REVIEW

L'Arpège

Breton-born Alain Passard, one of the most respected chefs in Paris, caused something of an international uproar when in 2001 he became a vegetarian and announced that the menu of his Michelin 3 star restaurant would be entirely and exclusively dedicated to vegetables.  Passard's vegetarianism turned out to be, mirabile dictu, practical rather than purist, and he still serves some fish and poultry items, including the finest roasted chicken we have ever tasted for a mere 100 Euro a pop.  This elevation of the power and potential of greens is nothing new, of course (the Michelin starred Kajitsu, in NYC, traces its lineage back to the ancient ritual of Shojin cuisine), but Passard is largely responsible for its modern day renaissance, and the vegetable tasting menu at Per Se is in many ways a direct descendent of a trend he helped create and popularize. 

In 2002, Passard purchased the Château du Gros Chesnay, in Fillé-sur-Sarthe, about 200km southwest of Paris near Le Mans.  He visits the property each weekend, tending to its two hectare garden, which is minded by three fulltime gardeners during the week.  Only natural fertilizers and non-mechanical tools (e.g., horse-drawn plows) are used.  The garden contains 150 different breeds of plants including heirloom varieties that Passard has revived.  Because of the short distance and the high-speed TGV, no refrigeration of the vegetables is necessary and accordingly they lose very little flavor or freshness.  Passard has stated that his mission is to encourage people "to talk about the carrot the way a sommelier talks about Chardonnay."  Though they are very different chefs working in very different traditions, if this all reminds you of Sean Brock at Husk and McCrady's, it should. 

Passard's reverential treatment for his produce is palpable on the plate.  The colors, aromas, flavors and textures of his cuisine seem somehow more alive than at other restaurants.  The meal begins with a signature amuse bouche:  the Oeuf à la coque; quatre épicesThis has long been a staple of L'Arpège and for good reason.  Passard decapitates an egg shell and drains the white.  The unbroken yolk is simmered in a water bath until the yellow sets.  It is then sprinkled with chives and spices prior to the addition of crème fraîche with aged Jerez vinegar, Canadian maple syrup and fleur de selWaves of different flavors and sensations cascade over you when you try this dish, all of which ultimately blend into harmonious union.  It is the best amuse bouche we have ever been served.  You must trust us that we would not mention this if it were not warranted:  the butter, from Jean-Yves Bordier of St. Malo and slathered with sel de Guérande, is also the most outstanding butter we have ever tasted.  Passard's non-legume dishes include a signature slow-roasted turbot (cooked at a low temperature for three hours), a whole steamed lobster coated with Jura wine and a guinea fowl roasted with hay.  For many years, Passard was lauded primarily as a maître rôtisseur, an art form passed down from his grandmother, and in our experience his roasted chicken is unexcelled.  The cheese cart at L'Arpège is outstanding and should not be passed up. 

Musical themes pervade the design of the restaurant (the restaurant translates as The Arpeggio) and the undulating lines of the warm, pearwood paneled dining room call to mind a key signature.  The restaurant is, like Guy Savoy, surprisingly modern for a first-rate Parisian restaurant and, though expensive, not overly formal.  The audacious risk that Passard took over a decade ago now has been vindicated, and his gastronomic influence is felt far around the globe.

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INFORMATION

7th Arrondissement
84 Rue de Varenne
+33 (0)1 47 05 09 06
Mon-Fri, noon–2:30pm, 7:30–10:30pm
    Alain Passard, Chef

    TAGS

    • Paris
    • French
    • Best Decor
    • Best Service
    • Best Wine Lists
    • Tasting Menu 10 Course Dégustation

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