Tackling the long tasting menu at Joel Robuchon

Scott Dickensheets

Course 1: Apple gelee, Yuzu granité and chutney

Food is food, I always say, and while I realize that's a reductive philosophy that lets me believe an In-N-Out burger is as good as the tiny, labor-intensive morsels I'm eating tonight, well, I really love In-N-Out burgers. So I rationalize.

I'm at a corner table at Joel Robuchon in the Mansion, a verrrry upscale place at the MGM Grand, torqued into my suit jacket and tie. My dinner companion is a visitor who's handled all the arrangements—a 16-course tasting menu, a nonstop parade of amazingly rich, bite-size courses.

The opening tidbit is sweet, tasty and gone too soon. Before we eat it, the head waiter pours liquid into the dish; stylish vapors swirl around the food.

Course 2: Oscetra caviar over a delicate asparagus cream

Course 3: Foie gras cream and gold leaf under fine gelee, shaved black truffle

Intellectually, I know that foie gras is duck or goose liver, and that the liver more or less filters the body's impurities, and so from several points of view, I shouldn't like it. It's gone in a second. Amazingly, there's no liver taste to it.

This is also the course where I learn that gold leaf is edible.

Course 4:Truffled langoustine ravioli with stewed cabbage

A few months ago, I accompanied a minor VIP to dinner at an acclaimed restaurant in an upscale Strip resort. When the chef learned who was in the house, the waiters came and took away our menus. He proceeded to send out wave after wave of deliciousness, and I gorged with my usual lack of restraint.

And for the next week, I had what can only be described as the food equivalent of a hangover—bloat, foggy head, inability to eat. (I'm not saying it wasn't worth it; I'll do it again the next time a minor VIP beckons.)

But as tonight's meal unfolds (Course 5: Black truffle in a hot pasty, onions and smoked ham. Course 6: Pasta and scallops with chanterelles and shellfish jus), it becomes clear that there's a design and rhythm planned into a meal of this duration. It's all rich food, of course, but the richness peaks here and there and doesn't build into a crescendo of puffy-cheeked engorgement. As the halfway mark approaches, I'm still in fine shape.

Course 7: Sea urchin, potato purée with a hint of coffee

Course 8: Light chestnut cream on top of a delicate celeraic custard

I should mention the wines. The sommelier brings a new one every two or three course, carefully paired to the food. He talks knowledgeably about such matters as the wine's "nicely oxidized midpalate." Totally wasted on me.

Course 9: Pumpkin gnocchi with mimolette and truffles

"Are we the only ones here?" Ryan, my dinner companion, asks. Indeed, we are. Joel Robuchon is a lovely, quiet room, and we are alone in it. It's not the kind of place you go to on a whim.

"This is all so [expletive used to reinforce gustatory delight] delicious," Ryan says, pumpkin gnocchi trembling on his fork.

Food is food, I always say, but there's a palpable difference between the forceful, one-dimensional flavor of an In-N-Out burger and the delicacy of Course 7's sea urchin (which to my knowledge I'd never tried before) or the ... I guess the best adjective is unfolding ... flavors of the fish dishes ( Course 10: Roasted Brittany turbot on the bone with celeraic and truffled stew; Course 11: Pan-fried, skin-on sea bass with five spices, served with verjus sauce).

Course 12: Seasonal millefeuille of vegetables, nage with ginger essence

It takes three servers and a sommelier to present 16 courses to two diners.

I've been gliding on the tiny courses, the richness slowly filling me, until by now, the finish line sort of in sight, I feel near capacity.

Course 13: Grilled Kobe beef with watercress tempura, horseradish mustard

This is the one course I wish could have gone longer—a smallish rectangle of genuine Kobe beef, from Japan, is insufficient to my suddenly revived hunger.

Course 14: Sault farrow prepared risotto style, gold leaf

Perhaps the tastiest gold leaf I have ever eaten.

Course 15: Blueberry marmalade, violet milkshake

Course 16: Pineapple clafoutis perfumed with rum and vanilla, exotic fruit sorbet

The violet milkshake puts a period on the meal with an intense burst of flavor, then the pineapple stuff, more gentle, draws it out into, what, an ellipsis?

Jesus, I hate writing like that, especially about what I'm eating, but such high-flown praise is unavoidable in this case. Sometimes food isn't just food.

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