The experience of dining at the three-Michelin institution of the great French chef Alain Passard is well documented. One does not have to venture far on Google to know that his work with vegetables is unmatched and the success of those who have worked under his tutelage speaks for itself. To avoid reiterating what has already been said, we opted for a Takeaways post instead to bring insight into parts of our meal.
It is slightly disconcerting when a restaurant offers various menu options and then requests all diners on the table order the same. It is understandable why they do it but you will never see this in Arpege. Alain Passard and his team understand that this is part of hospitality. During our lunch, I was able to order the vegetable carte blanche and my brother the full tasting menu. The varying choices within our table benefited me greatly with an unexpected extension to my menu.
Although I was told beforehand by our server that the vegetable carte blanche was smaller than the full tasting menu, by the end of the meal I had as many dishes as the full tasting and only a handful of my dishes differed from my brother’s menu. Essentially the full tasting menu dishes that had seafood or meat were replaced with a vegetable-based dish for me. The rest were the same as the team at Arpege simply could not leave me to salivate as my brother ate dish after dish simply because my menu was shorter or cheaper. That is the beauty of a carte blanche – the ability to change it on the fly even if others having the same menu end up with something different – and that is also part of the beauty of Arpege – they understand what hospitality means.
BEST CHILDLIKE ENERGY
Alain Passard is pushing 60 years old but I would have never guessed this based on how he was moving and weaving through the dining room and interacting with his diners. At one moment he gave a flower from his garden to a lady from Australia, the next he was kneeling down at another table to look at a diner’s smartphone, then he was behind me asking if everything was good. The man has a childlike energy that is undeniably one of the reasons he has been and is still able to conceptualize dishes and cook at a high level for a very long period of time.
The colours in each of Alain Passard’s dishes were as vivid and playful as the flavours they elicited. Just looking at the vegetable ravioli dish infused in a rich tomato, cabbage and celery consommé would put a smile on anyone’s face. The green, the orange and the red shined through the pasta dough as it sat in a bowl filled with semiopaque liquid. It was fun and lively, happy colours you could never get in ingredients any less fresh.
BEST END OF SEASON INGREDIENTS
There were a lot of tomatoes in our lunch, specially in the vegetable carte blanche which started off with three tomato courses. A bowl of contrasts opened the carte blache dishes that afternoon. Tomato gazpacho paired with complimenting celery ice cream was thick yet light, hot and cold, sour and sweet. A vinegary and floral tomato sushi with fig leaf oil followed with its pungency. Surprisingly too, it was a well executed piece of sushi. Succeeded by a thin tomato tarte with parmeggiano reggiano and a tomato reduction which was beautifully salty, tangy and sweet all at the same time. At that point in the meal, Alain Passard could have made an entire tomato tasting menu if he wanted to and I would have been satisfied.
Other dishes throughout the lunch prominently displayed tomatoes too. And just when we thought the meal was almost over and we moved on to desserts, we were each given a glass of tomato juice and tomato caramel as part of the mignardises served before desserts. With the tomato season almost coming to an end, Alain Passard was doing his utmost to rid himself of the surplus stock in his garden. It’s a good thing we love tomatoes.
More so in the full tasting menu was the use of spices. The l’Arpege egg, vegetable ravioli, scallop and radish carpaccio, to name a few courses, had a deft touch of spices that was unexpected but complimented the flavours of each course. And looking back, this could also be said for many of our meals in Paris. The international influences, most notably from Africa, were quite evident in much of their cuisine.
BEST USE OF HONEY
Who knew that honey went well with lobster? I for one was a little skeptical when I first heard the list of ingredients that composed this dish. And to top it off, the sauce was described as “sweet and sour”, something that I instantly associate more with Chinese cuisine rather than French.
Surprisingly, rather than the honey overpowering the delicate lobster, the combination of it with the sherry vinegar created a very refined and not overly aggressive sauce that blanketed the thinly sliced layer of radishes and lobster. In every bite, just when I thought the sweetness from the honey would engulf my mouth, the sharp twang from the vinegar and radishes restored the right amount of sweet and sour flavours so that the lobster would not get lost in the dish.
A really well thought out use of ingredient combinations.
What initially smelled like a newly baked brownie when placed before us did not feel as rich and heavy as one would expect, specially when looking at the additional chocolate sauce that accompanied the dark chocolate mille feuille. But the mille feuille was gloriously flaky, soft and had just enough richness before one felt excessive. The red wine from the south of France that was paired along with it could not be any more complimentary, providing just enough sweetness to offset the bitterness of the dark chocolate.
BEST GARDEN INFUSIONS
Tea at Arpege is made from an infusion of herbs from their garden creating a silky, smooth and clean concoction. Just the way I like it. It doesn’t get any better than that.
BEST VISUAL GUIDE
Thanks for reading and happy eating,
Carla and Sonny