Word on the Street

Table on Post Oak Might Be Transforming Into L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

Years after the exit of Philippe Schmit, another French chef (or at least his restaurant group) could be taking over Table.

By Katharine Shilcutt August 11, 2015

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L'Atelier Las Vegas is the restaurant chain's only location in the US | Photo via Flickr user onemorebiteblog

When Table on Post Oak originally opened in January 2011, it was as Philippe, the namesake restaurant of Houston's beloved "French cowboy" chef Philippe Schmit. Success was swift, with Philippe's modern French cuisine receiving a three-star review from Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook and praise from countless other writers and diners. But by September 2013, the bloom was off the rose; Schmit departed his eponymous restaurant, which closed in January 2014 after only three years in business. Within weeks, Philippe's owners had reopened the restaurant—this time with a new name, Table, and a new chef, former chef de cuisine Manuel Pucha.

The new menu at Table under Pucha wasn't particularly French, but it worked. Or perhaps it didn't and a return to Gallic influence is forthcoming, as rumors are currently swirling that Table will soon undergo another transformation—this time into a Texas outpost of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where Houstonians could one day eat $98 poached eggs with Ossetra caviar and smoked salmon or $28 "L'Atelier style spaghetti."

L'Atelier means "workshop" in French, and the set-up at each of the eight L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurants that dot the globe is the same: an open kitchen ringed with seats, which allow guests to watch the chefs at work each night. The restaurant chain is often cited as one of the best in the world—no surprise considering L'Atelier's owner, famed French chef Joël Robuchon, has garnered more Michelin stars in his career than any other chef. The Hong Kong location of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon claims three stars to its name, while the Paris and Tokyo locations merit a more moderate two stars. L'Atelier counts five other locations, including Las Vegas, London, Bangkok, Singapore and Taipei.

Could that prestigious line-up soon include Houston? A source close to Table on Post Oak confirms that the restaurant is currently undergoing a slow rebranding, to eventually emerge as L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. It would be only the second US location of the restaurant, and perhaps Houston's first real shot at getting a Michelin star (LOL J/K, that's literally never going to happen, since Michelin barely produces guides for US cities anymore).

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Desserts at L'Atelier in Hong Kong | Photo via Flickr user macglee

What this move would mark, however, is the first debut of a megastar chef such as Robuchon into Houston's dining scene since Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Bank downtown in the Hotel Icon in 2004. Bank closed—like Philippe—after only three short years. It could be argued that Bank was ahead of its time, however, entering the city long before this latest tide of national attention swept over the landscape. Vongerichten's short-lived restaurant provided fertile ground in which some of the city's best culinary minds grew and blossomed, including Jamie Zelko, Philip Speer and the dynamic duo of Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd, who opened Reef the same year that Bank closed. For a restaurant of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon's caliber to open in Houston at a time when the city's experiencing a full-on culinary renaissance could be a very exciting thing to witness.

Of course, that's not to say that Houston's always been receptive to "celebrity chefs." Wolfgang Puck's limited foray into the city is almost too embarrassing to mention; West Ave, meanwhile, saw two celebrity chef-driven restaurants close within nearly a year of each other: Trenza, from chef Susie Jimenez (a runner-up on Food Network Star), in 2014 and chef Katsuya Uechi's Katsuya by Starck in 2013. Much like L'Atelier, Katsuya was a highly stylized, exceptionally polished affair from a globally recognized chef set in a high-traffic location in a wealthy ZIP code. It lasted a little over a year.

For its part, Table did not flatly deny that it's turning into L'Atelier, which—you have to admit—is an idea that's just so deliciously far-fetched you can't help but hope it's true. The restaurant discloses that it did recently enter into a management arrangement with Invest Hospitality, writing:

As part of the management services agreement, IH will provide a wide range of operational, brand management, and financial services to TABLE including control of day-to-day operations.

IH is run by Alexandre Gaudelet, a hospitality veteran whose previous job as VP of Food & Beverage at MGM Grand Las Vegas found him overseeing the Vegas outpost of L'Atelier among the MGM Grand's other restaurants. Today, Gaudelet's firm is devoted almost exclusively to running all eight L'Atelier locations as well as La Boutique de L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Le Bar de L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Le Kiosk de L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Catering de L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. The only non-L'Atelier-affiliated client in IH's portfolio is Monte Carlo–based Chinese restaurant Song Qi. Table on Post Oak would seem an unusual fit with this portfolio; maybe the rumors aren't so far-fetched. After all, it's easy enough to imagine ways in which Table's beautiful two-story space could be whipped into something even more glamorous.

It's also easy enough to consider that this move would be perfectly timed: If the rumors prove to be true, this transformation would coincide neatly with the makeover that the Uptown District is currently performing on Post Oak Blvd. Currently, the district boasts over $1 billion in planned commercial activity over the next five years alongside the construction of ever-pricier high rises, high-profile office buildings, transportation improvements and significant greenscaping, which the district hopes will lead to improved pedestrian accessibility along the corridor that connects the Galleria to the glut of new growth centered at San Felipe and Post Oak. The plan right now is for Post Oak Blvd. to look entirely different in 20 years than it does now and to establish this corner of the city as the destination for high-end living, shopping and dining; opening L'Atelier right in the midst of it all could certainly be one way to make that vision a reality.

We'll have to wait and see. And we'll update you as information comes in.

Update: Reader Tom Gutting reminded us that this would be the third US location, as L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon will be reopening its New York City location this year.

Update, Part Two: Alexandre Gaudelet tells the Chron's Greg Morago that no L'Atelier is forthcoming for Houston at the moment, stating that "Table is never really going away."


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