Opinionated About Dining- Best Meal of 2009 survey

I received an e-mail from Steve Plotnicki of Opinionated About Dining a few weeks ago while I was traveling through India.  He was surveying various people in the food industry, and asking them all the same two questions:

1.  What was your best meal of 2009?

2.  Name the chef that showed the most potential in 2009?

Unfortunately, when I received the initial e-mail I was deathly sick from some unidentified virus and in the midst of receiving my painful initiation into Indian travel.  Yes, I know that everybody who goes to India gets sick at least once, but after surviving 7 healthy months in the deep African bush, I didn’t think that it would happen to me.  In any case, being asked such important heavy-weighted culinary questions during a 5-day vomiting marathon was pretty tough.  I take these questions seriously, and I wanted to give him my best answers.

I had many fantastic meals this year, but in the end it was L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, France.  There’s a reason why he’s been named ‘Chef of the Century’ and continues to expand his global empire.  His food is fantastic and flawless.  Nobody can argue with that.  Every dish was executed with perfection and grace, and there wasn’t a single dish that disappointed.  Egg cocotte with morel cream sauce was a divine masterpiece, grilled ribeye was dripping with flavorful juices and roasted beef marrow never tasted so luscious.  It was a magical evening of excellent food and wine in the trendy neighborhood of Saint Germain des Prés.  The evening ended with a crazy impromptu night tour through the deserted streets of Paris with a friendly taxi driver named Michel.  Gazing up at the enormous steel structure of the Tour Eiffel at 2AM, still drunk on Savigny-les-Beaune reds and high on the succulent veal liver with crispy onion rings, it now remains a happy memory that will always make me smile.

Egg cocotte with morel cream

As for chef showing the most potential?  I chose local celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre, as his 2 successful LudoBites events have created quite a sensation here in LA.   Unlike traditional restaurants, LudoBites is a temporary pop-up event held in other restaurants that are normally only open for breakfast and lunch.  It’s a new style of dining that completely breaks free from the traditional and stuffy molds of restaurant bureaucracy.  During the limited engagement events at both the Breadbar and Royal/T, I saw a very energetic and happy Ludo shine in an environment where he could be free to express himself and his creativity without being bound by any chains.  In true Ludo style, his food was bursting with radical flavors and concepts.  The rich and smoky chorizo soup, topped with a dollop of tangy cornichon sorbet and tempered by the sweetness of the juicy cantaloupe cubes, was epic.  Black foie gras croque monsieur, grill pressed to a perfect crispy exterior to contrast the buttery foie gras treasure inside, was inspirational with the cherry amaretto sauce.  Escargots got a break from their standard corkscrew coffins to bathe in a warm bowl of aromatic yellow ginger curry.  I really feel that these limited time pop-up restaurants are the next wave of the future.  It’s a fresh new way for chefs to express their ideas and inspirations, and it’s an exciting avenue for diners to experience novel flavors and menu concepts.  Chef Ludo, you have potentially started an incredible culinary trend- and for that, I named you for this survey.

Chorizo soup with cantaloupe and cornichon sorbet

Check out the interesting OAD Best Meal of the Year 2009 survey, and see what the other 75 participants, which include Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller and Jay Rayner, named in the survey.  This wonderful website is also a great reference for any of you gourmands looking for exceptional eats all over the world.

What was your best meal of 2009?

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon- Paris

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In the heart of trendy Saint Germain des Prés on the Left Bank in Paris stands the infamous L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant.  What better way to kick start my recent trip to Europe than to pay a visit to one of the world’s most famous chef’s establishments?  Joël Robuchon has almost become a household name, as he continues to build his global empire of Michelin starred restaurants.

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L’Atelier, unlike the more formal La Table, offers casual small plate dining with a sushi bar-like square counter from where diners can sit back and enjoy personalized interactive service with the sommelier and servers, and the theatrical excitement of the large open-air kitchen.  The modern and sexy interior of the restaurant is dimly lit with cherry red accents, and decorated with vivid displays of sliced, rolled and curled vegetables and fruits in geometric containers.

Our amuse bouche was a refreshing gazpacho with mustard ice cream.  An invigorating tart cocktail of fresh vegetables with a powerful jolt of creamy mustard sensation.  This dish slapped my taste buds and salivary glands wide awake and prepared me for the sensational meal to come.

Les Anchois frais marinés aux poivrons rouges grillésa perfectly vertical tower of marinated anchovies with grilled red peppers.  The perfect saltiness and acidity of the vinegar marinated anchovies, paired with the deep sweetness of the grilled peppers was the perfect way to start the meal.

L’ouef, cocotte et sa crème légère de morilles- egg cocotte with a morel mushroom cream sauce.  This is one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, and for good reason.  This is a whole egg, slow cooked at a low temperature to where the whites of the egg just barely set and the yellow yolk is runny and smooth.  It was elegantly served in a martini glass with foamed morel mushroom cream sauce and a whole plump earthy morel mushroom on top.  A decadent, rich and flavorful masterpiece that combines perfect cooking techniques with culinary innovation.

Le Bœuf en plat de côte effiloché, salade de haricots verts relevée à l’échalote et chips d’ail– shredded beef short rib with french green bean salad with shallots, garlic chips and arugula.  A wonderful combination of textures between the crispy garlic chips, firm haricot verts, tender beef and fresh greens.  A surprisingly light dish that was a delight to eat.

L’Os a Moelle relevé d’une pointe de moutarde à notre façon– a grilled slice of toasted rustic bread, generously slathered with beef bone marrow mixed with Orléans mustard ‘our way’, perfectly balanced on a beef bone pedestal and garnished with parsley, arugula and baby beet greens. The marrow was perfectly rich and plenteous, with the slight peppery contrast of the greens and the fleur de sel seasoning taming the fattiness just enough so it wasn’t too heavy.  This dish, my favorite of the evening, was so mindblowingly delicious that we ordered another.

Le Cochon de Lait en côtelletes à la marjolaine, jeunes oignons au jus– Suckling pork cutlets with marjoram and young onion jus.  The small pieces of pork cutlet were perfectly tender and juicy, and the marjoram added a deep earthy aroma.  The dish came with Robuchon’s signature potato purée, extremely rich in butter and milk, and so creamy and smooth that it melts immediately on your tongue.

Les spaghettis à notre façon- spaghetti ‘our way’, with a simple tomato, basil and olive sauce.  Although this dish was good by any other standards, it was the least memorable plate of the evening.  I was hoping for something extraordinary, given the big name behind this establishment, but I was immediately unimpressed and bored after the first bite.  This is around the time that I ordered more bone marrow.


Les Langoustines en papillotes croustillantes au basilic– crispy langoustine fritters with basil pesto.  Deep fried to a perfect light and crispy crunch, these moist and delicate langoustines balanced out our meat-dominant menu.

L’agneau de lait en côtelettes à la fleur de thym- milk-fed spring lamb cutlets with fresh thyme, again with Robuchon’s signature potatoes.  These young lamb cutlets were surprisingly delicate and light, unlike the more familiar gamey and mature version.

Le foie de veau aux rouelles d’oignon croustillantes et son jus acidulé- veal liver with deep fried crispy onion rings in a tart jus.   This was my second favorite dish of the evening, especially since I am a big lover of organ meats.  Juicy, tender and intensely flavorful, the foie’s innate robustness was balanced out with the acidity of the vinegar jus and crispy sweet onions.  This dish paired beautifully with our bottle of 2003 Savigny-les-Beaune Les Marconnets that the sommelier carefully chose for us.


Le Bœuf la noix d’entrecôte à la plancha et ses pommes de terres grenailles confites- grilled beef ribeye with baby potatoes.  This was one of the most tender and sensational cuts of steak I have ever had, overflowing with succulent meat juices and exquisite fatty flavor.  It was grilled a la plancha to a perfect medium rare, most fitting to show off the incredibly high quality of the meat.


Although we were quite full from our delicious feast, we could not resist ordering a full dessert  spread.  We were on a roll, the night was still young, and good Lord we were at Robuchon in Paris!

Le Chocolat Tendance, créme onctueuse au chocolat Araguani, sorbet cacao au biscuit Oréo- creamy Araguani chocolate cream, bitter chocolate sorbet with Oreo cookie crumbs.  A beautifully decorated piece of art very fitting with the general theme and decor of the modern restaurant, with rich chocolate sweetness.


Le Pamplemousse glacé et confit en gelée rose, chantilly légère au litchi- grapefruit confit with rose gelée and light lychee cream.  A delightfully refreshing cold dessert with subtle tart sweetness and a spring floral aroma.


La Chartreuse en soufflé chaud avec une crème glacée à la pistache- warm chartreuse yellow soufflé with pistachio ice cream.  A wonderful interplay of cold ice cream slowly melting like lava and soaking its nutty flavors into the depths of soft warm soufflé heaven.

La fraise gariguette et son sorbet citron-basilic, meringues crispy- glazed Gariguette strawberries with yuzu basil sorbet.  A mix of tart and sweet, light and rich, this was a delightful way to end the extraordinary meal.

IMG_5357I entered the doors of L’Atelier with high expectations, and I left with a big smile and a full belly.    From the impeccable service to the seductive decor, the succulent cuts of tender meats to the delightful desserts, it was a perfect Parisian dream come true.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Paris

5 Rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France
01 42 22 56 56

Random trivia:  The ostrich egg, with an average weight of 3.3 pounds, is not only the largest egg but also the largest living single cell (the yolk).