With my story about L’Arpege I’d like to start near the end of the meal. L’ Arpege was our only three star restaurant I selected. Sukie and I had dined there years ago and loved it (it was two stars then) and I wanted see where Chef Alain Passard had taken his restaurant over the decades.
As the final main plate was being presented, Wynne and I noticed that the chef was making a tour of the dining room. He stopped and spoke with what looked like old friends and new. We were at the end of his circle. I must admit that I had a bit of awe in my soul – tempered with a huge amount of respect for Chef Passard.
He came to the table, quickly looked at our plates and ran to the kitchen to bring back more natural juices for the guinea fowl. I rose out of respect and we spoke for several minutes. His last statement was that he loved his work more each day than ever before.
…And that my friends is a tale of two graying chefs who both feel so lucky to be doing what they do every day!
I love the photo of the two of us. He placed a clean, long apron over his working apron to visit the guests. A simple blue shirt and yes seersucker pants … perhaps a new style for me. No toque, no stiff jacket, no pretense, just a man who loves his garden and his restaurant and shows that love in his food and his gracious nature.
Why the reference to the garden? Some years ago he took his three star restaurant to vegetables only. He has subsequently returned fish and fowl to the mix.
The vegetable only menu is still available; we chose the basic twelve course lunch menu. Not the classic cuisine lunch menu. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. We were satiated as it was.
Wynne and I have learned to ask the sommelier to guide us with the wines. We can’t manage bottles any more so suggestions of wines by the glass are necessary. His suggestions were like the entire experience: superb. An Alsatian took top honors.
Remember, all of the vegetables are grown in his own gardens – just like Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.
Starting with fantastic butter. I truly love this specialty of France. Gorgeous color and texture and some times with coarse salt within. Baby radishes no larger than the tip of my little finger; gentle of texture and taste. Moving quickly onto three miniature tartelettes with the thinnest, most crisp pastry shell. Each filled with a different vegetable purée. Rich bursts of flavor of beet, turnip and celery.
Next was baby ravioli filled with lightly minced veggies; all in a Chrysanthemum (thank you auto spell) broth. One bite each – scallions, courgette-zucchini, spring onion all mixed with some cheese and who knows what else. I’m trying to simply enjoy and not overly delve into technique.
A gratin of red onions in a layer so thin. A creamy garlic soup with a poached quail egg – fresh garden potatoes. The procession of small courses flowing to the table.
A surprise of a beet tartare with fresh french fries. An egg yolk resting in a bed of creme fraiche to look like a whole fried egg. Taste and texture were perfect. Wynne now loves beets and baby Chantrelles.
During the service, the staff toured the room with both the Turbot and the guinea fowl as they came from the oven.
The guinea hen was roasted in a salt crust and had the most beautiful crusty skin I’ve ever seen. My portion had a good section of skin still attached and had some wonderful globules of yellow fat adhering to the skin and adding even more flavor. These two were the main plates, and are two of my favorite foods. I love the texture of the turbot and the taste is, well in general, I find the taste of fresh fish hard to describe with the most important point being that it must be fresh. Seafood with a strong taste generally is not fresh.
Quickly moving on to the desserts. A puff pastry with layers of young rhubarb and garnished with raw almonds and then the much anticipated plate of pastries. I’d eat macaroons if they tasted like this; all of the pastries one bite or two. A beautiful fresh apple tart with thinly sliced apples made into a rose.
The flavors of the meals were gentle and fresh; as if one had just come from the garden with a basket of produce and in fact they had. There was not any taste combination that stood out. Simply a marriage of the best ingredients with a chefs touch, allowing the products natural taste to be the star.
Chef Alain Passard is a consummate chef and host and someone for whom I have so much respect…. He loves his work and it shows…