L’Arpege (Paris) – Purity of Flavor
As I’ve written before, L’Arpege can be hit or miss. At its best, it is the pinnacle of modern fine dining – excellent ingredients whose natural qualities are emphasized to unbelievable heights. There is a balance, precision, and purity of flavor – not new taste combinations or culinary technique from the future. When it is performing at this level, it is a contemplative and ephemeral cuisine, like poetry.
1. Fines ravioles potageres consomme de lopinambour
This was a beet ravioli w/ beet/artichoke consomme. I had a red pepper version of this dish on my last trip and it was easily a top 5 dish of all-time. This version is no different – to call it sublime would be cheating it. The consomme was delicate yet powerful, a salty essence of the artichoke perfectly balanced by the beet’s sweetness, all their earthy flavors providing a backbone. A slight lemon flavor radiated and permeated the consomme, taking it from perfect to heavenly. The ravioli was ephemeral with a radiant burst of beet. Next to Gagnaire’s sea-bass/codfish-intestine and Bras’s Gargouillo, I can’t think of a better dish. If you see a consomme/ravioli dish on a L’Arpege menu, order it. Sublime.
2. Damier de coquilles Saint-Jacques et truffe noire
A tried-and-true combination of scallops and black truffles – the haute surf’n'turf. The pristine, sweet scallops were cut by the citrus with the truffle complementing and expanding the flavor throughout. The hazelnut oil rounded off the edges and helped fill it out with dimension. Excellent.
3. Foie fras du pays d’Avre et d’Iton
dattes au citron
High quality piece of foie with the intense lemon cutting both the richness of the foie and the sweetness of the date. Very Good.
4. Celerisotto a la truffe noire de coteaux du Saumurois parigiano reggiano
A risotto made of finely diced celery, intensely aromatic of butter, celery, and truffles. The celery was too crunchy to be risotto per se but the texture complemented the intense truffles. The parmesan gave it a salty, gooey quality that helped bring everything together. This dish was very “satisfying” but it did lack the finesse of the first two dishes. I would prefer his excellent normal risotto. Very Good.
5. Aiguillette de homard de l’archipel de Iles Chausey
pomme de terre fumee au bois de hetre
After last year’s lobster debacle, this was pure harmony. Intense, naturally sweet lobster with a sauce that complemented and never overpowered – a problem sometimes at L’Arpege. (I think I had already taken a bite before I took the picture.) Excellent.
6. Beet w/ Honey-Lime Sauce
A “gift from the kitchen” – unfortunately, they should have kept it. A mealy, tasteless beet. This was nothing like the infamous salt-crusted beet. Not Good.
7. Wild Boar w/ Grilled Artichokes & Leek
Nothing like the first courses, the meat’s varying thickness resulted in 1/2 overcooked and 1/2 just right. Ok.
8. Comte millesime Automne 2002 truffe noire
The meal ended on a much lower note than its magnificent beginnings but, being somewhat-experienced L’Arpege eaters, we knew the Comte was next. You could smell this as it was being walked across the room – very crystallized texture, where the truffles emerged immediately with the comte’s saltiness. Near divine but my other dining companions got more truffles. This was the 2002 vintage of the Antony comte. Excellent.
10. Dessert de veillee
11. The Butter
If you like salted butter, L’Arpege’s Jean-Yves Bordier butter is the best. This is supposedly served at other Parisian restaurants, and we did have it at Les Ambassadeurs this go around, but the L’Arpege version is markedly superior. Let it sit for an half-hour until it starts sweating salt water, and then load a slab on your bread. Sublime.
Overall, a great meal. It wasn’t consistent enough to be an A1 meal, but the good dishes were spectacular. Is it a restaurant I recommend? Yes, if you can accept the nuance and subtlety of the cuisine. If pricing is a concern, check out lunch for better values. There are no deals here though – this is black card cuisine for the higest dining circles.
Previous L’Arpege reviews: