Arpège, Paris

July 8, 2009

Arpège is often cited as one of the best restaurants in the world. It is certainly the favorite of Food Snob.  I was fortunate to be able to join him on July 1, 2009, for lunch. 

When I arrived, he was already seated at the table in the corner between the kitchen and the window, which gives good light for photos.  The dining room is quite spare with blond pearwood paneling. Three art deco Lalique panels are the main decoration. There is a vegetable on each table.
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We were not shown the menus; the food just started arriving and continued for the next four hours. We did not seem to be the only ones with this relationship, although we were the first to arrive and the last to leave.

The chef, Alain Passard, announced in 2001 that he would be featuring vegetables. This received a lot of publicity at the time, but was an exaggeration as there are still some seafood and poultry in his meals. The following year he planted his kitchen garden 200 km southwest of Paris. This has grown to ten acres spread over three sites which give him a variety of soils needed for different vegetables: sandy, clay, alluvial. The gardens are surrounded by fruit trees; there are beehives for pollination and honey. No machinery is used; plows are pulled by horses. Of course, everything is “organic.” There are twelve farmers. The vegetables are picked starting at 7:00 am. They are put on the 10:00 TGV at Le Mans and arrive in Paris in time for lunch. I believe that almost all the herbs, vegetables, fruit and honey in our meal came from his gardens.

We started with glasses of Champagne. We ordered a bottle of 2008 Cuilleron “La Petite Cote” Condrieu and eventually a bottle of 2005 Morey-Saint-Denis “Larrets” white burgundy from Frederic Magnien. Both were very good and went well with the cuisine.
 

Brown country bread and Bordier butter were put on the table. Then came tartelettes of mixed diced vegetables and of a puree of fava beans with a bit of cabbage on top.
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The raw vegetables were a good way to set up the palate.

Next: a hummus of fava beans with a mousseline of garlic in the center. Chopped peanuts and a peanut sauce.

Fava beans have been gone from our garden on the côte d’azur for two months, but I was assured that they are at the height of their season in Passard’s garden. Their flavor came through nicely here. The garlic had just the right amount of power. The peanuts added needed crunch. Excellent dish.

A cream of lettuce and garlic. An iced cream of La Moutarde d’Orléans, a brand which Alain Passard helped create and market.
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The lettuce flavor came through nicely in the soup. The garlic and mustard were restrained to just the right level. Very good.

Norwegian salmon “sushi” on little spring rolls with fine julienne of mixed vegetables.

The ingredients were top quality, but the combination didn’t work well for me.

A mini-pot-au-feu filled with zucchini, fennel and onion, wrapped in chard.

The traditional pot-au-feu has a cartilaginous cut of beef stewed long and slowly with the vegetables to create the gelatenous broth. This broth had a similar effect, but I imagine that somehow it was created just from vegetables.

A gratinée of onions sprinkled with parmesan and black and white Vaucluse truffles.

The onions were nice and sweet. I didn’t notice flavor from the shards of summer truffles, but the parmesan bits added a needed bit of sharpness and saltiness. Good.

At this point a plate of fresh potato chips was put on the table for nibbling. It stayed until the cheese.

With this type of cuisine, one occasionally needs to add some crunch so it was good to have the plate on the table.

Cabbage and cucumber on top of a sesame cream.

There is shredded cucumber with the shredded cabbage and sesame seeds, as well as the cucumber slices. The mound of sesame cream underneath is bigger than it looks in the photo and is very good.

An onion cream with peas, fava beans, white currants.

The onions were not as sweet as they had been in the gratin. Good.

A puree of smoked patty pan squash topped with a bacon cream.

The squash had been smoked nicely; it had a lovely flavor, as did the bacon in the light glob of whipped cream.

Spinach with a carrot purée.

This was a special type of spinach. I didn’t get the name, but it had a characteristic earthy, slightly bitter, flavor. The sweetness of the carrots was a nice counterpoint.

A risotto of cabbage with white summer truffles from the Vercors.

This was okay. I didn’t think that the concept worked well or that the summer truffles added much.

Sea bass in a green tea sauce.

The fish was fresh and perfectly cooked. The green tea sauce was well thought out and a good combination. The potato added a bit of needed weight.

A waffle piece topped with chamomile chantilly cream, beets, zucchini, carrots and onion.

A pleasant dish.

Two pieces of lobster under thin turnip slices dressed with pine nut oil, Spanish sherry vinegar and honey from the garden

The honey vinegar combination was a perfect sauce for the lobster. The turnip slices added some needed solid earthiness.

Half of a squid stuffed with a salpicon of vegetables.

The freshness of the vegetables was a nice counterpoint to the slight chewiness of the squid, which was the dominant flavor.

Langoustine with confit onions.

The braising of the onions had moderated their flavor so that they were not too strong for the elegant flavor of the langoustine.

Clams with pea pods, extra truffles
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The clams and their broth were good, but the pea pods were overcooked. I didn’t see the point of the truffle slices with this.

Lobster with vin jaune sauce, smoked potato


The sauce of vin jaune, the nutty, slightly sweet, strong wine of the Jura, was perfect with the lobster piece.

Guinea hen cooked in hay, mint oil


The guinea hen was tender, moist and flavorful with a crispy skin. The poultry is not oven-roasted here, but cooked slowly, with frequent turning, in a stovetop pan. The mint oil added an unusual dimension that kept the dish from seeming heavy. The various vegetables scattered around made this a more substantial course than the others. 

The cheese board had a carefully chosen selection. The star is the four-year-old comté (left), which was excellent. The big block is a six-months old Salers (ferme de Labouygues), which I found a bit salty. We were required to taste all the cheeses.


 

Honey soufflé topped with chocolate.

I have never had a honey soufflé before; this was delicious. Another specialty of the house is an avocado/pistachio soufflé.

Verveine and chamomile ice cream with red current sorbet.

Elegant, refreshing flavors.

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Mignardises and coffee followed. The little apple tarte on the lower right is a mignardise version of the Tarte aux pommes Bouquet de Roses©, which Passard created earlier this year and is for sale over the counter from Arpège.

The meal had been quite sensational. There were just a few ingredients in each dish, which is my preference. They were well chosen to complement the main ingredient, either with similarity or contrast. Everything was fresh and top quality. While there was imagination, there was no effort to shock, surprise or avoid classic combinations. Although I wasn’t still hungry, I didn’t feel as if I had eaten too much after 21 courses.  Bravo.

http://www.alain-passard.com/.

One Response to “Arpège, Paris”

  1. Laurent Says:

    What a meal !!! Very impressive !! – give me more regrets i was not there 🙂


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