ironphoenix (ironphoenix) wrote,

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A little while ago, two friends and I went to Atelier for supper. Each of us went stag: this was a bit too extreme for our respective partners.

This kind of place is a daunting prospect for many, especially "picky eaters" (which I often am): while they make allowances for allergies and strong aversions, there is no "menu" as most restaurants use the term. The dishes are predetermined by the chef, and are not described in detail until they are served. Twelve courses parade by, ranging in size from smallish to minuscule; by the end, I was pleasantly fed, but not overstuffed. Nine wines (including an ice cider) were paired with the dishes, with small pours totaling about three standard glasses' worth; I was expecting to be a bit tipsier than I was, in fact.

The restaurant isn't just unassuming from the outside; it's nearly clandestine. No sign announces it, and it stands isolated near the dim and sparse South end of Rochester Street. The dining room has about a dozen tables; on the Friday night we went, all were occupied. We arrived for a 7:30 reservation, and were there for the better part of four hours.

A lot is said about the more flamboyant aspects of molecular gastronomy, but first and foremost, it's about making wonderful things to eat. "Wonder" is an important part of it: this is food at play, meant to delight in every sense. I lost count of the number of things I ate that I "don't like" under normal circumstances; part of the genius of great cuisine is to balance flavors and textures so that nothing is overwhelming, and so even notes that would not appeal on their own become pleasant in the setting invented by the chef. Some of the dishes were quite comparable to what one might find as avant-garde appetizers or desserts at a fine restaurant such as Urban Pear; others, especially the later courses, were more whimsical. Wine pairings were sometimes idiosyncratic, but always pleasant and interesting.

A couple of us arrived a bit early, and I inquired about cocktails, hoping that they would have something unique; alas, they explained that they could make anything standard, but didn't have anything special in that regard. I decided to wait for the wines with the meal, and elected for still water (they offer sparkling as an alternative).

Going with companions who were knowledgeable about and appreciative of fine food and drink was certainly a plus; it became a geekdom all its own for the evening. (The three of us already share another geekdom, since we're all aikido students.) I don't recommend it as a first experience of Fancy Cookin', much as I don't recommend satire to people unfamiliar with the material being referenced. Of course, one need not be a grand connoisseur to have a good time there!

The price is the other daunting thing: food, wine, tax, tip... just over $200, for one. This goes beyond being an annual indulgence to the category of "rare outing" for me, but I'm very happy to have gone, and don't begrudge them the money in the slightest.

I won't spoil any secrets about the dishes themselves, of course; ask in person if you want such details as I can recall.

All in all, an enjoyable and memorable evening; certainly something that belongs on any adventurous person of sufficient means' bucket list. I hope they continue to succeed, and look forward to visiting them again sometime!
Tags: food
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