Saturday, December 12, 2009

Highlight #265: We ate Paris (Part III) - Restaurant: L'Arpege

I am SOOO behind on posts. Work really ramped up after Paris and Rome, I barely had time to pack, fly, work, sleep, and eat of course. Only yesterday was I able to take a breather. After a day of rest, I am finally ready to tell you all about the incredible meal we had at Arpege just before Thanksgiving.

For a 3 star, Arpege's dinning room is sparsely decorated, especially when compared to my other favorite, the opulent Le Meurice. But once the lunch crowd filled in, the well-dressed folks made up the scenery nicely.

We ordered a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose to toast the holiday. The sparkly salmon pink bubbly was just perfect for the amazing vegetable fare served. Our first taste was pea and squash puree on top of a crunchy housemade turnip chip. Light, elegant, flavorful, and texturally pleasing, it was a nice introduction to chef Passard's famed vegetable tasting.

A second round contained a creamy potato puree that was like a very rich mashed potato.

Then our meal officially began with the restaurant's signature Arpege egg. Slow boiled orange egg yoke mixed with cream, sherry, vinegar, and maple syrup created a taste explosion in the mouth. The flavors grew richer and deeper as I dug into the very thick yoke at the bottom. This one really showed genius and set the tone for the Passard experience.

Unwillingly parted with the adorable egg, we were comforted with a white onion and parmagiano reggiano gratin. Even though still early in the meal, a tread was already forming. Chef Passard seemed to enjoy pairing sweetness with savory and does it with an expert hand. This shallow dish held unseen depth in both quality and balance.

For the Chinese, dumplings are meant to satisfy in quantity. But here, Passard's delicate creations were a refined study in texture. Each vegetable filling had a different mouth feel ranging from fine and smooth to chunky and crunchy. Our favorite was a walnut filling that surprised with an infusion of nutmeg.

A sugar beet slice baked in Guérande grey salt crust looked striking in its simplicity. We were instructed to eat the unpeeled crust with each bite. We followed the instruction and understood why. The salt crust brought out the plentiful sweetness in the unadulterated beet. It's definitely the sweetest I've ever had.

Squash veloute with smoked bacon cream boasted an extremely smooth texture and plenty of smokiness from the bacon. This would have made a wonderful warm treat on a crappy rainy day like today.

A risotto made from celeriac delivered another intense dose of Parmagiano. The tenderized celeriac mimiced the texture of al dente rice quite successfully.

The couscous with garden vegetables was a colorful sight to behold. The portion was much larger than the previous courses. Even thought it's all vegetables, this combination had a meaty feel. The fine grained couscous was a nice texture contrast to the vegetables. I got very full from this plate.

But then, there were these beautiful looking scallops. Who can say no? A little chewier, these were more meaty and savory than tender and sweet. Personally, I felt this sole non-veggie dish was the only one in the meal that fell off the awesomeness scale.

From the large cheese cart, we each chose three to four cheeses of varying age to try. The hands down winner of our total combination of 12 was a 6 year old comte packed with intensity. If one could be knocked out by a tasty punch, this was it.

We finished the meal with a very pretty apple tart. The pale apple flowers actually tasted quite different, much more tart, than the single red sweet one in the middle. The salted butter caramel sauce was super rich and good enough to lick on its own.

You know how I feel about macroons, so imagine my delight in seeing these rare vegetable ones (green: celery, white: carrot, pink: beet). The white carrot totally surprised me with the most distinct carrot flavor and yet was so delicate.

The entire lunch took four hours. While we were on vacation, most of the other patrons looked like they were dressed for work. Yet they lingered on. I really wonder how they got away with it. :) Thank goodness the Louvre opened until 10pm that night, so we missed nothing.

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