This is the twenty-third post in the Around the World Birthday Extravaganza Series and the last post in Paris! Please scroll to the bottom to see all the other posts in this series.
I was immediately drawn to L'Arpege.
The accolades alone speak volumes. Three Michelin stars since 1996. Number 12 on San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants list. Diner's Club Lifetime Achievement Award for Chef Alain Passard. But it wasn't just the awards. A lot of restaurants around the world receive all sorts of awards. I was drawn to L'Arpege specifically because of Chef Passard's obsession with vegetables.
The year was 2001. Chef Passard had built an extremely successful restaurant that had maintained its third Michelin star for five straight years. He was well respected for his techniques of slow-roasting meat over an open flame with incredibly tender and flavorful results.
And then one day, he decided he was bored with meat. It did not inspired him. He announced that L'Arpege would no longer be serving meat. Instead, he would focus on vegetables. He himself became a vegetarian. He purchased a farm and implemented permaculture farming, a form of farming more stringent than organic farming that focuses on creating a total sustainable ecosystem.
Chef Passard believes that in order to coax the most flavor out of vegetables, you have to start with top quality produce. Chef Passard controls the source by being the source. The restaurant owns three farms that grow the vegetables for his restaurant.
On our last day in Paris, we booked a lunch at L'Arpege. After spending a couple hours at the Rodin Museum (which is conveniently right next to this restaurant), we headed over to L'Arpege on a rainy day to spend our last couple hours in France indulging in this fascinating meal.
One really unusual aspect of this 3-Michelin star restaurant is that, even after 30 years, Chef Passard is still in the kitchen virtually every day. He is an outgoing and friendly person, and makes a point of visiting each and every single table.
Once you sit down, you'll see Chef Passard's hand-written note welcoming you to enjoy the fruits and vegetables of his garden, which are picked daily from his farm and are 100% natural.
Immediately, servers bring these gorgeous ultra-thin crispy potato shells filled with dollops of different colored vegetable creams (e.g., sunchoke, parsley). They are warm and meant to be eaten immediately. Alas, I spend some time taking photos. Just as I finish taking the photos, Chef Passard comes by to talk to us.
He looks down at our potato shells, a disturbed look on his face.
"Not warm!" he cries out. He quickly whisks our plate away into the kitchen and shouts at a staff member to get us a new one.
Because we have a flight to catch, we know we cannot enjoy the longest tasting menu, a 13-course tasting for 270 Euros per person. Instead, we opt for the lunch tasting (140 Euros), a menu that the chef improvises daily depending on the season's vegetables.
We begin with a lovely layered pastry bread to start out the meal.
Our first course is a Beet Sushi with fig on a swirl of olive tapenade. The texture of the rice is delicious, though it is not vinegared like a traditional sushi. The salty olive tapenade adds a lovely burst of flavor.
The Cauliflower course is excellent. Paper-thin sheets of cauliflower and purple florets sit gently on top of a decadent, velvety, cauliflower cream. An intense brown sauce with tons of umami makes the dish pop.
An ultra-smooth Pumpkin Soup with chantilly cream arrives next. We can't explain why, but the cream has elements of umami that makes it "taste like bacon", which is kind of amazing.
We next enjoy a Caramelized Onion and Parmesan Tart. It has the perfect mix of sweet, salty, and deep umami from the cheese. White wine balances out the intense flavors quite nicely.
There was a time when Chef Passard served solely vegetables at his restaurant. He has since added back a few seafood and signature meat dishes on the menu. Our next course is Lobster topped with razor thin radish slices, honey, black pepper, and a sweet and bright, lemony, slightly sweet sauce.
It is delicious and surprising at the same time.
"I have never had lobster this way before!" exclaims Bryan.
Ravioli arrives filled with either sunchokes or beets (you can tell by the color) together with celery, celeriac, and bay leaf. The ravioli are good, but it is the consommé that blows us away. Despite being so clear, it is rich with umami and has strong notes of other vegetables, most notably celery. It is excellent.
The next course is stunning with its vibrant colors. Beets, purple cauliflower, and perfectly cubed celeriac come together with a creamy green sauce.
Next is a mushroom stuffed Cabbage topped with chives in a Parmesan broth. Although it is good, it is not one of my favorites.
Lobster Bourbon Emulsion + The Perfect Egg arrives next. The lobster bourbon emulsion is subtle, light, yet balanced.
The egg yolk has that spoonable sous-vide texture and a vibrant yellow (almost orange!) color. So good.
Next we enjoy thin slices of Scallops Sashimi and similarly-shaped radish slices topped with lemon juice, olive oil, and a curry powder. The quality of all the ingredients is top notch. Sadly, we don't love the flavor of the curry.
The next course is quite interesting. It is a Potato Walnut Soup accented with a strong, flavorful black sauce on top (we think it's some sort of vinegar?). The soup itself is thick and creamy. Even though I am not a huge fan of walnut, I love this soup and finish every last drop.
This next course is an illusion. The dish looks strikingly similar to beef tartare topped with an egg. Instead, it is actually a Beetroot Tartare topped with cream (the "egg white") and a carrot slice (the "yolk"). The beets are pickled, and the overall flavors are comfortably familiar yet presented in a creative and unusual way.
Dessert begins with a Thyme and Egg Custard, which is nice and light.
And then, a square plate of mignardises arrive! There are so many delicious items to try: a tiny cube of sesame cake, a bite that looks like a cream puff but is actually a savory cookie filled with cream, sweet vanilla-like macarons, an unusual lace cookie (made with rosemary), house made caramels, and pate fruit.
We think it's over, until another dessert arrives! This time it is a phenomenal upside-down apple pie with an incredible flaky crust. We are a bit confused at the order of things, but we don't say anything.
When a second plate of mignardises arrive (this time on a circular plate), we are convinced that the first mignardises plate was a mistake. It seems a bit redundant, but we proceed to nibble on our favorites from this plate. Why not? One must end the meal with some proper mignardises, right?
Chef Passard comes by to chat with us again. His English is limited, but his gregarious, affectionate personality shines through any language barrier. He happily takes photos with us, and we express our thanks for the very memorable meal. It is the perfect way to enjoy our last meal in Paris before heading out to Japan.
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Looking back, this was probably my favorite meal in France (even though Bryan prefered our traditional classical French meal at L'Ambroisie). I love how Chef Passard really challenges himself to deeply explore vegetables with all sorts of creativity. Each course is truly a piece of art, both in visual design and also in the expression of flavors. Although I usually don't return to super high-end type places more than once, I can actually imagine coming here again if I were in Paris. If you only have time for one high-end meal in Paris (and you love vegetables), I really can't think of a better choice than L'Arpege.
All Posts In This Series
Around the World Birthday Extravaganza
Alba White Truffle Fair
Osteria Dei Sognatori - A Traditional Piedmontese Dinner
Italy Wine Tour - Barbaresco
Lunch at Donna Selvatica in Neive, Italy
Dinner at a Truffle Hunter's Inn - Tra Art e Querce
Trattoria Della Posta in Montfort D'Alba
Nighttime Truffle Hunting with a Dog in Alba
Osteria della Arco - last dinner in Alba
Stunning Images of La Morra and Barolo, Italy
First Day In Bordeaux, France - Une Cuisine en Ville
Chateau Haut-Brion Tour in Bordeaux France
Restaurant Le St. James
Touring Bordeaux Wineries - Day 1 - Left Bank
La Tupina, Bordeaux (traditional French dinner)
Cos d'Estournel Tour
Touring Bordeaux - Pauillac, Chateau Lynch-Bages
A Different Paris
Le Relais de l'Entrecote