The $34 beet salad was full of adventure, starting with a throat-catching scoop of green-mustard sorbet and continuing with some of those famous Robuchon dots, each of which turned out to be a perfectly delicious sauce made from, say, green apples or avocado. But not many other dishes seemed interested in startling anyone.
The most spectacular thing I ate did not come from the kitchen but from the bakery downstairs. Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who has been tending yeast in Mr. Robuchon’s empire for two decades, is now stationed in the basement on 10th Avenue. His masterpiece is called the escargot, a swirl of savory brioche dough with olive oil between its many warm and flaky layers. He also bakes baguettes that seem to be shrunken versions of full-scale ones; at that size they could be all crust, but somehow he keeps the crust in proportion with the rest, and they are a joy to eat.
Meanwhile the pastry chef, Salvatore Martone, is making some of the finest and airiest chocolate soufflés in the city, like dark-chocolate vapor tricked into solid form. He disguises a tarte Tatin as a shiny red Snow White apple; in another optical illusion, he fashions a replica of a lemon out of blown sugar, then fills it with lemon sorbet, and while I wished it tasted as much like lemon as it looked, it was a good dessert.
Those are Mr. Martone’s excellent chocolates that show up around the same time as the check, and his kugelhopf that will be waiting for you in a Robuchon shopping bag by the coat check in case you want to start the next day with a custard cake, and why wouldn’t you?
The service strikes a rare balance of charm and formality that was missing from the uptown location. There will be smiles when you get there, and smiles later when you whisk your kugelhopf off to wherever it is you go with your kugelhopfs.
Whether this is a restaurant for you is first of all a question of money; there is no way to eat a satisfying meal at L’Atelier without spending a lot of it. If the prices don’t bother you, then neither should my nagging sense that the cooking is not as exciting as it could be. Nobody goes to chains, even expensive ones, for new sensations.