Sunday, 10 August 2014

London and Paris Foodie Adventure 2014: The Grand Finale- Arpege

Tastiness Factor: 10/10

Atmosphere: 4.75/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore Approved?  YES- Arpege raises the humble vegetable to new heights with its plant-centric menu.  Even in his non-vegetarian dishes, the vegetables are still centre stage.  Chef Alain Passard is so serious about using only the finest ingredients that he sources all of his produce from his very own farms just outside of Paris.  Passard is a serious locavore who is has the confidence to let his "home-grown" vegetables speak for themselves.

I cannot begin to express the excitement that I felt the night of July 3, 2014 as Hubby and I made our way to Arpege.  There were so many reasons to be on Cloud 9.  Our first 3 Michelin Star restaurant experience, led by a vegetable-obsessed chef with his own farm, in a beautiful Paris neighbourhood.  I was in my glee!

Arpege is located on la Rue Verenne, a little side street off of Rue St. Germain.  It was a picturesque 45 minute walk from our apartment in Marais across the Seine.  You had best keep your eyes peeled on approach, since the entrance is quite inconspicuous amongst the rows of historic stone buildings that line the street.

The space inside is separated into an upstairs and downstairs which offer quite different dining experiences.  The downstairs, where we were seated, is reminiscent of a cave, with an arched ceiling and stone walls.  It is quite intimate, with about 6 tables for 2-4 people.  The upstairs is much more open, and offers a more traditional setting.  Both are nice, and it really comes down to personal preference as to which a guest may prefer, but it may be worth calling ahead and making a request if you feel strongly either way.

Service is absolutely exceptional.  Quite honestly, it was perfect in every way.  The 6 tables downstairs were tended to by 4 servers, each with a different role.  One server was constantly scanning the room to see where water glasses needed refilling, wine needed to be poured, or bread needed to be delivered and there was not a moment that evening that these tasks occurred even a millsecond too late.  We had a very kind, charismatic server who presented us with the menu, explained all of our options and ensured that our dishes were delivered in a timely fashion by other servers.  Everything ran like clockwork.  While the service was formal, it was not at all stuffy and by the end of the evening, there were jokes being tossed around between the servers and the guests, as well as between guests at different tables.  One of the highlights of the evening was when Chef Alain Passard himself came down to speak with each individual table, ensure that we were enjoying everything, and even share a few jokes.  Apparently, Passard makes an appearance every night of service, making every guest feel special.  I must admit, I got goosebumps!

There are several different options in terms of menus, including a la carte, a vegetarian tasting menu and a seasonal tasting menu.  I chose the vegetarian tasting while Hubby did the seasonal tasting.  Because Passard’s main focus is honouring the humble vegetable, both tasting menus are pretty similar, except for 3 courses on the seasonal menu that contain fish/meat, as well as an additional cheese course.  Either menu will provide you with more than enough food, even if you have a huge appetite.  We heard several diners say, in additional to ourselves: “Really, another course???”.  There ended up being 21 courses in total!!!

I really find it difficult to choose standout dishes at this meal as everything was truly outstanding.  I have never tasted such fresh vegetables and herbs, some of which were left in their natural beauty and some which were transformed beyond belief.  After this meal, I fear that no vegetarian tasting, or any other meal for that matter, will live up to this one.  And presentation?  Everything was so pretty, it was a shame to eat it.

Here is a pictural representation of our meal, with the exception of a few dishes that I mistakenly devoured before snapping a pic:)  Note that most dishes were on both the vegetarian and seasonal tasting menus, with just a few different meat and fish dishes swapped in on the seasonal menu.    I am sure you will agree that many of these dishes look too pretty to eat!

Overall verdict?

Arpege is, to date, the best meal of my life, and believe me, it will be tough (practically impossible) to beat.   The philosophy, the service and, most importantly, the food, were nothing short of PERFECT.  Yes, this place will cost you a pretty penny, but Arpege is a restaurant that every foodie must experience.

You simply cannot imagine just how magical it is without experiencing it for yourself.

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