The New York fine dining world is losing one of its heavy hitters: L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the Four Seasons Hotel will close on June 30. There have been rumors of about the shuttering for weeks, but last night, the management of the hotel confirmed that the restaurant will close at the end of June. Apparently, the agreement for the split was amicable, and there are no new plans for the space as of yet. The restaurant, which currently holds two Michelin stars, opened in 2006. Here's a look back at its brief, but eventful life:
Joel Robuchon, who was once called the "Chef of the Century" by Gault Millau, retired in 1996 but then sprang back into action a few years later with the opening of the original L'Atelier location in Paris. The restaurant offered his eclectic French fine dining cuisine in a Japanese-style dining bar setting. After opening locations in Vegas and Tokyo, Robuchon set his sights on New York.
In 2006, Joel Robuchon was the second three Michelin star chef to open a restaurant in New York City (the first was Alain Ducasse). He was 61 years old at the time. After announcing his plans for NYC, Robuchon told the Times: "The older I get the more I want to do stuff that suits my personal taste...It has to be less mixed up, less complicated than ever, designed to let the best ingredients shine." From the start, Robuchon said that he would be more of a consultant than a full time chef, but leading up to the opening, he remarked: "This restaurant is very important to me. Other chefs have come to New York and have had problems. I do not want that to happen to me."
When L'Atelier opened in August of 2006, it only accepted guests on a first-come, first-serve basis. The restaurant quickly switched to a reservation system, while leaving a few seats at the counter open each night. After his first visit, Frank Bruni filed a "first impressions" article, where he noted the intense buzz surrounding the restaurant:" "Food-fixated New Yorkers want to get to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon fast, and they want to weigh in about two seconds after that."
A month and a half later, Bruni awarded the restaurant three stars. There were some kinks in the service, but the food delivered:
...you’ll encounter unusual dishes whose exceptional refinement and seductiveness can’t be denied, like a succulent piece of langoustine, deep-fried in a cradle of crunchy pastry so thin and delicate that the whole basil leaf between it and the langoustine’s flesh is plainly visible.
New York critic Adam Platt also liked the food, but he was equally perplexed by the service style:
The effect of this kind of high-wire cooking is somewhat diluted by the restaurant’s setting. I’m sure there are many good (and lucrative) reasons for Robuchon to locate his newest gourmet outlet in the happy-hour area of the Four Seasons hotel. But providing his patrons with the sense of specialness that comes with dining in a great restaurant doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Video: L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon's Sliders on CBS This Morning (3:30 mark):
The first signs of trouble appeared in the summer of 2008, when the restaurant ceased its lunch service. A few months after that, executive chef Yosuke Suga was replaced by Xavier Boyer, a veteran of the Paris restaurant. He was swapped for Areole-vet Christophe Bellanca in January.
Earlier this month, news broke that Franck Savoy (son of Guy) was leaving his post at Caesars Entertainment in Vegas to helm the Four Seasons New York. At the time, Eater Vegas heard from a reliable source that "The Four Seasons may be looking to revamp some of their culinary offerings, including L' Atleier.” And yesterday evening, the Four Seasons announced the impending closure of the restaurant. This comes just two days after news broke that Kibo, which Robuchon consulted on, had shuttered for good.