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L'Arpège, Paris - The best items were spectacular

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ARPEGE, PARIS (1).JPGRe-visited L'Arpège recently. Full text and review on my blog (see the link on my profile). Eventhough I was not excited by the vegetable tartlets, the arlequin robe des champs and couple of other dishes, it was all long
forgiven by dishes of remarkable deliciousness such as the pigeon/lamb/corn risotto, benchmark creative takes on the gazpacho/red pepper velouté. Remarkable food, indeed. Conclusion: I prefer a table that does not rests on its laurels like this one, rather than places where everything is uniformly done well but without soul/inspiration. The better dishes of this meal were true moments of divine ‘gourmand’ enjoyment. I’ll also add this: for me, being creative is doing things the way few are thinking about doing them. The way they have thought their ravioles (that level of finesse in creating those ravioles and the thought they did put in working its taste – the fact that I did not like it substracts nothing from the true creativity of that dish — ) has nothing to do with what most ambitious kitchen brigades would think about doing with a bowl/some pasta/some vegetable and water in their hands. The gazpacho, the corn risotto, the red pepper etc..same thing: easy easy themes that tons of kitchen brigades can do, BUT rarely with this level of utter refinement, attention to details, and superlative work of the taste.

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Interesting. I find the broth with the ravioli to be perfection in liquid form and I love the texture of the vegetable merguez, though I have had it far fewer times than the ravioli dish, the July garden being so seasonal. Wonderful restaurant and great to go to over and over and to see the seasons flow.

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Paris and L’Arpège have been synonymous things for me. Whenever I am in Paris, coming and having a meal at Alain Passard’s legendary restaurant is part of a ‘ritual’. Fortunate enough, I’ve had wonderful meals here for 5+ times and the restaurant has always been full house including my recent 2 visits. Yet, I never had any difficulties to secure a table at L’Arpège, perhaps due to the fact that they allow guests to book as far as 3-4 months in advance. As I arrived at the restaurant near 8:30 PM (considered early by Parisian standard), half of the seats was still empty; the staffs allowed us to choose any table for 2 that we liked. After ordering a glass of Rose champagne for my wife, I casually observed the restaurant and found that I pretty much recognized no one from the service team; suddenly my “home” in Paris became a rather strange place until Alain Passard walked around the dining room and greeted us several minutes later. The Chef, luckily, still recognized me and we had a short conversation – the charming and charismatic Passard was always friendly, sincere and caring to his customers regardless you’re a regular or not. During our latest meals, I could comfortably say that Alain Passard was also the main star for the restaurant’s hospitality. I will discuss more about the service later.


As a restaurant that strictly adhered to seasonality, there could be times when the ingredients were rather limited. It happened during our dinner concerning the poultry items. I was informed that the kitchen at L’Arpège only had duck and partridge (no other meat either); the duck was excellent but I opted for the small bird because I never had any game dish cooked by Alain Passard. Similar thing happened to the fish, only turbot was available. Because of this, we decided to go for the degustation diner menu – the last time I ordered this full tasting menu was more than 6 years ago. We’ve had more than 30 courses from our 2 meals here, thus this time I will not write the dishes in details. You could read them from my blog (see the link at the end of this write-up).    


The summary of what we had - I’ve eaten half of the dishes served to our tables. L’Arpège’s signature/regular dishes that consistently showed up were: hot-cold egg, onion gratin, vegetable ravioli, ‘colorful’ vegetables with couscous & argan oil etc.; they’re all consistently great. Some outstanding new dishes were: sweet and fresh raw scallop served with thin radish and geranium oil (pretty and delicious); the partridge, served with its jus, was mild in flavor, tender with grassy notes and served with chestnut, leeks and aromatic herbs (elegant with nice complexity) – it was good, but not better than Passard’s duck, pigeon or sweetbread. My spouse’s favorite dishes were: beetroot sushi (moist & well-seasoned rice and tasty beet, but don’t compare it to the sushi served at Tokyo’s top sushi-ya) and flavorful and fresh lobster served with excellent dressing and turnips, her best shellfish dish in the entire trip. Lastly, for desserts – I loved the intensity, bitter and pure flavor of chocolate millefeuille and its sauce yet balanced by the star anise ice cream. In addition, the classic Paris-Brest was delicious and in harmony (The cream's sweetness was contrasted by the salty caramel and nutty & crunchy walnut. It was flavorful without feeling heavy unlike the one dimensional kind served at Pre Catelan)


Generally, I had another unforgettable meal for the dinner. However, for the 2nd meal during lunch, there was a slight drop in my satisfaction. The waffle had good smoke salmon and ‘whipped ham cream’ but the waffle itself was kinda dry and bland. The main course, a pristine Codfish was smooth but lack taste except from its wine sauce – it was not up to the standard of L’Arpège’s monkfish, turbot or sole. I gave 96 pts (the lowest score I’ve ever given) for my lunch and 98/100 for 1st dinner meal. Yes, my lunch was not good enough in light of the sublime meals I’ve had here in the past few years but when compared to other meals, that lunch was still better than my experiences say at Guy Savoy, Gordon Ramsay or Maison Pic.


Now come to the service. In spite of the fact that I was no longer with familiar with nearly everyone in the dining room, the ‘new’ staffs were capable of delivering stellar service during dinner. It might not as personal as before, but they’re friendly, generous and accommodative. The difference was an action by the Chef-owner. Alain Passard not only greeted every table at least once, but also he brought and served one dish to every table throughout that evening. In our case, he said that he cooked and personally delivered the Partridge dish to our table. On the way back to kitchen, Passard often helped clear dishes – I thought it was a noble gesture and great leadership by example to his staff. A small hiccup took place during lunch when

sommelier: would you like to have a glass of red?

Me: are we going to have a meat dish?

Sommelier: yes, and it should be a squab

Me: alright, then

10-15 minutes passed by (I already had a glass of Riesling and Chardonnay at that time) and suddenly I was told by other staff that there would not be any squab or other meat course for this lunch. Then I politely declined the red wine. The sommelier looked confused and apologetic. I know the restaurant can ‘make up’ the mistakes and give us more food as usual, but for this meal I already promised my spouse that it would not last more than 3 hours – my shortest meal at this place. It was our last full day in Paris and she would like to explore the city + we still had dinner later at 9 PM.


It was a very busy lunch and the restaurant director, Ms. Helene Cousin was around (I was told that she only does lunch nowadays ever since she had kids). Somehow, it was more intensive than the service during our dinner. Staffs moved fast and looked a bit stressed at times but they’re still professional. Again, when I said the service was not as good as before, I referred this with respect to the superb hospitality I used to receive here. Prior to 2014, whenever I dined at L'Arpège, 2 of these people (Helene, Nadia and Laurent, the former director until 2008) were always in the dining room and they always did fantastic job. They simply set the bar very high and I could not help to usually compare the service when they’re still around – Nadia also had left the restaurant. Ms. Cousin seemed tired but still tried her best to be helpful & cheerful; the motherhood seemed to take much of her energy though.  y greeted every table at least once, but also he brought and


After these meals and despite some ‘imperfections’ at lunch, L'Arpège is still my favorite and best restaurant in the world. The dinner here and at L’Ambroisie, as far as the food was concerned, ranked at the top during my foodie trip in late autumn last year – both were spectacular and memorable. I still yet follow Passard’s suggestion when he said that the “best” produce of his gardens (quality and variety) was in the summer. I tend to think that summer was ‘boring’ and many restaurants are closed; perhaps I should listen to his suggestion one day   


A more detailed review, please visit: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2015/02/larpege-alain-passard-7th-8th-visit.html

Comprehensive dishes’ pictures were here: https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/LArpegeParisFrance7th8thVisit#

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