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. A visit to the restroom requires a circuitous trip past the hotel newsstand, and if you’re early for your table, you must elbow through a rabble of martini-addled bankers to wait at the bar. But these hassles don’t completely diminish the pleasures of dessert creations like Le Sucre, which is a giant pearl of spun sugar containing a deposit of fluffy, egglike white and yellow cream. Crack the shell, and watch it all melt together with a variety of esoterically flavored jellies (blackberries, violets, litchis) and creams. It’s the most ornate, overdone, and resolutely French dish on the menu at L’Atelier, and after a bite, or two, it might even make you a little wistful for the vanishing pleasures of the ancien régime.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Address: 57 E. 57th St., nr. Park Ave.; 212-350-6658
Prices: Small plates, $12 to $24. Appetizers, $15 to $88; entrées, $33 to $49.
Ideal meal: Gazpacho, sea urchin with lobster gelée, crispy langoustines, foie gras ravioli, cod fillet, hanger steak or lamb, Le Sucre.
Note: The place to sit is at the bar. The time to visit is at lunch, when the crowds thin and the room fills with light.
Hours: Lunch, daily, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner, daily, 6 to 11 p.m.
Scratchpad: Four stars for Robuchon’s superior cooking (even though he’s rarely there). Minus one star for the room and setting.