With three Michelin stars and a #12 ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, L’Arpège is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Alain Passard’s beautiful, seasonally-driven vegetable creations have taken the world’s breath away, and any chef who has trained in his kitchen has leveraged that stamp of approval to run successful restaurants of his or her own. It’s rare to find these sorts of accolades bestowed upon a vegetarian restaurant in the fine dining world, so we were very much looking forward to our lunch reservation, as we figured the food here must be exceptional in order to warrant that attention and such high prices.
Truth be told, I felt like I was watching the Emperor wear his new clothes as our tasting lunch unfolded. Can serving a large white asparagus on a plate count as a novel preparation? Did that even require that much skill, other than picking it out of the ground? Or what about a cucumber maki roll? Isn’t that something that I could get as takeout at Beyond Sushi, at a quarter of the price and made with much better sushi rice? The king’s looking mighty naked right now.
To be fair, there were moments when L’Arpège really stepped it up, got properly dressed, and gave it its all, as demonstrated by the dreamy risotto and the zucchini and garlic soup. The vegetables in the risotto were so expressive, conveying a rich variety of texture and flavor that truly created a cohesive experience. And there was no arguing that the luscious, smoky and creamy puree of the zucchini and garlic was flawless.
There were other moments where I did observe a dexterous treatment of vegetables that teased out interesting and unexpected contrasts. The trio of vegetable tarts that arrived as an amuse bouche was such an example. These beautiful tarts yielded a wide range of unexpected flavors, sweet, earthy, bitter and floral, that belied their sweet facade. It embraced the natural flavors of the vegetable and pushed you to rethink what it meant to be a sweet tart.
And then there was the cucumber and onion broth, in which the kitchen managed to tease out a flavor that resembled steeped tea, which was unusual and impressive. But then that was offset by strange moments like the vegetable sausage with harissa and cumin, which felt more like a vegan experiment than a fully thought out gourmet effort.
Is it obvious that I was a tad disappointed by the end of my meal? I went to go see a performance only to sit down to a bizarre strip tease. And the small cup of coffee that cost 13 euros added insult to injury. On a positive note, I suppose, was that I no longer had to see the Emperor naked. Time to see a chef wearing his chef’s whites for real.
84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
33 1 47 05 09 06