Wednesday, November 2, 2016

L'Arpege, Paris (***)

Arpege or arpeggio, means a broken chord, or a chord broken into a sequence of notes. You may also have heard the word from Lanvin's fragrance introduced quite a lot of time ago in 1927. 

Arpege, the restaurant of Alain Passard opened in 1986 where his own master Alain Senderens used to have the Archestrate. The name was chosen as a tribute to music, his second passion. It is located in a quiet street near Invalides in rive gauche. The minimalistic exterior in grey colours has some tall windows to bring the light indoors while keeping the diners sound isolated from the outside world. 

The interior design, quoted by their website, is a reference to the Bacchanalia rhythm with waved one piece walls and Lalique crystals. Tables are a bit too close with leather comfortable chairs, white linen tablecloths and vegetables on top as decorative elements. Ours had a pumpkin. 

Alain Passard has a long cooking career full of Michelin stars, starting from « Duc d’Enghien » at the Casino of Enghien where he obtained 2 Michelin stars, then at the Carlton in Brussels with also 2 stars. At this time he perfected dishes like the carpaccio of langoustines and the chaud-frois egg that is still served today. 

With the opening of L'Arpege we gained a Michelin star just a year after, while only a decade upon opening he had 3 Michelin stars kept till today and a very high 19 out of 20 in the Gault Millau guide. All these years Passard was famous as a rotisseur. In 2001 though he turned to vegetables with the first vegetable garden in Fillé sur Sarthe and a second in Buis-sur-Damville, where 9 gardeners work while two donkeys, two foals, as well as cows, chickens, and a goat help to the well being of the gardens making it a more complete eco system. Of course all products are bio, with nothing artificial in the growing process.  

The restaurant is open from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner all year long. There is a lunch menu available only for... lunch,  an a la carte menu, a vegetable tasting menu and a big degustation menu. Reservations can either be made by telephone or by email. I would suggest that you give them a call for a prompt reply as they didn't even answer for more than a week to my booking request via the form of their website. 

We opted for the surprise lunch menu. Be aware, this smaller menu is still huge, even for  appetites like ours. 

As soon as we sat down we were offered Evian water (9 euros per bottle), bread and butter. Country bread with nice crust and fluffy texture inside had superb flavor. Salted butter from Bordier of St.Malo was also very good. A trio of tartelettes was then brought to our table.

Thin fried potato with either, beetroot, figs, sweetpotato, radish cream, all very tasty. 

The famous egg also followed in hot and cold. The running slightly cooked egg yolk that was simmered to the bottom of the egg after being seperated from the egg white, with creme fraiche, sherry vinegar and Canadian maple syrup was quite good. 

We chose some Riesling with our meal. Next, vegetable sushi, steamed sticky al dente rice with vinegar, mustard and a slice of beetroot. A nicely executed dish, the rice stunning, the mustard giving another dimension to the flavor. 

A metal pot with an amazing tomato (last tomatos of the season) broth had three different delicate raviolis. Filled with vegetables, beetroot, cabbage, Brussels sprout all were very flavorful. 

A cabbage leaf filled with chopped red cabbage in a parmesan creme fraiche sauce was interesting.

Pumpkin veloute served hot, with cold Chantilly was intense , flavorful and silky textured. I would like it more without the Chantilly though. 

Beetroot and cabbage ball on tomato sauce. 

Beetroot and pumpkin puree. 

Beetroot tartare with mayonnaise, cherry tomatos, beetroot leaves and Parmesan was refreshing.

Vegetables fricassee with red wine reduction. The sauce was overpowering and tannic, we found it unpleasant to eat this dish. 

Then finally a non vegetable dish, a vegetable burger. Paired with mussels, beetroot puree, fried potatos, a bun with a chopped vegetables patty, mozzarella, tomato and a quail egg. This was tasty, the mussels fresh, with the flavor of the sea, although the burger was a bit greasy. 

The first proper meat course, a disc of leek filled with minced meat, chicken in a potato veloute soup. The soup was very good, but the meat structure was overcooked, a bit burned, and greasy. Not the refinement you would expect from a 3 Michelin star restaurant. It gave me the impression that this was made with leftovers while also being reheated. 

The last savory dish was roast chicken with white sauce and vegetables. The Tagliatelles look alike, are actually celeri. The chicken succulent with crispy skin and nice flavor, but a bit undercooked. A let down if you consider it is one of the signature dishes of Arpege. 

A small hazelnut souffle was light, fluffy and flavorful. 

A few mignardises followed before a second dessert. All were great. 

Apple rose tarte. A signature dessert of Alain Passard.

Service was impeccable. Fast and effective while also friendly and professional.

Generally this was not a bad meal, the ingredients were good, most preparations skillfully made, but the refinement and wow factor of a restaurant priced and praised at this point was missing. This was miles away from the Epicure we visited the next day which left us speechless. We didn't see Monsieur Passard that day, and it looked as he was not there. Eric Frechon was also not present at Epicure during our meal but the restaurant was working like a Patek Philippe watch. I didn't regret going to L'Arpege which was on my list for many years now, I just feel like I didn't see what Passard truly can do.

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