L’Arpège is one of the most venerable institutions in Paris headed by chef Alain Passard with worldwide renown for his devotion to vegetable-centric tasting menus. Michelin three stars, regular in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, etc. While I’ve tried to avoid visiting stuffy classic fine dining establishments in Paris that may not be as relevant as they used to be in favor of more up and coming places, L’Arpège was on the top of my list of places to visit because I was definitely intrigued by how a tasting menu consisting mostly of vegetables could create a memorable dining experience.
While the tasting menu certainly doesn’t come cheap (for dinner, there are two options at 270 and 340 euros respectively), fortunately the lunch tasting menu comes much cheaper at 140 euros, while still featuring around 20 courses. Although there are a la carte options, my recommendation is to go for the tasting menu for a more complete dining experience. By the end of the meal, I was beyond stuffed even though I was walking all morning touring Orsay Museum and came to the restaurant with totally empty stomach. To sum it up, the lunch tasting menu flashes the brilliance of chef Passard’s philosophy of devotion to nature. I had been to some really nice restaurants in NYC featuring outstanding vegetable dishes like Narcissa, Dovetail or Dirt Candy, but the tasting menu at L’Arpège just blew me away with the way vegetables created rich and intense flavor that was absolutely classic but also a sensational modern take on French cuisine.
There was chickpeas mousse that came with beetroots and sesame that I loved the rich flavor of. It must’ve been a season of tomatoes when I visited as I had seen multiple tomato dishes in the course of my lunch, with some memorable items like tomato pesto that came with celery and mustard ice cream or simple tomato carpaccio with oil and sea salt on top. There were some really nice surprises that I hadn’t seen before. I would not have thought that grilled shallot would create a unique flavor with quail egg and Parmesan cheese, or that vegetable ravioli with tomato consommé could be so soothing and aromatic.
Couscous that came with tomatoes and vegetable “sausage” (a signature dish according to one of the servers) had an earthy feel of the garden. All these vegetable dishes displayed a full range of flavor and texture, and I loved the versatility of each item offering something new. Was it a surprise, then, that one of the weakest dishes was lobster that came with wine sauce and sweet potato? I thought the lobster wasn’t as crisply cooked as I had hoped. Why not get rid of seafood/meat dishes altogether from the tasting menu unless diners specifically ask for one, I wondered.
I was relieved when the dessert finally arrived, although at this point I had never been quite this full in a while. The classic mille-feuille made with rhubarb along with a side of pear and raspberry sorbet, however, was just pure decadence that I marched along and finished more than half of it!
The servers were all professional and service was attentive. Maybe the pace of the meal could’ve slowed down just a bit given the number of courses, but it’s probably my fault because I was eating on a faster pace to make sure I have enough time in the afternoon for more activities in Paris. The dining room was small but had a classic feel quite fitting for the type of cuisine that the restaurant features. I wasn’t much of a veggie person but rather a hardcore carnivore before arriving in NYC three years ago. After learning what vegetable dishes can accomplish during my time in NYC, I have come to fully appreciate the boldness and versatility of L’Arpège. It is an absolute must to visit if you are in Paris looking for a fine-dining experience that you can’t have in any other cities. Definitely worth all the accolades built over nearly 30 years since the restaurant’s opening back in 1986.
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 84, rue de Varenne, 75007, Paris, France