Alain Passard is a contemporary culinary legend, probably right up there in the pantheon of French legends such as Troisgros or Bocuse. His restaurant has held three Michelin stars since 1996 and maintained it ever since. It is quite amazing to imagine that he was an excellent Rotisseur and a genius with cooking meat, but then decided to go down the path of making vegetables the focus of his cuisine since 2001 and still able to maintain his three stars. He must certainly be something else to achieve this feat, and probably not one of the rest on his laurels. In any case, I had to visit L’Arpege, despite it’s obscenely expensive price tag, which was a princely sum of 380 euros for the dinner tasting menu.
The restaurant is located in a very tiny space, which was previously occupied by his mentor, Alain Senderen’s restaurant, L’Archestrate, that was also another three Michelin starred restaurant back in its heyday. Space was certainly very tight and cozy, but service was warm and the place had a nice buzz to it.
I started off with vegetable tartelletes made from what I recall was purple basil, fennel and onion. The quality of the produce was startlingly, and was just a lovely, light bite to start off the meal.
Moving on, I had a tomato gazpacho with celeriac ice cream and Orleans mustard. The tomato gazpacho was nicely chilled and brimming with so much natural sweetness, and was absolutely stunning. Celeriac ice cream was also very subtle and paired well with the tomatoes.
Next, is the chef’s signature dish of Chaud Froid egg with sherry vinegar and maple syrup. Quite a brilliant with the temperature contrasts of the egg, which was perfectly cooked and liquid gold. The sweetness of the maple syrup really elevated the dish without being cloying, and the touch of vinegar to balance it all out.
The following dish was a rainbow collection of vegetables with olive oil, paired with a sweet and sour sauce made with honey from the apiary and lemon. The array of produce was certainly top quality, and the sweet and sour sauce was very appealing although perhaps skewing towards the sweeter end of the spectrum. A very pleasant plate of food.
I was next served a beautiful multicolored ravioli with an amber consomme. The ravioli skin had a nice texture which wasn’t too thick, whilst the vegetables inside was well cooked. Amber consomme was very light, and helped to highlight the quality of the ravioli.
The following course was a gratinated onions with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and topped off with some lovely cherry tomatoes and greens. The gratinated onions was very delicate and sweet, and the parmigiano cheese added a nice heft to the dish, and balanced again by the burst of sweetness and acidity from the cherry tomatoes.
Next was a ratatouille with fresh Harissa and flame grilled eggplants. I must say, I really liked the way the chef prepared the eggplants, which had a very distinct yet pleasant smokiness to it. I seems like de rigueur to flame grill vegetables in fine dining restaurants, and I certainly do enjoy the end result.
I then moved on to a dish of purple vegetable tartare (think it’s mostly beetroot) with a black olive tapenade, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and blackberries. There was also some crème Fraîche, which was a classic combination to pair with the sweetness from the beetroot tartare. The salty tapenade and Parmigiano cheese was a nice counterpoint to balance out the sweetness.
The next dish was arguably my favorite of the meal, which was a Zucchini, sweet peppers and bay leaf veloute with hay cream. The sweetness and velvety texture of the soup was absolute perfection, with a subtle hint of the bay leaf lingering in the mouth, whilst the (probably smoked) hay cream added a smokiness and depth to the dish. Arguably a perfect bowl of soup, if there’s ever such thing.
Now, I’m finally moving on to a non vegetable course, which is Chausey lobster aiguillettes with “Côtes du Jura” wine. The lobster was perfectly cooked with a lovely texture, whilst the sauce was very subtle, quite unlike the heavy, buttery sauces than one might expect from classic French cuisine.
Hate to say it, but at this point I was really hankering for meat, and I was glad to finally get it for the main course. I was served a roasted duck which was locally sourced, and probably a nod to the chef’s rotisseur roots. The duck was perfectly cooked and fat nicely rendered, the french beans had nice crunch as well. The duck jus was also amazing and very flavorful. As much as I enjoyed the top notch vegetable produce from his organic garden, Alain Passard should really do more of his classic meat dishes, which he is absolutely brilliant at.
Progressing to the dessert course, which started off with a well made profiterole with holy glass ice cream, caramel with salted butter. Not sure what exactly is holy glass ice cream, but the flavor was subtle.
Finally, I capped off the meal with a millefeuille made from what I gathered to be mostly red berries. The millefeuille was incredibly flakey and delicate, and I could certainly taste the red berries quite prominently. Well executed, but perhaps lacking some wow factor.
And some petit fours to finish off the meal.
Overall, a brilliant meal and probably the most veggies I’ve ever had in such a short period of time. Mom would certainly be proud, although would be in some state of shock. The vegetable produce certainly shines, and treated on equal footing with meat dishes such as the grilled eggplant, which had a lovely smokiness which lingered on pleasantly for a short period. Honestly, I would probably have eaten more vegetables if it had tasted like this. I certainly respect the chef to take the risks that he did, and elevate Legumes to such dizzying heights of deliciousness. That said, perhaps my system is geared to having more substantial meat dishes to end the meal, which the roast duck helped to satiate to some degree. Very elegant and beautiful dishes, but probably not as satisfying as one might get at the French Laundry or the Fat Duck. But hey, that’s just me.
Location: 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France. +33 1 47 05 09 06. Website.