L’Arpege (Paris) – The Vegetable King

L’Arpege is considered to be the king of vegetables. He has his own coveted garden where vegetables are grown to his bio-dynamic specifications. He stopped cooking meat for awhile but, presumably, economics forced him to put meat back onto his menu. We came expecting the best vegetables in the world.

1. Jean Yves Butter
The butter deserves very special mention – this was ridiculously good butter. It was served as a bright orange lump that secreted salt water. Its richness resembled a cheese more than the tasteless butter we’re served in the States. The butter comes from Brittany where the cows graze in salt water marshes all summer. This is not your typical French butter which has been very good so far on this trip – this stuff is absolutely amazing!

2. The Egg
The famous egg, the disputed egg, the epitome of a signature dish. Expertly cooked throughout – acidity, creaminess, and a touch of sweetness. Excellent.

3. Spring Vegetables
Veggies can be tough for me because i dislike beets, radishes, asparagus, celery, and a few others. The trio included asparagus, beets, radish tops, avocado, & potato topped w/ a ‘sweet & sour’ sauce. The sauce was vibrant, lime & honey, but it smothered the veggies like a bad chinese dish. The beet was perfect – a touch of sweetness, a touch of acidity, but a long deep earthy flavor. The radish tops were similar – just a deep, complex earthiness i’ve never tasted in San Francisco area veggies. The potato was smoked and it was sublime – the essence of smoke permeated the potato. Very good to excellent – the most consistent platter of vegetables I’ve eaten with the abundance of sauce bringing it down a notch.

4. Parmesan Risotto w/ Vegetables
A great risotto – toothsome and soupy, this rivaled the risotto I had at the special “risotto dinner” at Olivetto (Oakland) a few weeks ago. Similar in texture, but far less butter. The asparagus was very good (that’s saying something) – a flavor i can only describe as “green”. Carrots were off-the-charts incredible.

5. Langostine w/ Cumin Sauce & Sauteed Spinach
Langostines that were cooked in their shell but they weren’t quite as good as the L’Astrance or Ducasse langostines. The cumin sauce was tasty but its “greatness” was too subtle for me to tell. Good.

6. Lobster
Half of a very large lobster but it lacked any taste of sweetness nor the sea. An average dish. Good.

7. Tomato 12-ways
A classic dessert, a tomato “fruitcake” that’s heavily spiced and includes pistachios, raisins, nuts, and more. Absolutely unique. Very good.

There was a major service snafu that degraded the quality of the meal. In the end, we didn’t end up paying for a re-heated $60 onion gratin but fighting with the waiters over it in a 3-star restaurant was unnecessary.

Overall, the meal began strongly and finished w/ little fanfare thanks to subpar ingredients (for this level of restaurant) and service problems. Considering the extraordinary expense, you’d expect the meal to maintain the promise of the first few dishes. A few nights earlier, L’Astrance delivered a comparable meal (though not quite as minimalist as this) for less than 1/2 the price. If the ingredients are lacking, you shouldn’t find them on the menu at this level.

I’d go back, but I’d only go ‘in season’ (for whatever vegetables i was craving) and i’d only order vegetables. Beware – this is probably the most expensive restaurant in Paris (and they aren’t cheap to begin with!) – plan accordingly.

- chuck