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Paris: L'Arpège (***)

On route back from Spain, I stopped over in Paris to visit a dear friend SW and her family who kindly hosted my stay. We are both big foodies and took the opportunity to check out L'Arpège, a 3* Michelin restaurant by Alain Passard.  He created a big hoo-ha back in early 2000s when he decided to focus his cuisine on vegetables.  Following shortly, he bought and developed a farm to grow vegetables especially for his restaurant.  The only reason why I was particularly keen to try his food, being the big veg-head that I am, was precisely our mutual love and respect for vegetables.   Many of his disciples also picked up the love of vegetables, notably David Kinch from Manresa restaurant and Singapore's own Chef Gunther Hubrechese, whose cuisine reveals his five-year training under Chef Alain Passard at L’Arpège. 

I had lunch at the end of July 2010.  It was a memorable experience for a few reasons.  Firstly, although it is a 3* restaurant, there was not a note of snootiness about the restaurant.   Our host was friendly and explained the menu when we had questions.  We also had the company of SW's daughter, V, and everyone made sure the little one was catered for as well.  Secondly, at L'Arpège, you know vegetables truly reigned when there was a different vegetable on every table, sort of like a table setting, replacing the usual flower in a vase.  It was a welcomed change and we had a couple of cute little squashes on ours.  Finally and most importantly, the Comte cheese.  Oh, I could still relive the moments I was eating the cheese.   It would also mark the downfall of all other cheeses that I ate since. 

Although the meal was memorable for those reasons, it did not blow me away like I wished it would.  I would love to return just for the cheese though.


Amuse 1:  Fresh fried waffle chips.  Addictively good chips.  Little V was so sad when they ran out and could not refill for us.  However the manager managed to get us another plate a few minutes later so that was a really nice surprise.

Amuse 2:  Tartlets of two varieties.  One was a pickled beet with fresh radish and the other was a mousseline and a sweet fruit jam. 
Amuse 3: Another tartlet that was a chickpea puree and chopped cucumbers and radishes.
House bread: a dense and thick slice of sourdough bread with big open crumbs.  It had a rustic charm and was served with excellent butter that was so creamy and favourful.  I normally don't take butter but could not stop eating bread with butter.  Just to proof further how good the butter was, Little V ate the butter on its own! 

Course 1: Cucumber with oyster mousse.  The oyster mousse was extremely fishy in a good way, also extremely rich and creamy but the cucumbers took the edge off.  The palates were extremely awakened by this dish.

Glass of French white wine recommended by the sommelier.  Crisp and not too dry, it was perfect for most of the dishes.

Course 2: Cold tomato soup with mustard ice cream.  This was so good because of the pure clean taste of tomatoes and a richness added by the complementary ice cream.

Complimentary: garden tomatos, shaved beets and asparagus with pesto.  The raw vegetables here stood out like shining stars against the black sky.  Eating juicy tomatoes was just perfect for a hot summer day in Paris.

Course 3:  Ravioli wrapped various finely-diced vegetable fillings, floating in a consommé of celery root.  The soup was pure and clean.  The raviolis had a skin that was rather bland but the fillings were nicely seasoned.  There were so many different vegetables I could not tell them apart.  But I remembered tasting some crunch, sweetness, crisp, earthiness, etc.  Complexity in simplicity.  
 
Course 4: Garden Pizza.  The crust was a pastry crust so it was soft, pliable with buttery notes.  There was not a whole lot of cheese, just some shavings.  Just some leafy greens, yellow tomatoes and drizzle of olive oil.  It was awesome.  Little V devoured most of this.  I like how Passard "Frenchified" the Italian pizza using French pastry dough as the crust.  

Course 5: Sweet Onion Gratin.  Buttery notes against the caramelized sweetness from the onions. It tasted like a rich, fibrous sweet and salty onion jam that I could not get enough of.

Course 6: Roasted root vegetables with couscous.  Here again the vegetables were cooked in tons of butter and I could do withouh the couscous and half the portion.  But the root vegetables shone with natural sugars teased out through the butter poaching. 

Couse 7: Sole with pesto sauce.  Simple and well executed.  The olive oil was fruity and really delicious.  More bread was requested so I could soak them up.

Course 8:  Cheese "table".  Literally, the cheeses sat on a huge slab of wood that was part of a large tree trunk.  It was quite a sight really.  I was so full at that point and only could manage two.

I had the best Comte cheese ever (right).  After a bit of research, I learnt that the supplier is Bernard Anthony, who was discovered by Alain Ducasse and only supplies to the world's best and deserving.  I had a three- year old comte, although most people had the four.  The cheese had a rich yellow color and a nutty aroma.  Upon tasting, I found that the cheese had the tiniest crystals embedded within, a result of aging and the crystals melted on the tongue and exploded the mouth with intense flavours.  I would come back just for this.  The Comte was so good I forgot what was the other cheese I had (on the left).

Our table decoration.
Millefeuille constructed using alternating thick and thin flakey pastry.  It looked rustic as it stood alone on a white plate, shards of pastry all over the plate.  The layers of creamy mousse creme could have been sweeter to counter the very tart summer berries.  It was a huge portion that I struggled to finish.


The accompanying raspberry sorbet was so tart I could not manage a couple of mouthfuls.  The dessert was unfortunately the weakest link.


The petit fours comprised petite tartes aux pommes and macarons of beetroot, basil and tomato.  They were strange flavours but were actually quite palatable. Little V, of course immediately made a face and pushed them macarons aside after one bite.  The apple tart was forgettable. 

L'Arpège
Add: 84,rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
Tel: 01 45 51 47 33
www.alain-passard.com/

Comments

What an incredibly gorgeous meal. A feast for the eyes - and I'm sure the palate as well.

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