can say that you spoke with (fill in the blank). Granted, you shouldn't have to go through any of this, and it may cause you to never make a return visit to an establishment, but while you are there for that one will help you to have a better dining experience

                1. re: Tay

                  1- It sounded like they did have vegetarian options -- you just didn't like them.

                  2- I'm amazed how many restaurants don't bother to put a vegetarian option on the menu. That's just crazy to me.

                  3- Bouley does not offer a vegetarian tasting menu. (Unless they've started in the past few months). A friend of ours who is one complained about her "after-thought" veggie dishes there.

                  1. re: BW212

                    Give Bouley advanced notice and they will do a wonderful job of accomodating a vegetarian, nothing about my GF's vegetarian tasting menu was not thoughtful. Even the wine pairings were specific to her menu and based upon her comments, they were perfect. They even went so far as to have a printed menu made up for her.

                    I absolutely agree with your amazement of lack of vegetarian options at many fine dining restaurants.

                    1. re: Spiritchaser

                      The last time I was at Bouley, I did give them advance notice. My husband was then given four vegetable components from other dishes from the menu as a main dish. It was very much an afterthought. And our server was very cold and unfriendly.

                      1. re: BW212

                        I had lunch at Bouley last week - still working on posting my review - I found the service very professional and completely unobtrusive, which I actually appreciated.

              4. Not for nothing, but didn't you look at the menu before going? I'm sure a simple call beforehand could have arranged alternate accomodations, but to expect them to prepare something for you on the spot, well...this ain't Burger King. Not sure why a veggie would even go there in the first place--why would you pay that much for just vegtables?

                1 Reply
                1. re: erikka

                  oops, just saw that you did call ahead. I would have simply left if they hadn't honored advanced requests.

                2. I think you're overreaching.

                  I wouldn't knock the restaurant for not being able to accomodate vegetarians. I would knock the idiot who answered the phone for claiming they could accomodate one. This is sort of like me calling a vegetarian restaurant asking if they could accomodate a "meat eater" and being told "sure". They're thinking that they've got things I might like (e.g. vegetarian duck). Then, I show up and demand foie gras and pitch a fit when they won't go down the street to get some for me.

                  Personally, I LOVE the food at L'Atelier. It's one of my favorite restaurants in NYC.