I can only recall the end of the meal when I was graciously escorted out the front door with a menu in one hand and a pocket knife in the other. The rest seems like a big blur. A giant, buttery, cloudy blur. Consequently, everything written today may or may not be the figment of my imagination.
My reservation was at thirty minutes past twelve, but I decided to arrive early that day so that I would be the first to see all the courses first before anyone else. As soon I entered the restaurant, I remember the smell of butter flowing throughout the room. I quickly excused myself to the bathroom before the start of the meal. Indeed, the bathroom smelled like butter too. This was a good sign.
L’Arpège overturned my assumption that fine dining restaurants in France are strict and overbearing. In fact, the experience at this establishment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris was very much fun and playful, just like my time at Eleven Madison Park. The young staff at L’Arpège, albeit a bit frantic, seemed all aboard on the L’Arpège vegetable trail. That day, Chef Alain Passard was in the driver’s seat.
When vegetables go to heaven, they’ve probably also crossed paths with Chef Alain at L’Arpège. In the spring time, the L’Arpège garden gives life to crudités of baby radishes and an amuse bouche of vegetable tartelettes. It’s no short of warmth and delight.
This is only the beginning. As courses began to flood my table, I quickly realized that magic was ensuing in the kitchen. First, it was an earthy bite of beet sushi made me grin with pleasure. Then the simple mixed salad of Japanese mustard plants and hazelnuts. There was a flashback. I remember an episode of The Cosby Show when Rudy refused to eat her vegetables. It hit me that if Rudy was at L’Arpège, she’d finish her plate in a heartbeat.
Next, a beautiful, runny poached egg on top of a veloute graced the stage. It’s rich, it’s creamy, and it’s everything that my Korean mother would detest to (Sup, Mama Cho). But I’ve joined the dark side. And I do like my velvety veloute with heavy doses of butter. Then, I encountered a dish not so delectable. A bowl of vegetable ravioli in an amber consommé left me looking for the wonderful richness that was present in previous courses. Then, a smoky soup with black forest ham picked up the pace again. It conjured up memories of the smoky Benton’s Bacon ramen broth at Noodle Bar.
Afterwards, one of my favorite dishes at L’Arpège! A vol-au-vent (hollow puff pastry) with the spring season’s garlic shoots and clams (pictured at the top of the page). It was more than a consolation for missing ramps season. Then a piping hot gratin of sweet onion made its way. I was more than content.
Vegetables are the center of the universe at L’Arpège, but a beautiful catch of the day from the sea is also an important treat. During my lunch visit, I scored a monkfish which was served over smoked potato and cabbage. There’s also room for chicken, of course. It was grandmother’s chicken recipe and I couldn’t turn it down. However, after tasting the plate of spinach, garlic, and sausage, perhaps I should have declined the offer. Not the most pleasurable dish of the afternoon.
But few moments later, the pleasure was back. I scored a pungent portion of goat cheese (very delicious) and a precious plate of delicate mille feuille. It’s a true display of “treat-yo-self” at the end of the meal. The magnificent vanilla pastry and plates of petit fours including macarons, chocolates, and nougat capped off of the meal just right.
This is both one of the best & favorite meals that I’ve had in my lifetime. It not only allowed me to first-mouth experience the greatness of dining culture in Paris, but it also shattered the notion that all of the great restaurants in France are hoity toity and disdainful towards non-Parisians. I know that this is not the ase at L’Arpège.
Although I’ve gotten a taste of lunch, I’d like to one day make enough bucks to return for dinner. I can attest that going up to vegetable heaven is one hell of a ride. Perhaps its my imagination acting up again.