Tuesday, August 8, 2023

(Michelin) Stars in Paris

Trip date: September 2022

There are just nine Michelin 3-starred restaurants in Paris, and now I've been to three of them. 

Since 1986 Arpège has been the darling of Paris. Chef Alain Passard earned his 3rd Michelin star in 1996 and has had it ever since. In 2001 the restaurant famously became vegetarian; I knew I would never choose to spend that kind of money on a vegetarian only meal so I figured I would never go. I mean I like vegetables but not that much!

In 2014 meat returned to the menu, but the focus is still on vegetables. I can get behind that! 

Passard has his own gardens, just outside of Paris, that supply Arpège with all of its vegetables. Everything is picked that morning and delivered to the kitchen's waiting chefs. If you are a local you can even have a basket of vegetables from the same gardens delivered to your home! You can also buy dishes with his vegetable paintings on them which are used in the restaurant. 

Forest, Nicky, and I had reservations for lunch on my last day in Paris. None of us had been and we were all excited! Immediately upon entering I noticed the wall coverings; scenes of gardens and vegetables were painted on the white fabric walls with small accents of embroidery (I think this was done by Maison Lesage who is a revered embroidery house now owned by Chanel.)

Our table was in the main dining room (there is also a room downstairs); the space was airy and done in creams and light wood, the chairs with green caning. I liked it, but I know not everyone is in agreement on the decor. 

While we waited for Nicky to arrive, we had multiple staff come to our table and ask to take one of our handbag stools for another table. We explained each time that our friend would need it. It was unprofessional and it definitely rubbed my friends the wrong way. Not the best start to lunch.

We all had a glass of the house rosé Champagne (there was no cart brought about, just a question on if we would like one) and then all ordered the set menu "Le déjeuner des jardiniers" which is €185 per person. The restaurant oddly doesn't commit to how many courses you will be served, but we had around 12 courses by the end. 

You can also supplement your tasting menu with additional courses from the menu. I really wanted to try their Sole Meuniere but it was only served as a whole dish for the table and the ladies weren't interested. Our waiter said he'd see what he could do...

The meal started with a little plate of vegetables served plain and I will just say we all kind of rolled our eyes. But as we tasted the tomatoes, we each exclaimed that it was the most "tomatoey" flavor we'd ever tasted!

One of the dishes Arpège is known for is the "chaud froid d’oeuf aux 4 épices, sirop d’érable" or the Passard egg. A warm, perfectly soft boiled egg yolk is added to the shell with cold creme fraiche, chives, and a touch of maple syrup. It was absolutely delicious. 

All the dishes we had were visually beautiful; there were lots of colors and textures on each plate. And the flavors really did stand out! This dish of "sushi" almost had me liking beets...
But after the 2nd beet dish, a "tartare", I mentioned to the server that I hoped there would be no more beets (I'm not a fan for those of you who don't know me)

The only dish that wasn't very pretty surprised us in how delicious it was. A dish of gratineed onion was warm, had crispy bits amongst the soft vegetable, and had a very meaty taste to it. 

Unfortunately, there was a huge service misstep with this dish. One of the ladies was in the restroom when the plates were delivered to the table, so they served two of the three. Not only have I never been at a Michelin starred restaurant that served plates when a diner was away from the table, but in this case our friend returned from the bathroom to find us both eating which is quite rude. Service then brought hers out. It was shocking really. 

That misstep was followed by the kitchen bringing out a ½ order of the sole for me. A ½ order is not really available so this was a really nice touch. The fish with tiny clams and buttery potatoes in a Vin Jaune sauce was incredible; truly one of the best things I've ever eaten. 

I wanted to give the ladies a taste of the fish but they both said that it would be in bad taste to share since the kitchen had gone out of their way to provide a ½ order. The dish wasn't free, in fact it was a €110 supplement so I should be able to do whatever I wanted with it! But I kept the fish to myself as they suggested. 

We were served two desserts, the first was simple dish of the best strawberries in an infusion of sorts and adorned with pretty little flower petals. The second was another Arpège classic, the Apple Tart Rose.

Beautiful, but I have to say that the flavor was fine and I thought the texture could be better. 

As Arpège doesn't offer wine pairings we had ordered a lovely Alsatian Riesling and then a very interesting Beaujolais Blanc. With dessert, a small digestif cart was brought over which had a very special bottle of Chartreuse Reine des Liqueurs and a ratafia fortified wine made by Champagne house Adrien Renoir.

Another surprise for me was no cheese course! I'd read that it was quite a nice trolly (I guess back in the day) and was looking forward to it. The mignardises were not the traditional macarons baked in interesting flavors that I had heard about, but instead, puff pastry bites filled with baked fruits. Fine but not what I was expecting, and honestly I like to take those home for breakfast the next day!

Our main server, Passard's son Louis, was a little overly familiar with us. He was quite chatty which is pretty much a no-no at a restaurant of this type. But he did take some great photos of us!

We were the last to leave at 4:30, so a leisurely 3 ½ hour lunch was had. I enjoyed the meal, especially as I was with great friends, but we did spend a good amount of time later, over glasses of champagne, discussing the pretty blatant flaws that really didn't seem fitting of a 3-star. 

Have you been to Arpège? If so what was your experience? 

All Paris photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

Paris For Free

Paris by the Numbers 

36 Hours in Marseille

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