Joël Robuchon: My introduction to the refined world of luxury fine dining

In 2014, Evan Kleiman took a road trip to Las Vegas with Jonathan Gold. The highlight of the trip by far was an opulent dinner at Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand: the most luxurious meal she had ever experienced up until that point. In honor of the legendary French chef Joël Robuchon who passed away this week, we’re resharing Evan’s 2014 reflection on that unforgettable meal.

Photo by Charles Platiau/Reuters.
 Editors note: This was originally published in 2014 and we’re reposting it to remember Joël Robuchon.

I can remember the shocked look on Jonathan Gold’s face as I sat on the purple velvet sofa at Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand. He had just heard my stunning confession: that I had never eaten at a super refined palace of fine dining.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the why. Why had I avoided the uber-refined dining experience for so long? A big part of it had to be that I grew up a red diaper baby. Which meant that participating in such extravagance simply felt uncomfortable. But finding myself in Vegas, the land of excess and indulgence, made it seem like the right time and place to experience stratospheric dining for the first time—especially with my esteemed colleagues Jonathan Gold and Gillian Ferguson (Editor’s note: In 2014, Ferguson was the managing producer of Good Food).

Wow. Just wow. I love food (obviously), but more than the food in and of itself, I love the story of food. I see now how dining at this level is as much about the narrative one creates for themselves as it is the edible vignettes presented to you throughout the meal.

The sheer luxury of the space was at first intimidating. It wasn’t stupidly luxurious—but the colors, the texture of the upholstery on which we sat, the quality of the linen napkins, and the art on the walls worked in tandem to offer you a choice. You can choose to sit in stiff defiance, or you can surrender to the comfort and care created for you, the diner. I surrendered as soon as I realized that the service staff was sweet, funny and dedicated to creating a space in which we would not feel intimidated. I wonder how many different personas they have to channel to create the same sense of comfort for the variety of people they encounter.

savory collage robuchon bright
The savory courses at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas.

But at Robuchon, it’s definitely about the food. I chose the vegetarian option because I was curious to see how my meal would be different than Jonathan and Gillian’s. Basically, it meant I ate a whole lot of black truffles and gold leaf instead of foie gras, langoustine, and A5 Wagyu Which was ok.

Fifteen courses of rich, finely textured food was hard for me to get through, so I’m grateful that my choices were marginally less filling. Like everyone who talks about the Robuchon experience, I have to mention the mind-blowing bread and butter that sets you up for the rest of the evening. I would have been content to forgo two or three courses for more of that.

Another highlight was the daikon soup, even though to say those words seems ridiculous. There was the fuchsia sweet beet amuse. I loved the surprise of the variety of tastes on the plate of scattered vegetables especially the radishes (dipped? wrapped? coated?) in green tinted butter. So simple and so complex, all at once. The food was extraordinary, but the true gift of the Robuchon dining experience is the cocoon of space created around you to encourage delight in your company and conversation.

dessert collage robuchon bright
The dessert courses at Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas.

And of course, there’s that crazy sick poundcake you find a couple days later as you rummage through the gift bag handed to that you were too comatose to explore. As you stand there in your pj’s in your disordered kitchen, you again experience unparalleled luxury as your mouth plays with the essence of flour as air.