Sunday, June 19, 2011

L'Arpege Alain Passard - 5th & 6th visit

If you have followed my blog or restaurant reviews, L'Arpege is certainly the place that needs the least introduction since it's the most frequent top dining institution I have visited in the past half-decade. It was the first time I came to Paris twice in the same year - it translated to two L'Arpege meals: the 5th visit took place in Feb '10 with my parents while the 6th one occurred in Dec of the same year with my fiancee. After several previous visits, I become very comfortable and familiar with the restaurant. The interior was still warm-looking and minimalist surrounded by wood-paneled walls that were adorned with several artworks; for dinner - each table, capped with white linens, is decorated with a single candle, a beautiful plate combining the Corian stark white and the Japanese lacquer deep red (designed exclusively for Arpege by Claudio Colucci), as well as seasonal fruits from Alain Passard's garden.

The meal here always began with a few vegetable tartelettes (tomato, beetroot and carrot for our case); then come the crusty French country loaf accompanied by Bordier's churned butter that's smooth, salty and creamy as usual (After 5-10 min, the butter became a bit softer to my likeness). Alain Passard is known to be a virtuoso of vegetables particularly ever since he announced that he 'gave up' on meat in early 2001. However, not many people remember/know that he is also a master of roasting meat/poultry for more than 30 years - the "art of fire" skill and passion can be traced back into his childhood when he saw his grand mother preparing a splendid meal for the family. While eating vegetables here is truly a pleasure, my main joy dine at L'Arpege is when I savor Passard's seafood and poultry dishes. He interprets his cooking to be somewhat similar to an impressionist artist: minimal touches to create the products authenticity. He wants to ensure that the purity of the product by preserving its original color, essence, flavor and aroma. The result is delicacies with high precision of cooking. Below are some highlights of my meal,

1st meal (dinner) - a la carte

Robe des champs multicolore [Arlequin], navet boule d’or, rutabaga jaune champion, chou rave blanc logo ... (Multicolor display of organic vegetables) - This is probably the 3rd time I eat this dish, but never was in the Winter. Each vegetable was prepared with little seasoning, allowing its own flavor to shine. There were many different kinds of tasty beet roots; the carrots and onions were great too. This dish has some Moroccan flavor through the inclusion of couscous and argan oil

Coquilles Saint-Jacques de la Côte d’Emeraude, thé vert matcha (Emerald Coast‘s Scallop in green tea flavor served with slowly cooked spinach) - The Emerald scallop, still attached to its shell, is arguably the finest France has to offer. It's fat, juicy and well-flavored combined with fresh spinach and subtle green tea 'powder & sauce'

Pêche côtière grillée sur écailles, Turbot de la pointe de Bratagne (Grill Brittany Turbot served with parsley puree and olive oil) - My dad said L'Arpege already has 'unfair' advantage of ingredients to begin with :) with excellent cooking, here come a delicious fish. The best part is the one near the bone with thin layer of fat - He said Passard's turbot 'destroyed' the one he had at Le Bristol during lunch

Canard de Challans a l’Hibiscus, betterave coucher de soleil et marc d’orange (Challans' duck cooked in Hibiscus served with shallot, beets and quenelle of orange, forming 'sunset color') - The exquisite skin was a bit soft, but the meat is excellent: moist and succulent. The sweet and sour hibiscus glaze is sophisticated without being overpower plus the top notch vegetables on the sides make it a wonderful dish. I only ordered half-portion, the full one will include the leg and thigh parts

Aiguillettes de homard de l’Archipel de Chausey à la truffe noire, pommes de terre fumées au vieux chêne (Lobster cooked in yellow wine sauce served with smoked potatoes and black truffle) - This a must-have dish at L'Arpege and my parents loved it. The meat is perfectly cooked with delicate texture. The potato was simply excellent, while the black truffle's affect was not that much. There's a balance between texture and flavor. Excellent!

Dragée de pigeonneau de Sainte-Anne d'Auray, sauce à l'hydromel (Pigeonneau from Sainte-Anne d'Auray served with crushed sugar-coated almond candy crust, hyrdomel sauce, and beet roots) - This was my favorite dish for this meal. The juicy meat, along with crispy skin and thin layer of fat, is perfectly cooked and deliciously tender. The sauce is ethereal ... it's rich and complex with a sense of little sweetness from the fermented honey, yet still very balance. An instant classic :)

Comté de Garde Exceptionnelle, truffe noire (Matured comte cheese served with black truffles) - An exceptional cheese and presented beautifully. It is salty and quite sharp combined with pungent truffle flavor. The egg and the Comte are the 2 items I never missed whenever I dine here

Macaron au topinambour [fuseau], chocolat noir araguani (Macaron in Jerusalem artichoke flavor served with dark chocolate sauce) - A very well-made macaron. It has pretty much everything: perfect texture, right 'chewiness' and frosting as well as inventive flavor. The chocolate sauce is also heavenly, not too sweet and enhance the overall experience - thumbs up!

Ananas en aigre doux (Sweet and sour pineapple) - Simple and practical dessert. A refreshing pineapple served with honey, olive oil and turnip/apple. Light and easy, a good palate cleanser at the end of our meal

2nd meal (lunch) - carte blanche

Oeuf à la coque; quatre épices (Slow-poached egg yolk served in its shell with 4 kinds of spices - nutmeg, cloves, ginger and pepper) - The famous Arpége egg in silky & soft texture with light whipped cream. The rich & buttery yolk is enhanced by the salt, vinegar and sweet maple syrup

Fines ravioles potageres (Thin vegetables raviolis) - The soft vegetables ravioli containing celery in warm apple-flavored consomme. The broth actually makes the difference

Celerisotto (Celeriac "Risotto") - There's no rice and arborio here. The celery is chopped into tiny cubes served with green emulsion. It is delightfully fresh and a bit crunchy; a clever play by the Chef

A bed of steamed spinach in sesame dressing served with a lemon confit and a quenelle of carrot-orange mousseline - A nice vegetable combination - tasty spinach, fragrant sesame oil and sweet carrot puree

Beet root served with hibiscus - The famous salt roasted beet. Even though it's slowly cook, the texture still firm and it's rather sweet balanced with hibiscus' saltiness

Tart of Turnip containing honey served with (quite) salty and sour green vegetable - The turnip tart is light and airy, smells good and tastes nice as well

Risotto with White truffle emulsion and fresh Garlic - One of my favorite dishes. The snowy white 'rice' is smooth, creamy and rich - a great platform for any truffles

Monk fish cooked in salt served with smoked cabbage puree - The monkfish is indeed well-prepared; it's firm, light and delicious. However, the cabbage mousseline is slightly overpowering. Overall, I prefer the classic preparation of (braised) monkfish with mustard emulsion over this one

Smoked potatoes served with Cabbage and shaved Alba white truffle - A nice surprise from the chef. The picture does not justify the magical flavor of the potato. The cabbage is sour, but let the pungent truffle conquer it. Love the mix tastes of the earthy potato, sour cabbage and heavenly truffle. Excellent

Veal served with Onion and Radish - Passard does not cook veal very often, I know it's a treat when he did it. The veal, cooked exquisitely for several hours into pink color, was juicy and clean in the palate. The best part was near the skin, it had some natural saltiness. The side dishes do not contribute that much

Fromages de Bernard Anthony, affineur (Refine cheese by Bernard Anthony) - The 4-year old Comte is a must-have here. Additionally, I also ate Coeur de Neufchâtel (delicate, similar texture to camembert) and Taupiniere (refined & melt in your mouth)

Petit fours - horseradish white chocolate, chestnut liquor dark chocolate, black sesame marsh mellow, mini apple tart and veggie-flavored macarons

Millefeuille “Caprice d’Enfant” (Pastry consisting of thousand of thin layers with a fine cream of vanilla/hazelnut) - Hands down the best millefeuille in the world. It is crisp and crumbly with flaky texture, yet it tastes dynamic in the mouth due to its delectable light cream

Mont-Blanc aux marrons - L'Arpege new interpretation of classic dessert. The sweet chestnuts topped with whipped cream is served with dark chocolate sauce and house radish. There's chocolate cake inside. It's an intense dessert having rich flavor

My first meal tends to be more 'serious' and on the heavier side while the lunch was lighter - L'Arpege's showcase of several small(er) dishes (60-70% of them was new to me). If I had to choose, I would say my dinner was slightly better - especially the scallop, duck and pigeon were hard to beat. We went relatively easy for the wine. The 1st meal, my father and I shared Billecart-Salmon prestige champagne, white wine Meursault Chevalieres '07 and red wine Chateau Les Ormes de Pez '01 - all by the glasses. The next meal even fewer, only 2 glasses: Domaine St Préfert 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (should be better to drink in '12-13) and 2006 Domaine Pierre Naigeon Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru (about the right time to drink in '10). Normally, Arpege charged you EUR 25 or more for any wine by the glass, but this time I noticed that they reduced the price. Therefore, it's possible to drink EUR 15-20 per glass these days. The wine lists may not be as comprehensive as ADPA or Taillevent, but the focus, at least for me, is to drink wines that match decently with the food. Don't forget, the food is king at L'Arpege and guests should take advantage of Alain Passard's expertise in product assessment as well as mastery of different cooking methods.

The restaurants were packed in both occasions. The first one was probably a bit special because when most Europe and North America continents still suffered from the global economy crisis, it looks as if L'Arpege is recession-proof. As a matter of fact, I've been here six times, visiting any days from Monday to Friday and it's always full house - several times including its private dining room at the basement. Consistent thrive for excellence is the key. 5 out of 6 visits, Alain Passard was in the kitchen (the only miss was my first visit on Easter Monday). The current maitre d', Ms. Helene Cousin along with chef de cuisine, Anthony were always present. Even, L'Arpege has no Summer and Winter holidays - constantly doing what they're good at and passionate about. The last 2 visits were also without exception; the food was great throughout and I was well looked after by the efficient and convivial staffs. The overall service indeed was warm and professional with the only 'flaw' was that we were waiting 15-20 minutes in between dishes in the middle of our 2nd meal. It's easily another meals to remember and ranked among the best meal I had last year (followed closely by my 3rd L'Ambroise lunch). See below if you're curious about the pictures of the dishes, L'Arpege 5th and 6th visit

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 97 pts

Overall: 97.5/100