L’Arpège is one of those restaurants that people travel the world to dine at. L’Arpège is famous for transitioning from a classic sauce and meat heavy restaurant into a 100% vegetarian restaurant around 20 years ago without losing their coveted 3 Michelin stars. Alain Passard has reintroduced meat back into the menu although it remains a vegetable focused restaurant. Thanks in part to it’s appearing in Netflix’s Chef Table France, and to it’s being ranked as a top 20 restaurant for many years on S. Pellegrino’s World Top 50 Restaurants (currently no. 12), l’Arpège is a mecca for foodies. This was evident during our lunch as we were seated next to a solo diner from Australia and a table of 4 culinary students. This adds a sense of excitement to the meal, as everyone is genuinely excited to eat at Arpège. If I compare this to Ledoyen (where I had dinner the night before) where all the other diners seemed to be rich Parisians who I imagine have all been dining at Ledoyen for many years. The stark difference in the clientele was astounding. Further for lunch Alain Passard offers a €135 blind tasting menu compared to €340 being the cheapest option during dinner. Because of the relative affordability of the Lunch you get many people, like myself included, who skip the dinner in favor of the much better value lunch (this is the second time I’ve had lunch at l’Arpège and I’ve never had dinner there). I say all this because as much as I love the sense of excitement that comes from the clientele I did witness, on two separate occasions, people licking their knives, people chewing with their mouths open and other forms of appalling table manners. None of this would ever take place in an old world (old money), restaurant like Ledoyen. And I really hate when people can’t learn simple table manners, something so easy (and free).
Anyway, lets move forward to the fantastic lunch we were able to enjoy. When we sat down we were offered the customary glass of champagne, which we declined as this was only lunch after all and we had a long day ahead of us with a dinner at Gordon Ramsey’s flagship 3 Michelin starred London restaurant that very evening. I did order a half bottle of Cassagne Montrachet 1er Cru from Louis Jadot.
The first dish was an Alain Passard staple: warm egg served with cold cream. This is a dish that you replicated all over the world. I think that it’s a great honor when your dishes are being replicated far and wide. It was delicious and so simple. The egg yolk barely warmed and a cold cream added on top served in the egg shell.
The second dish was one of the simplest yet best dishes I’ve ever had in a fine dining setting. It was melon with mozzarella. Really not much more than that. There was no sauce just a few chives sprinkled over the top and some olive oil drizzled on the side. For this to work your ingredients need to be top notch. And they were I could by the way the liquid oozes out that the mozzarella would be fantastic and the melon was super sweet. This is a vegetarian version of the popular melon with cured ham that is served all over Italy and Spain.
After the melon dish came a cucumber gazpacho with a mustard ice cream in the center. I really loved the ice cream.
Next we were served the most flavorful dish. It was a yellow zucchini stuffed with tabbouleh. This dish was exploding with different flavors from the pickled onions on the side to the yellow bell pepper sauce on the bottom. It was an awesome dish.
The following dish was a set of vegetable dumplings in a tomato and cucumber broth. This dish was very good but not quite as memorable as the others.
The next dish was the first form of meat during the meal. We were served a potato pasta with smoked eel and a parmesan emulsion sauce. The smoked eel tasted like bacon! The potato pasta was just boiled potato that they probably cut or pushed through a fine shoestring French fry press and then boiled the potatoes instead of frying them. The dish was very good. A creative way of serving a otherwise simple potato dish.
Next came onion gratiné. It was simply a plate of thinly cut onions with some cheese on top and browned in the oven. If you love onions, like I do, this was an awesome dish.
I loved the following dish of pork pate because it’s similar to what I’ve been working on the past 3 weeks in school with my garde manger class. It was served warm with a cold onion based chimichurri like sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
The last main course was a lamb dish that was outstanding. It was served with yellow zucchini, a cherry tomato, beets, liver mousse and a pepper sauce. Hard to go wrong with this but all the flavors worked extremely well together.
Interestingly the petit four type desserts came out before the proper dessert. I wager, never having been to dinner at Arpège, that this is done at lunch to accommodate those who come on a ‘business’ lunch (I did see a couple tables of what seemed like politicians who had too much time on their hands).
The first dessert was a strawberry macaroon. The strawberry filling was amazing.
The last dessert was a cream puff that they pour a honey caramel sauce over the top. It was decadently divine. And quite small.
Towards the end of the meal the Chef Alain Passard started to go and greet each table. He is an extremely charismatic guy and spent a good amount of time at each table. It is amazing that this 60+ year old man is still working non-stop at his restaurant. He is the restaurant. He is working lunch and dinner everyday they are open. (I also love that he wears a dress shirt and apron) I of course asked him for a picture when he stopped by our table to which he responded that he’d take one as we left to which he graciously remembered and did.
L’Arpège is, without doubt, my favorite restaurant in Paris. I still haven’t been to all the spots on my short list, but Arpège remains king. It was as good as I remember from last time I went 4 years ago. And the lunch menu offers a fun time at 1/3 the price the dinner. I can’t imagine that the dinner is 3 times as good as our 11 course lunch, although I’ll probably ante up for it one day just to confirm of course.
Value: 9/10 (Lunch)
Value: 5/10 (Dinner: based on prices becasue I haven’t eaten dinner here)