Lunch at L'Arpege and gourmet vegetarian spots
- gisaster25 May 12, 2008 03:46 PM
Has anyone had lunch at L'Arpege? Was it any good? Dinner there isn't yet in my price range (at >300 EUR pp.), so I'm hoping lunch is a cheaper way of sampling their fare. Does anyone know what lunch costs?
I read on another Chowhound thread that Arpege uses meat stock in some of their vegetable dishes. As a vegetarian, that's a deal-breaker for me. Does anyone know if they also do strict vegetarian cuisine? (And do it excellently?)
Also, I'm curious to know if there are restaurants doing extraordinary, gourmet vegetarian fare in Europe in general. I live in the Netherlands but would happily travel for the right meal! My few experiences at one-star Michelin restaurants have been hit-and-miss in the vegetarian category, while my omnivorous partner has usually been impressed with his food. I long to eat somewhere where the vegetarian offerings aren't hastily conceived concoctions of side dishes (aka. culinary bastard stepchildren of otherwise respectable restaurants).
Most top restaurants will be happy to cook vegetarian for you. All will need advance notice, especially if you don't want meat stocks/juice, dairy or eggs. L'Arpège is known for their extraordinary vegetables. So is Ducasse's Louis XV in Monaco. In Joigny, Lorain just made a book about vegetables only. Bardet in Tours (his daughter now) is known for his/her potager. In Saulieu, le relais Bernard Loiseau is known for incredible soups made of only vegetables and water. Michel Guérard in Eugénie les Bains does it great too. In Paris Maceo and Au Gourmand have vegetarian menus (much simpler places).
As Prashant says, lunch menu at l'Arpège is 140. That said, friends tell me that folks at l'Arpège are willing to split the tasting menu for two persons, making it more cost-efficient.
I think I just replied to another of your posts.
I don't know if you can call it "gourmet" - the tables are Formica, the napkins are paper - but there's (I never thought I'd right this) a really good vegan Chinese restaurant in the 11th, on the even number side of the rue Chemin Vert, between the rue St Maur and the Avenue Parmentier. (metro St Maur).
This vegan soy based cuisine is apparently an old Chinese, or Asian tradition. A lot of the dishes consist mainly of erzatz meat : everything's "chicken", "pork", "beef" – I'm not being ironic, the inverted commas are all over the menu. It sounds odd, but I promise it's very good.
They don't have any wine, but you can sometimes cadge a beer out of them, and the young coconut juice is very good. The food is fresh, light, and delicious. If you're feeling a bit leaden after a few Parisian dining days, and the weather's hot this could be good. I particularly like the "sushi" and the Vietnamese salad with "pork".
I am so glad you enjoyed Maceo. It used to be my top recommendation for Vegetarians (on a budget) as it is a restaurant with a grand room and lots of space but still charges mid-market prices. I also suspect it is one of the few true vegetarian menu's as many French vegetable dishes can contain stock etc.
I had stopped recommending it after a Veggie gave it a really poor review, and as a meat eater I found it was tricky to know how true their thoughts were. I am glad you restored my faith in it.
I would strongly discourage potential Arpège customers.
I had yesterday ( 11/27 ) dinner there, party of 8.
Due to table size we were accomodated at their "cave" downstairs (which has nothing intrinsically wrong), together with another two tables ( parties of 4 & 2 ).
I won't discuss specifically the menu, which was undoubtedly of very high caliber, but the circumstances sourrounding service, which went from dismal to terrible.
To begin with, we had a hard time explaining our waiter one of our guests was allergic to wheat . It took a while for him to grasp the notion. After acknowledging, however, the crew ( said waiter included ) continued to replenish wheat sensitive guest's bread dish with loaves of regular bread ( only one available ).
More trivial concerns: water. Water glasses were seldom, if ever, taken care of. For long intervals at a time (periods of 10+ minutes) nobody would show up to take care of empty water glasses ( or anything else, for that matter ). Since bottles were not at hand either, the situation got very uncomfortable pretty soon.
Wine: waiter declined taking wine order, saying the sommelier would handle it. After 10+ minutes with no sommelier showing up ( please remember this is a very small restaurant, maybe 40 covers total ), waiter started accepting wine orders. WTF? Not too sure if a young guy that at some point showed up holding the wine list was the sommelier. He seemed to be clueless regarding the very limited and highly ( abount 5x )marked up inventory.
Our party spoke French, English and Spanish. Service issues were humorously discussed in Spanish, to keep a measure of politeness. Luckily, our waiter did understand Spanish, so he would promptly correct the fault following our internal comments. Like when I commented that at most restaurants the bread crumbs on the tablecloth should be taken care of, at least at the end of the meal. Lo and behold, after painful 5+ hours the bread crumb collection gizmo was produced. Excuse me? We are talking 3* Michelin caliber here, 300+ Euro/head, do I need to be the one who knows the trick re. bread crumbs???
Our wheat allergic guest preferred to skip desert. Very generous staff obliged with a complimentary dish of ... their (regular wheat-flour based) pastry dessert.
A guest got a very raw ( originally requested medium ) duck dish, raw to the point of unedible . Dish was taken back to the kitchen and IDENTICAL same piece came back, tough again to the point of unedibleness. Nuked? Most probably.
I could go on and on, but will rather finish with a little pearl: the owner/chef sitted most of the time in the same room, at the 4-top table evidently hosting personal friends. At no point during the dinner did Monsieur Alain Passard paid any attention whatsoever to whatever was going on around the room. I assume, hey, if waiters don't show up after 10+ minutes, should he do something? Be somewhat proactive?
Our dinner started at 8:30 PM, we left about 1:30 AM, after 5 hours of suffering.
I would never go back, much less recommend the place to anyone.
While l was not as vehement as you with my review earlier this month, feel our sentiments were similar. Ditto the sommelier, ditto the sitting endlessly waiting for anyone to serve us, in addition the food was perfect little vegetables with no interest. The lack of interest by the staff was the death knell for me, they and Passard could not have cared less that we were there.
On two occasions here I've had terrific service from the warmest of staff, M. Passard included.
The OP said he had a hard time explaining the wheat allergy issue and was aware the captain was not grasping it at first. That indicates that perhaps this was an issue that warranted an advance call to the restaurant.
Ten minutes to take a wine order in the middle of a busy dinner service (the restaurant seats more than 40 ppl, closer to 80) is not a huge service gaffe. Having a problem with the mark up is not a service issue.
I also find it interesting that the OP states he griped with his companions but does not state that he walked upstairs to voice his concerns directly to management, but then was quick to come to this board and post a laundry list of complaints publicly.
In addition, the OP says he suffered for 5+ hours. Why stay so long if you are that miserable? When I am unhappy with the service in a restaurant I find a way to shorten the evening, pay and leave.
The fact that they were at the downstairs table may have contributed to the OP's issues, as there is less staff on hand down there to observe what the table might need, however even in a 3* restaurant, if things are going unaddressed, better to speak up rather than let the gripes pile up.
You and I certainly do not seem to share the same ideas about how to entertain guests.
First, I try to do a thorough background check of potential restaurants. The unanimous laudatory reviews of Arpège plus the intimate setting decided my choice, as well as my prompt posting of negative results: on the one hand, to help others make a more informed decision; on the other, to allow me to communicate my impressions to Michelin, whose website-mediated interface would not take the entire length of my comments ( which btw were initially intended for Michelin Guide only ).
So far my not very limited experience with allergic guests and high end restaurants has not required any special prior notices. Restaurants of a certain caliber & up ( and probably you and I agree that Arpège belongs to this set ) have proven in the past more than capable to accommodate common allergies on the spot. Or at least, take immediate notice once alerted to the fact, instead of repeatedly ignoring the warning.
Time is not of the essence, unless and/or until it becomes part of a common pattern. Long waits to take orders, refill water, show up for any minimal help ( such as: lower the extreme heat of the room, take overcoats to the hanger room , &etc ) certainly becomes annoying.
Wine markups: while I do expect high markups in a multi-* restaurant, I also expect professionalism, an intelligently selected list and adequate assistance in order to make an informed decision. Absent all of the above, a high markup becomes offensive, irrespective of the factor.
Regarding your suggestions of "walking upstairs", let me remind you our apparent differences regarding how to entertain guests. To me, the main purpose of the meeting is enjoying the company of my guests. The venue is secondary, basically an adequate setting for the enjoyment of my party. Running upstairs to "Voice my concerns to management" as you suggest would have meant deflecting my attention to a secondary issue in detriment to enjoying my guests' company. For the same reason, I wouldn't herd my party out into the night ( at 5C temperature... ) to look for another venue. Probably it's in your book. Certainly it's not in mine.
I am not defending Arpège, but since you made your background check, you know that l'Arpège does not offer high end service. All the expectations in your OP point to high-end service and l'Arpège does not offer that, as is very clear from the Michelin rating. The fact that this is the most expensive restaurant in town does not imply that it is the most luxurious by any measure. When you're lucky, extraordinary subtle and joyful cuisine make up for the room and service, especially if Passard actually cooks for you. But if you expect your table to be brushed often and your glasses to be filled before you need to, then your research I'm sure showed that l'Arpège would not meet your needs.
It is nevertheless true that some clients at l'Arpège get a much better experience than others, and that's one of the reason why I don't usually send people there. But if they ask where the best food can be found, it is still true that l'Arpège and l'Ambroisie are upthere in terms of the best possible meal. "Possible" being a keyword here, alas, and both those restaurants having clearly a two tiers system for customers. And it's not even about being a friend of the house or not, it's more of a courtisanship thing, pretty random and demonstrating the *bon plaisir* of the chef.
Ric, my experience of allergies in high end restaurants is a little different to yours (I have a severe allergy to certain nuts). I find that if I pre-warn the restaurant then I have a better experience than if I don't. I then get menu's tailored to my needs rather than limited choices, key ingredients missed off or last minute substitutions if I don't pre-warn. In fact most of the best restaurants I have been to generally ask about food allergies etc. when we reserve, and so it has become second nature to us to mention them (in fact El Bulli asked on reservation, played it back to us when we reconfirmed, then mentioned it when they introduced the menu).
At a top restaurant it is reasonable to assume that they will have a kitchen full of talented individuals who can adjust dishes easily. But is this a good assumption? I would expect most of these kitchens to be well drilled, well practised teams who seek perfection in the dishes on the menu. Certainly they may be able to improvise; but isn't it better to give them the best opportunity to deliver an optimal performance be pre-warning them?
An analogy may help to illustrate this; a top Symphony orchestra will be far better after extensive rehearsals than if asked to perform ad hoc pieces based on audience requests even though it will be full of highly talented virtuoso performers.
An interesting question on France and allergies and food intolerance's. Anecdotally, I find that restaurants in France seemed to be less sensitive to these when compared to countries like the UK/US , etc. I wonder if this is because the general diet is so broad based with lower (but rising) percentages of highly processed food? If is often postulated that the rise in food allergies and intolerance's are a factor of the modern highly processed diet, especially in infancy. If French children have a broader based diet than US/UK kids, I wonder if this results in a far lower incidence of adult food allergies, and thus a lower awareness in the restaurant trade?
About that last paragraph: thats sounds likely. Food allergies are just much less common in France. You're the first person I meet with an actual nut allergy. Until then, I only ever heard of it in the Simpsons. Well, Bernard Loiseau was allergic to raw seafood.
Another factor, to be fair, is that food sensitivities are just not recognised in France. Severe allergies are rare (like choking when you eat it) but no one here knows about food intolerance (like feeling depressed or IBS the day after).
As far as I’m concerned, L’Arpege is the best restaurant in the world, period (as a corollary, Alain Passard is the world’s best chef of course). Sure, I have not been to El Bulli or Noma, but a few visits to the like of per se, 3 Robuchon fine dinings, Calandre or Ledoyen may justify my statement. Anyway, feel free to disagree
Food (and wine) - 98/100
The food at Arpege is often deceptively simple, but very palatable. All elements in any dishes are well prepared, including the vegetables whether they act as main ingredients or simply as complimentary. This is especially true, when (as most of you already knew) Passard decided to focus cooking fresh vegetables from his “garden of eden” in Normandy and town of Fille in ’01. Known as a master of roasting and preparing seafood/fish for about 30 years, I would say his “art of fire” technique is pretty much nearly perfect. Well, it’s not a non-sense since I’ve tasted 6 times and each passed with flying colors. These are the report of my last 2 visits last year
- The earlier meal, I ordered the a la carte. After the famous egg, then comes the multicolor display of winter vegetables.
- The real thing began with plum and well-flavored scallop from the emerald coast mixed with subtle green tea powder. Winter is a haven for scallop indeed.
- After that, I had a half-portion of Passard’s legendary duck from Challans with hibiscus sauce. Excellent meat – moist and succulent. The sweet and sour hibiscus glaze is sophisticated without being overpower plus the top notch vegetables on the sides make it a wonderful dish.
- Another Arpege’s classic: pigeon served with sugar-coated almond. The juicy meat, along with crispy skin and thin layer of fat, is perfectly cooked and deliciously tender. The sauce is ethereal ... it's rich and complex with a sense of little sweetness from the fermented honey, yet still very balance. My favorite of the night
- As always, the 4-year old exceptional Comte served with black truffle was excellent.
- The memorable dessert was a ‘giant’ macaron (in artichoke flavor) with heavenly chocolate sauce. I thought it’s perfectly done – right texture, chewiness and frosting. Another dessert was a simple and fresh pineapple with olive oil and turnip
The later meal was more like the tasting of the kitchen’s several small dishes (about 12 of them including the desserts). Some of the highlights: fresh and crunchy celerisotto with green emulsion (Passard loves this kind of ‘play’ – last time I had the radisotto). But, there’s also the real risotto with white truffle emulsion – smooth and creamy – an excellent platform for truffle dish. I loved the magical flavor of smoked potatoes dish served with sour cabbage and slices of white truffles. For the heavier side, there were light and tasty monkfish cooked in salt except I was not too keen on to the cabbage mousseline as the side dish. No matter what, get the meat main course here – seriously. This time, I tasted slowly cook veal – it’s juicy and clean in your palate, the skin is the best part, did not really care about the side dishes when your main was very good :P The interesting dessert will be Arpege’s interpretation of “Mont-Blanc” dessert - The sweet chestnuts topped with whipped cream is served with dark chocolate sauce and house radish. There's chocolate cake inside. It's an intense dessert having rich flavor. I was really full … oh before this; they also served their famous and scrumptious Millefeuille with vanilla cream/hazelnut.
For the wines, I will let you read my longer review below. A short note, L’Arpege did offer $15-20 wine by the glass these days. I suppose I can be considered the restaurant’s “regulars”. I often challenge them to cook me something that I have not tried. While it’s very difficult to entirely prepare new dishes, so far 70% of them are something I haven’t eaten before. Again, these are other great meals to remember – they consistently provide superior feasts. I rated 98/100 – an absolute 3-star meal, it should not come as a surprised since 5 out of 6 visits, Chef Passard was behind the stove.
Service (and ambiance) - 97/100
L’Arpege not only prepares great food consistently, but also delivers impeccable service regularly. The current manager, Ms. Helene has been there ever since my first visit 5 years ago (when Mr. Laurent was still the main manager). In all my 6 visits, she’s always there and ready to give diners courteous and attentive service – nowadays, she got the assistance from another female maitre d’ – Nadia, who is equally as good. I suppose I’m very comfortable with the service here or Guy Savoy/Hof van Cleve because they’re both warm and professional. Nothing wrong with the professional but serious and ‘colder’ hospitality type at L’Ambroisie/L’Hotel de Ville – I guess it’s just my personal preference/unconscious perceptions about how service is supposed to be at 3-star institutions
Nothing is really changed as far as the décor is concerned here. Wood-paneled walls in minimalist interior design. The lights were dimmer during dinner with a candle to create more romantic feelings while the day, it will be best to get the outside natural lights. One thing that some of you may probably have noticed is the restaurant’s innovative VIB plate in stark white and deep red. The designer, Mr. Colucci said that to imagine the plate’s supple and wavy lines, he drew inspiration from the chef’s recipes, and even helping Passard out in the kitchen. Just a nice little detail. Without a doubt, this is my favorite place to eat and as expected, the overall experience is simply stunning and worth considered as one of the world’s best – 97.5/100
84 Rue de Varenne, Paris, Île-de-France 75007, FR