L’Arpege (Paris) – Extreme Veggies at Extreme Costs
I was really hesitant about booking Arpege because of its cost and a very good (but not great) meal last time. In fact, the amazing butter was the thing that tipped the scales for me – I just had to have it once more in my life.
I’m very glad I went. This meal bordered on the sublime and nearly reached the peaks of Gagnaire & Michel Bras from my earlier trip in May. It’s a lesson in diminishing returns – how much would you pay for the best beet you’ll ever eat in your life? It sounds like a silly question but L’Arpege forces you to seriously consider such problems when you peruse the menu.
1. The Egg
Slightly overcooked in parts, but I must be getting too familiar w/ the Manresa version – this seemed too sweet. Good.
2. Tomato & Lemon Ravioli w/ Red Pepper Consomme
One of the best dishes I’ve ever had. Very clear w/ just a red tint, the purest essence of the best red peppers. The acid from the tomatoes and lemon brought the dish to the brink but the consomme’s slight sweetness deftly countered and kept the dish in a perfect balance. Excellent.
3. Salt-crusted Beet w/ 20 yr Balsamic
It didn’t quite live up to my expectations but you won’t find a better beet anywhere. Balsamic (old balsamic is almost chocolate like) and beet’s sweetness played their balancing act while it was all elevated when the salt kicked in. If you scraped off the beet “carpaccio” from the skin, you had a divine treat – intense saltiness and concentrated beet flavor. (In fact, they could get away w/ just serving this and/or serving it as a side on a different dish.) Excellent.
4. Veggies Parfum
A medley of veggies w/ a sauce/foam I forgot to write down. Carrots large and small, tomato, cauliflower, beets, other roots, and a squash blossom. Some were very good; the squash blossom, tomato, & cauliflower great. Served on a bed of parmesan risotto. The saucing was a bit much; cut back on the saucing and you’ve got an excellent dish (but not quite in the same league as the Bras veggie medley.) Very Good.
5. Blue Lobster w/ Champagne Sauce
Lobster was sweet, champagne sauce sweet and buttery but still very light – a wonderfully decadent dish. *FAR* better than the cloying sweet/sour lobster I had last time where I ended up scraping off the sauce. Served w/ smoked potatoes that weren’t nearly as transcendental as last time – far less smoke. The ravioli was the best dish; but this one brought the most deliciousness factor. Excellent.
6. Nut-encrusted Squab w/ Sage, Onion, & Mint Sauce
Least favorite but the previous portion sizes probably had a lot to do w/ that (each of the dishes above was a half portion that is more in-line w/ a full portion at any other restaurant.) Nice dish that had an earthy beginning from the nuts, followed by some mint, then the gaminess kicked in, and the sage carried the aftertaste. Very Good.
7. Mille Fieue
This looked awesome last time so ordered it this time. Unfortunately, this tasted like fruit cake – the most expensive fruit cake in the world. Extremely flaky crust but I don’t want to spend 35e on fruit cake. Ok.
A subtle meal in many respects and certainly a lesson in diminishing returns. If many of my friends ate this meal at this cost, they would say I’ve gone off the deep-end; but the ingredients were superb and the execution near flawless.
Arpege has entered the must-go 3*** realm for me, joining Gagnaire, Bras, and Regis Marcon. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse.