Robuchon’s Great Leap Forward
On his menu at the Ritz in Paris, the great chef Auguste Escoffier preferred to call frogs "nymphs" as they were, he said, "not accepted as first-class food by non-French people." He also recommended serving them in Champagne aspic set into a block of ice. Cuisses de grenouilles are still perhaps best in Paris, and there are several places where they’re spectacular. At the venerable bistro Benoit (33-1/42-72-25-76), sautéed frogs’ legs come in a creamy watercress soup, and at the elegant La Table du Lancaster (33-1/40-76-40-18), Michel Troisgros takes them farther east with tamarind and cauliflower. But it’s at the new L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York (212-350-6658) where the traditional French delicacy—which is so often shunned by both the fearfully uninitiated and the jaded foodies who declare in a bored tone that it tastes like chicken—turns into something, alluring, accessible, and thoroughly modern.
EACH DAY L’Atelier chefs fry 60 to 90 of these delectable amphibian gams, which are flown in fresh from Florida.
THE BONES protruding from these posh McNuggets are cleaned, but white china finger bowls with lemon are still offered.
THAT CRISP COATING? Buttery brioche crumbs. Escargot butter is stuffed inside and the dish is served with two sauces—garlic and parsley—for dipping.
IF NOT PROPERLY BREADED the legs will explode in the fryer. The restaurant cooks at least four for every serving of three ($17).
THE CHEF Perhaps France’s most acclaimed chef—he was awarded three Michelin stars in 1983 at age 38—Joël Robuchon also has outposts of his L’Atelier restaurant in Paris, Tokyo, Las Vegas, and London.
THE RESTAURANT I. M. Pei and Pierre-Yves Rochon designed this space in New York’s Four Seasons Hotel. Seats at the bar—where you can watch executive chef Yosuke Suga—are the most coveted.
THE MINI HISTORY
• Frogs were not eaten in Europe until the 16th century because they were associated with sorcery and considered poisonous.
• Frogs’ legs with garlic and parsley butter is the preferred style in Burgundy, France. In Alsace they’re cooked with Riesling, and in Paris, à la meunière.
• They are also a delicacy in China, where they’re often stir-fried.
• By the end of World War II, the French had eaten their way through almost all the local legs. Today they import 700 tons of fresh frogs’ legs annually, mostly from Turkey and Egypt, plus another 4,000 tons of frozen legs from China and Indonesia.