Lacking excessive wealth, an expense account or employment as a food critic, I have wistfully looked at the world of haute cuisine as off limits. Thankfully, we have some friends who know how to give a thank you gift that is far too generous. That is what Erin and I received 10 days ago, when we were treated to the meal of a lifetime at L’Arpege.
Comfortably situated at the top of the Paris food pyramid, Alain Passard’s restaurant has long-held the rare distinction of being a three-Michelin Star restaurant. That well-deserved honor is due to Passard being one of the vanguards of our current obsession with hyper-local, hyper-fresh ingredients.
In 2001, with his third Michelin Star and reputation secured, Passard reinvented his whole menu and restaurant, placing the focus squarely on the fresh, seasonal produce coming from his new gardens in the Paris region. He routinely finds new, exciting ways to present humble vegetables that we take for granted. The results were, as we found out, brain-melting.
This type of dining experience was a first for me. I’ve only been to one tie-and-jacket-required restaurant in my life, and that was a douchey, stuffy steakhouse in D.C. Our lunch at L’Arpege was high cuisine perfect for our group and for visitors from all walks of life: It is exquisitely prepared, inventive food presented by a warm, welcoming staff who don’t take themselves too seriously while still making sure to address your every need.
In total, we were treated to 16 courses, a few amuse bouches to whet our appetites and four wine pairings from a sommelier who obviously knows his shit. Seriously, we were served our wine from the sommelier! He was a gem. We put our trust in him, and he did not lead us astray.
Anyway, onto the food porn. Sarah gets all the credit for these pictures. She was in the seat with the best lighting, so she had five other people making sure she remembered to take a picture with each course.
It was at this point that some of us were slowing. Not knowing how many courses we signed up for, we thought we’d get some dessert and that’d be it. Nope.
If you’ve never thought that you can get full on vegetables, I challenge you to come here and be proven wrong. Sitting and grinning drowsily after our voyage, we were jolted back to life by an appearance of the man himself. With a booming laugh and a forceful declaration of “I love vegetables!” Chef Passard’s enthusiasm for his vision was addicting. Knowing he was in the kitchen overseeing our meal made the experience that much more special. I don’t know if we’ll ever be back, but we can dream.