Friday, March 27, 2015

L’Arpège Review

This is for a series of posts related to a Paris 2014 trip including: 

Despite Chef Alain Passard being one of France's greatest and most influential chefs, he's remained at L’Arpège for 30 years. Perhaps this is the reason why L’Arpège has maintained 3 Michelin stars and is currently ranked 25th in S. Pellegrino's World's Best Restaurants list.

Located a stone's throw from the beautiful Musee Rodin, much of the produce is sourced from a large local biodynamic garden designed to Chef Passard's seasonal needs. His love for the garden is exemplified by the fact that about a decade or so, he moved away from red meat to focus his cooking on showcasing the beauty that is created from said garden. In recent years though, red meat has returned, though with an understated emphasis.

The space is simply decorated, with shiny wood paneling throughout, and plenty of space between tables. Stained glass aubergine adorn the walls and a variety of heirloom vegetables sat on the tables, further emphasizing Chef Passard's dedication to heightening their flavors with French technique.

Le Menu L'Eveil des Jardins [140 Euros pp = $180 pp]

I'm an admitted carnivore, but even I was enamored by Chef Passard's legendary status. So the GF and I were both excited to indulge in the lunch tasting before enjoying a stroll through the Rodin museum.

Amuse: Potato Crisps
Vegetable puree, cheese, potato crisp, herbs

Our meal beganwith an amuse of cheesy potato crisps, with carrot and pea puree, topped with radish, tomato, and herbs. Texturally pronounced and well-seasoned, this was a great start. 

Amuse: Creamed Vegetable Tart

Our next amuse featured a crispy tart which ate like a buttery croissant, but filled with an intense vegetal creamed puree. 

Bread Service
Beurre Bourgeois 

And with that, came the fresh-baked bread, which by itself was a standout. But to be frank, the accompanying pat of  butter was revelatory. It's well known that the butter in France is better. Rich, creamy, and intense, I could not get enough.

The bread was rustic and a perfect vessel to spread the rich, salty butter. Our server let us know that all the best Michelin restaurants in Paris use the same Bordier butter from St. Malo in France's Brittany region.

Carpaccio de Tomates a l'Huile de Gernaium

Our first course proper was a simple, yet delicious carpaccio of tomatoes. The meal's progression seemed to highlight this seasonal ingredient - a thematic and transitioning element of sorts. The thinly sliced tomato offered acid and lightness, with the flavors heightened by a simple dash of salt. Kudos to the Chef for having the gall to simply allow the quality of his products to shine.

Sushi Legumier Fleuri 
Tomato petal  

The tomato petal revealed itself as tomato nigiri sushi. The thicker cut of tomato withstood the weight of the vinegary, toothsome rice and dash of soy. Nice. 

Gazpacho de Tomates
Sorbet of mustard

And here, the tomato shone in a pool of room temperature gazpacho, which housed an ice cold sorbet of whole grain mustard. Simpler and lighter flavors than the one we had at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, I wholly preferred this transcendent iteration, which allowed the main ingredient to shine.

Gaufre de Sarrazin
Tomato, buckwheat waffle

A bonus course from the Chef revealed itself as a buckwheat waffle with a thinly-sliced heirloom tomato. Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Americans who are used to the ubiquitous chicken and waffles? The tomato was heavily accented with pepper and provided nice acidity to the heft of the crisp, crumbly waffle, which was surprisingly sweet. 

Ravioli et Consume Tomate 
Ravioli, tomato consomme 

Continuing along the tomato train, a quartet of carrot, eggplant, basil, and green bean ravioli were immersed in a delicate, yet lightly acidic tomato consomme.

Gratin d'Oignon doux des Cevennes
Gratin of sweet onions 

Our first departure from tomato came in the form of a richer course - onion gratin. A thin pat of buttery, sweet caramelized onions were topped with some herbaceousness from the mesclun leaves.

It almost tasted as though butter, onions, and Parmesan were mixed together to create an amazingly salty and savory bite.  

Tarte fine de Tomates 
Tomato tart, Kalamata olive puree

But back to the tomato, lest we forget!

The thin and crisp pizzette was buttery, with the tomato providing nice acidity. The olive tapenade provided a nicely salty counterbalance to each bite. 

Poivron Jaune 
Yellow pepper soup, creme fraiche

And from there, a yellow pepper soup was brought out, to be topped with a smoky creme fraiche by our server.

The intense smokiness of the creme fraiche was a surprisingly well-balanced pairing to the sweetness of the light pepper soup. 

Ratatouille Bigouden au Beurre Sale 
Half raw, half cooked 

In a modernistic approach to a French classic, this is not your garden variety version of what was deemed a "Garden Ratatouille." An arpeggio of caramelized pearl onion, heirloom yellow pear tomatoes, smoky eggplant caviar, and amazingly sweet and intense carrot and red pepper purees studded the plate. Gorgeous and more importantly, delicious.

Aiguillette de Sole Grillee Entiere 
Dover sole, cabbage, smoked potatoes

Our fish course was Dover sole, which was delicate, yet withstood the deliciously acidic and buttery white wine sauce. The intensely smoke potatoes were nicely al dente, but the most surprising element to the dish was the intensely buttery and savory leaf of butter lettuce. A simple, yet delicious effort. 

Tartare de Betteraves Blanches
White beetroot tartare, quail egg, potato crisps

The beetroot tartare was a nice progression in the meal. The textural elements to this dish, along with the bite of the finely minced onions provided a nice foil to the richness of the last dish.

Still, the creamy quail egg offered a lusciousness to each bite, with the salty potato crisps provided seasoning and additional texture. 

Robe des Champs Multicolores Arlequin
Merguez of beets, couscous, vegetables

Merguez didn't come in the form of a meat sausage. But the Middle Eastern spices were still present in the smoky, sweet beets, with cumin on the forefront. The couscous was clearly cooked in a rich stock, with the sweetness of the carrot and peppers providing some brightness in each bite.

Grande Rotisseur d'heritage Louise Passard
Lamb, carrot puree, eggplant, Kalamata olive sauce

In an effort to cater to the non-vegetarian diners and to showcase techniques that extended beyond the garden, the first meat course and the final entree for the savory section of the meal was brought out. This delicious lamb dish featured skin that was well-crisped and moist and tender meat. The Kalamata olive sauce lent salty seasoning to each bite, with the richness of the tender aubergine offering additional heft to each bite. The sweetness of the red pepper puree brought some balance to the dish.

Fromage de Chevre
Goat cheese, lime, citrus, honey

Our cheese course featured a richly creamy and tangy goat cheese, which was accented nicely by the sweetness of the quince and honey. Lime and citrus slivers helped to bring some brightness to each bite. 
Quince, apple

The millefuille was so crispy and light, it's a wonder how it was studded with so many pieces of sweet apple and honey. An intensely rich and well-textured dessert.

Pot de Creme 

A pot de creme was creamy and light, with the essence of green tea. I appreciated how this dish wasn't cloyingly sweet.

Pressed Juice
Apple and Melon

The kitchen then sent out a refreshing pressed juice, featuring tart apple and sweet melon flavors. A nice palate cleanser of sorts.  


Mignardises signaled the official end to the meal, featuring duets of apple pie, apple licorice macaron, chocolates with macadamia, and petits choux. And of course, tomato made its final entry into the meal in the form of a tomato caramel, with its acidity providing a surprisingly nice balance to the richness of the sweet caramel.

And with that, L’Arpège brought forth the knives we used throughout the meal. Cleaned and indicating the year of our meal, this was a thoughtful and much appreciated gift to send us on our way. 

In total, this 3 Michelin-starred meal took 4 hours for what was a lunch tasting. The progression throughout the meal was relaxed and we truly felt at home. Service was exemplary as expected and every question I asked was thoughtfully answered and then some. It's clear the entire staff takes great pride in the Chef's passion. It may be a bit of a splurge, but I will be returning to L’Arpège everytime I'm in Paris.

84 rue de Varenne
Paris, France


  1. We decided to celebrate our anniversary in this restaurant. What a mistake. The tables are cramped and the decor does not really say much. But that would really not be important if everything else works well. The service was terrible, no adequate water or wine refills. At one time the waiter, put our used utensils on the table for us to re-use them with our next course.....NOT IN A 3 MICHELIN STAR restaurant!
    Then came the salad, beautifully colored greens and roses, with a very dark oval shaped animal in the middle....WHO WAS TAKING CARE OF THIS IN THE KITCHEN before it came to me?? Yes, you guessed was a dead fly in the middle of my salad. I told the waiter as he had just placed the plate on the table. He stopped to analyze it before taking it away. From there it was a total down-spiral. The food was bland, nothing better than what I can make at home with dishes from Purple Carrot. When I complained, I was told that they were so busy.... Not that THAT is MY problem....After all this, they charged us for a lunch price.
    We have no idea what the Michelin reviewer was thinking when this restaurant was awarded 3 stars. It deserves NONE. The customer service afterwards was equally bad, they wanted us to come back to enjoy lunch! Do they not get the concept of valuable time and first impressions? Do not waste your time or money. For a real Michelin 3 star experience go to Epicure instead.
    Forgot to mention that all americans are put on the downstairs 'dungeon'.

    1. Wow - your experience seems to be the complete opposite of mine! It' a shame that this was during your anniversary as well.

      For our lunch, we were seated upstairs and the tables were spacious so I assume the downstairs was the cramped area. You're right in that how you describe your experience isn't emblematic of a proper 3* experience - hopefully they at least apologized after the fly.

      Hopefully you'll give it another chance considering so many others have deemed L'Arpege to be one of the finest dining experiences around, but completely understandable if not because there are just as many other options.