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Friday, November 16, 2012

Arrivederci Chef Angelo Aglianò

In late October Chef Joël Robuchon came to Taipei for his annual visit at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. My cousin and I, along with other friends were there to see Chef Robuchon again and to sample some new dishes. Besides his usual traveling companions, including the new Iron Chef French Yosuke Suga, Chef Robuchon also brought Xavier Boyer, who ran the L'Atelier in New York after Suga. It was an all-star team in the open kitchen and needless to say, the dinner was spectacular. However, the night was slightly diminished when I was told that Boyer is scheduled to replace the current chef de cuisine Angelo Aglianò in November.

I was disappointed when Suga left Taipei over two years ago and now I am disappointed to learn that Aglianò will leave. While I am sure Boyer will keep the restaurant being the best in Taipei, nevertheless it is always a bit sad to see a friend leave.

Before Aglianò left L'Atelier, I decided it was only right to go have dinner one more time and to say goodbye. My wife, Maria, and I asked a couple of my friends to join us. As with my first dinner with Aglianò, I forwent the menu and asked him to simply cook for us.

We arrived a little early but our friends were running late. As we waited at our seats at the counter, Chef made some tapas for us: ground pig trotters and ears on toasted baguettes; they were delicious. The sommelier Benoît Monier walked by and said this tapas is one of his favorites and that the kitchen should make it more often.

Shortly after we finished the tapas, our friends arrived. Dinner started with an amuse bouche of foie gras mousse. This was followed by a Robuchon classic, caviar with crab meat served in a can. Aglianò gave the dish a little twist in the ingredient and it was great, made even better with the champagne that Benoît kindly poured for us.

Since I have some pictures of my first dinner with Aglianò, I broke with my usual practice of not taking photos at dinner and put my iPhone to work. The next course was a seafood medley: squid stuffed with bacalao, scallop topped with sea urchin, and pan-fried mackerel. This was a very refined dish with delicate flavors. A beautifully presented multi-component dish that is great to have at a restaurant, since it would be too hard to do at home.

Risotto is one of Aglianò's specialties and the one he served this time was off the charts in terms of smell and taste. The risotto was cooked perfectly and layered with the fat from the Iberico ham, topped with girolle mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and white truffle from Alba. In short, it was an umami explosion.

The last savory course for the night was a bit of a surprise: local pork from the nearby Yilan County, Tetragonia (New Zealand spinach), and polenta in lieu of the usual mashed potatoes. The pork, especially the fat, was simply delicious, and balanced a bit by the slight bitterness and crunchiness of the spinach. Instead of reminiscing, this dish suggests some sort of things to come.

Dessert was a new concoction by the pastry chef Kazuhisa Takahashi: profiteroles served on top of a chocolate disc and floating on VSOP jelly. I love modernized classic French dessert. The presentation was beautiful - the chocolate disc with circular openings of varying sizes could easily be incorporated into an architectural model of a modern design. This dessert was a great way to end the memorable night.

After a few sips of my espresso, I briefly chatted with Chef and thanked him for all the wonderful meals I had in the past two years at L'Atelier. It's no secret that L'Atelier is my favorite restaurant in Taipei and I look forward to eating Chef Boyer's food. However, Chef Aglianò will be sorely missed. Grazie mille Chef and until we see each other again.

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