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Arpège

Arpège

Is Alain Passard a near magician who can cook with his left hand, so to speak, and still concoct absolutely perfect dishes? Probably... Few can compete with him to create such elegant and amazingly harmonious dishes, which look simple on the plate but reveal so much intensity and complexity with each bite without losing focus. His fin gazpacho a la moutarde onctueuse d’Orleans, homard des Iles Chaussey “Arpège”, and turbot de Bretagne are all culinary masterpieces. They are masterpieces because the raw materials are perfect or near perfect (somehow the lobster meat had perfect texture but lacked the sweetness we associate with great blue lobster), the balance between acidity, nuttiness and sweetness in each dish is optimum, and all of these dishes are original and express the inimitable style of a great chef in bringing out the full range of flavors hidden in his ingredients without torturing them or subjecting them to senseless experiments with texture, as many Passard imitators do. In fact, when he prepares a risotto du potager with various root and other vegetables from his garden, one feels that all our preconceived notions about luxury and “grand dining” can be laid to rest for a while. Sometimes the most simple (but not simplistic) is also the most decadent. But one is equally flabbergasted to see that Passard can also fail, and that his failures, as befit a genius, come in a grand way.

He did not hesitate to send to your table a haricots verts-peche combination without its binding element (the fresh almonds), and his slow roasted sanglier (wild boar) was served too dry on the outside and undercooked in the inside. His celebrated tomate confit farcie aux douze saveurs, on the other hand, was so cloyingly sweet that, had we not had the same dessert many times before and appreciated it, we would never have understood the fuss about it. The wine list, not unlike other three starred restaurants in Paris, is usually devoid of bargains. But it is still possible to detect a minerally 2004 Ostertag Riesling Frenholz, which marries well with lobster, followed with a viscous, if a bit flabby, 2003 Cote du Roussillon Chateau Planere la Romanee, which is fine with the great turbot, and to finish with a particularly intriguing, elegant and generous 1998 Domaine Rabiega Clos d’Iere #2, (Grenache and Cabernet blend), which merited a game dish worthy of this great rotisseur whose roasted chevreuil used to be legendary. It is also a great feeling to hug the great chef before leaving and to observe that he is as much enjoying his life as his loyal clients who, in their turn, continue to be seduced by the unique charm of this cuisine and are predisposed to overlook some shortcomings here and there.

(Then) Gastroville rating: 18/20

(by Vedat Milor and Mikael Jonsson) 

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