Birthday surprises and bites

Since coming back from Australia and Indonesia, I’ve been keeping a pretty low profile at work. I haven’t been as social because frankly, I feel pretty miserable being back in the office environment after being away for nearly a month, and the idea of going back to the usual grunt work does not excite me the least bit. We have a new office manager, and given our old office manager always knew my birthday, I figured I would keep quiet today and not tell anyone it was my birthday… until our legal counsel in San Francisco blew the cover and posted on our team channel that it was my birthday. HOW DID HE KNOW IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY? He isn’t even “friends” with me on Facebook! That got our current office manager excited, and she along with a colleague ran out to get me not one, but two birthday cakes (this was a bit crazy considering there were barely 10 people in the office today), a massive birthday balloon, a card that everyone signed, plus actual gifts for me to take home. I couldn’t believe how over the top she was; it was honestly too much.

Chris took me to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the Meatpacking this evening for my birthday dinner. Joel Robuchon has a mini empire of restaurants and Michelin stars, two of which are here in New York City — one is the grill and the other is the l’atelier, or “workshop” as you would translate it from French. The idea of the restaurant is that it would be “open” as a workshop is, so the majority of the seats are around the kitchen. Diners can then see all the meals coming to life right before their eyes. We’ve eaten at other restaurants that have this concept for tasting menus, but none of them were as bright and loud as this one: Robuchon clearly loves the color red — the entire dining room is red and black. We had the “evolution” winter tasting menu, which ranged from small dishes of cold parsnip soup to frog legs (not like anything you’d imagine when you think “frog legs” and no bones!) to Alaskan king crab and lobster, artfully presented and prepared with skinny tweezers. I normally dislike cold soups, but the parsnip soup was creamy and delicious with just the right level of vegetal taste. Frog legs have never really been my thing: I’ve enjoyed them, but I think they taste just like chicken. So if they taste just like chicken, then why am I doing so much work taking all the meat out of these thin little bones for when I could get more meat with less bones by eating chicken? But with the frog legs presented here in what looked like little fried green dumplings on our plate, these were not only boneless, but super crunchy (yet still tasted like chicken). And the breads, which are all made in house, were incredible: they ranged from slim, perfect mini baguettes to “snails” (the texture of shattering croissants!!) to a little flatted croissant with a delicious melty cheese on top. The last time I felt the bread was this notable during a meal at a restaurant was when we went to the now-defunct Bouley, which was in TriBeCa.

I love tasting menus and seeing how different chefs create “art” in bowls, plates, and dishes. I also appreciate them even more knowing how much creativity and hard labor go into each single dish. Watching the chefs and cooks painstakingly plate each one, complete with droppers, tweezers, and the smallest little metal utensils… it almost made my head spin a little. I could never handle that type of precision or pressure in a kitchen. Hence, I’ve had zero interest in ever doing real “plating” at home; I don’t care about doing it myself. That’s the stuff I can go out for and enjoy.

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