Posts Tagged ‘Alain Passard – L’Arpège – Restaurant 3 étoiles’

Restaurant L’Arpège
Type of Cuisine: French (Alain Passard’s own interpreted classic French cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Tuesday September 17th 2013, 12:30
Addr:  84 Rue de Varenne  75007 Paris, France
Phone: 01 47 05 09 06

Overall Food rating: 10/10 At its best (meaning, on the back of the better food items they can cook), as far as flavours are concerned,  Passard’s kitchen brigade is on the roof of the world  with little competition. Very little competition, indeed.
Service: 10/10 You have the energy of the youth (mostly young staff) with the expected high class professionalism.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 Classy but relaxed.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)


This meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot that’s supposed to read in your mind and feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their rank as a 3 star Michelin   (needless to stress that   this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did — with the better food items — on that meal. Thinking otherwise would reveal a deep lack in the understanding of what  cooking should  really be about). And that reason is the same that makes a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari all well praised cars: the details! You can love or hate them, but it does not matter, as  at the end of the day …they are effortlessly capable of heights, here and there,  that  their peers can only  dream of (a compliment that I am more than happy to extend  to L’Arpège …and knowing how skeptical I am about  those celebrated restaurants and their inflated prices, that is anything but a light feature) !

Before getting to the point, just a quick overview of some of the latest main changes in France’s restaurant scene:  as most know, Yannick Alléno has left Le Meurice (this was not a surprise since it was no secret that Chef Alléno was  looking for some new challenge).  It will be interesting to see if  Le Meurice will keep its 3 stars when next year’s Michelin stars will be published (though, according to Gilles Pudlowski, Le Meurice will benefit from Alain Ducasse’s association — click here for that article) . Not that I will miss Yannick Alléno (I am not a big fan of Chef Yannick Alléno), but he at least has proven to be capable of  pulling off   proper French haute 3 star Michelin standards . The legendary Marc Veyrat, a chef that I never had the chance to get to know, made a comeback (See Gilles Pudlowski’s article on the return of Chef Veyrat).

In an article of  Le Figaro about the 2013 Michelin stars of France, the article can be found here, my attention went to a comment from Cath98.  She writes about the elitism of most of those Michelin star Chefs, which is actually not the reason I mention her comment here (people  always think that what others do wrong is  elitism/bad/etc,  then when they  get to replace the wrong ones,  they inevitably end up doing the same thing… but done…one elite is always replaced by another..elite,…if you have hard time getting this, think of Fidel Castro –he was reproaching Battista to stick to power..humm….. ). What I found interesting though is her comment about the militant-less attitude of most of those big Chefs.  She is absolutely right: how on earth, do you rise to such heights and have just the average BS speech about terroir/local produce  to content yourself with? I am all for the terroir, have fought for it since my tender age, but we all got this one  by now! In the UK, a chef like  Gordon Ramsay fights for wise fishing (ref: his actions against abusive shark consumption).  So, Michelin star Chefs, especially in France:  ” au violon,  il est temps de jouer  d’autres airs …svp“”!


Paris remains one of world’s REAL finest gourmand destinations, indeed – With the incredible exciting gourmand destinations like San Sebastian, Barcelona, San Francisco,  Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong,  stunning non upscale food that can be found in Ecuador, Taiwan, Malaysia,  I was starting to fear that my dear Paris just could not handle a candle anymore to its world gourmand competitors.  But the 4 recent visits here is re-assuring:  for sure, if you do no search at all and simply push open the door of whatever eatery you find on your way, you will inevitably be disappointed. Do not forget: this is one of the most visited cities of the globe, so fake cooks abound to grab their  share of the cake.  On the other hand, Paris finest eateries  easily justify  the position of Paris as still a REAL world gourmet destination, and I’ll name a few that have absolutely seduced me recently, on my 2,3 recent visits to Paris:  La Table D’Aki (Chef Aki was the fish cook at 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie for the past 20 years. He now has his own fish-centric bistrot where the technique remains 3 stars for anyone seriously familiar with the matter, the setting is of the bistrot type and I find the price reasonable given both the quality of the produce and skills . This, for me, along with Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer,  is currently the idea of what I have of a #1  seafood French classic bistrot anywhere around the globe), Officina Schenatti (one of the finest Italian bistrots outside of Italy. No surprise here: Chef Ivan Schenatti has been, for a long time, the mastermind behind Emporio Armani’s haute dining. He now has has his own little bistrot with bona fide skills oozing where it should: in the plates. To continue with  the theme of the great Chefs who are enoughly humble and respect their  customers (they are the few remaining GREAT ones who are found where they are expected: in their kitchen  instead of showing off  huge ego by delegating their incapacity to work seriously to name bearers),  I’ll drop a word on the very popular  L’Ami Jean: there is nothing like this anyhwhere else around the globe. YES, it is full of tourists, barely no locals. But who cares?? It is the food, ….! Rfaol! I love Chef Stéphane Jégo rustic food, because when his rustic rich French basque-inspire food is in its prime (not always, based on my experiences there) , it is divinely delicious. That is all that counts for me. The hordes of tourists have obviously got it. And locals do not flock here because it is a bit too $$$ for most French.  I am no exception: it is $$  for  me too, but I’d rather wait and spare a bit of money, eat a great rustic bistrot  meal here, once in a long while,  rather than attending  several  laughable attempts at what a bistrot might be.   L’Ami Jean has its drawbacks and they need to be repeated to anyone that does not know this: it is cramped, it is noisy, it is not the best place for a romantic meal. But I love it!   Another keepers: Restaurant Kei as well as Le Sergent recruteur .   I should not hijack this article on L’Arpège to those findings, but to be brief, other findings that make of Paris one of world’s very best:  Sola (A 1 star Michelin that would be 2 or 3 anywhere else; needless to add more. But what a gem of world class Japanese/French cooking and there is more to this place), the Pithivier of Eric Briffard at Le Cinq (Le Cinq is a real 3 star Michelin that has officially just 2 stars) , the Lièvre à la royale of Pierre Gagnaire/Senderens  (remember:  the best of French classic food being rich by nature, it shines in its full glory during game season).  Nah, you won’t find anything close to those anywhere else.  Last but not least, one of world’s current most talent Chefs, David Toutain, seem to be interested by a return on the food scene.






Re-visiting L’Arpège (4th visit only in 15 years),  as well as another 3 star Michelin place that was reviewed later, le Louis XV.

The importance of the ‘gesture’ (IOTG) in cooking has long been pioneered by Chef Alain Passard (no need to introduce Chef Passard, which second grand passions are music and arts/  just google his name and you’ll have plenty of infos on one of France’s most celebrated Chef, whose restaurant L’Arpège – named after the musical technique called arpeggio — has kept its 3 Michelin stars since 1996). What passes as pure BS for plenty of lesser cooks, oftently because they just can’t bother understanding its deep meaning,  is actually one of the most important concepts in cooking: like it or not, the eye, the touch, the feel, the smell  set apart the better Chefs from the lesser ones. Many will tell you that they know all of that, alas few do really have the right eye/feel/smell and touch (which obviously explains why most restaurants have average cooks) and it’s easy, given that you are interested in such details (which I hope you do if you decided to take a chance on such pricey meals) , to perceive a developed sense of those matters:  the end result will always end up as inspired (or not)  as the care and deep ability of its creator to feel/touch/smell her/his produce. Fan or not of Alain Passard, there’s one thing you can’t reproach him:  he is one of the few who genuinely walked the walk when it comes to the subject of the ‘importance of the gesture’ (The IOTG).



Chef Passard,  with whom my interractions have always been limited to a simply ‘hello Chef’ when he tours the dining room, is a Chef that I have read a lot about.  But if I was a journalist,  I would have some interesting material to cover with him. His genuine passion for vegetables is not just another refrain recited by yet another Chef.  But it’s his views on the IOTG that has always caught my attention.  Of course,  parts of his views on the IOTG can be better understood by himself only:   as an example, the way he moves his hands, the importance of the notion of distance in his movements, those are elements no one else than  himself can really apply. But the IOTG is behind everything you want to do properly: take a tennis player for example. The way he/she moves his/her legs, the way he/she moves her/his arms, therefore the gesture,  plays a significant role in his/her attitude, therefore his/her  game.  Same logic applies to food: the way you cut your meat, carefully or nervously, the way you pick that carrot, carefully or carelessly, the way you cook your food, patiently or hastily, will of course always affect the end result. There is a reason,  in spite of nowadays need for speed, that I still insist on spending time with long hours of carefully slow cooking.

The IOTG goes beyond the ability of  feeling/smelling and having a great eye (essential for a real Chef) for your produce. You need, of course, to also understand the interaction between nature and the produce, you need to deeply understand how one specific ingredient reacts to an array of cooking techniques and temperatures. You need to understand the steps of the evolution of each single vegetable and fruit. You need to do the samething with meats, poultry, fish, etc. You need, and that is essential, to have memory of the flavors that were created before you. Or else, what are you really carrying on? What are you really improving upon? What can you be proud of if there’s nothing you can  refer to ? All things that everyone seems to take for granted, but how many have REALLY proven to be capable of mastering those. How many  cooks have bothered spending their time understanding and mastering the tastes of yesterday? How many really know, master and can reproduce the various traditional versions of a  Lièvre à la Royale?  How many are actually..real CHEFS, present for real in their kitchen? REAL great Chefs are  rare nowadays and we obviously see why.

The reason of the  previous paragraphs is to explain why I keep going back to L’Arpège. Alain Passard is there in his restaurant, away from the syndrome of the fake cooks parading on TV. And he did and still do something simply amazing (again, my admiration for Chef passard has nothing to do with my appreciation of my meals here. I had great as well as less impressive meals here, as anyone can have great and less impressive ones at their favourite restaurants) : applying himself to transmit the real taste of yesterday to his brigade, then building  — on that memory of taste – the creations of today. And they are doing it in an unusual way, their own way. Passard calling it his ‘cuisine légumière’ (they focus more on their work of the veggies than the average restaurants, with the veggies oftently the star, veggies that come directly from his own farms, the poultry or the seafood their equal, in contrast of the big majority of tables where the veggie is usually an afterthought, its presence serving as an accoutrement . Others have called it peasant food (for its mostly bold presentations and pure unfussy flavors) . Call it the way you want, but it is a ‘cuisine  d’auteur’ in which the brigade tries its best to interpret Alain Passard’s soulful vision of classic French cuisine. My admiration for Chef Passard has of course nothing to do with the appreciation of his food (Passard or not, if I value a food item as great or bad, I’ll point it out regardless of who cooked it), it has more to do with the fact that he is among those very few Chefs who are excelling at bridging the past with the present. They have that incredible ability to communicate the ‘uncommunicable”: memory of taste. Last summer, in Milan, I stumble upon another great Chef of this standing: Chef Aimo Moroni. I was impressed to see how Chef Moroni managed to embark his younger Chefs in a genuine mastery of the flavors of ‘yestergenerations’. Which inevitably allows a cuisine that transcends time.  There are less and less of them, those real great Chefs, and they are the last chance for the next generation of cooks to become REAL great Chefs.


Before the usual vegetable tartlets, the kitchen served a feuilleté of vegetables. A feuilleté with superb airy texture and sublime buttery taste. Carrots,thyme and peppers were the star veggies of that feuilleté.






Then sushi legumier (sushi of beet ). If you are going to make sushi crumbles  easily like this, better do something else.







The serving of amuse bouches continued: Coquetier  liqueur d’érable  (a tiny egg shell filled with a creamy  mix of Xérès vinegar, egg yolk, maple liquor)   sounds way more interesting than what it tasted since  It was dominated  by a  vinegary taste that  overpowered  the best component of  that amuse, the egg yolk. Fresh egg yolk of stunning quality does not need the distraction of superfluous strong vinegar taste. Maple liquor..why not? but the kitchen took no advantage of that component neither, the liquor adding nothing  discernible here. My wife commented that ‘any Oeuf en coque that is this tiny …boots with a visual disadvantage…a sizeable egg opens the appetite ‘. Indeed, it was a tiny egg







Seems like the amuse-bouches had no intent to amuse on this lunch: the celebrated vegetable tartlets (filling of mousses of various seasonal vegetables) looking big on photos, but disappointingly minuscule in reality (I appreciate delicate creations…but not to the point of not being able to discern anything) , so tiny (about the size of our Canadian penny, no more than 20mm in diameter) that it was hard to properly enjoy their taste and make an opinion about them.  Even upon deploying tremendous efforts to focus on whatever discernible flavor that was  left, they tasted nothing special as far  as I am concerned. The level of those  amuse-bouches we were sampling on this lunch was weak ( 4/10 for the amuse-bouches)







Then carpaccio of tomato/ huile de sureau.  Finally a dish showcasing  Passard’s cooking philosophy, the one that appealed to me for its  ability to extract the most out of the least. This dish did just that: stellar tomato taste with exciting seasoning (huile de sureau).  9/10







Gazpacho de tomate, creme glacée moutarde is an example of creativity (rework of the gazpacho) paired with amazing deliciousness. Not many great kitchens can extract this much excitement from a gazpacho. The mustard ice cream adding incredible depth of flavour, but what amazed me with this dish is that many can copy it, but I doubt that the perfected textures and work of the taste can be reproduced even by the most skilled brigades.  For what it is (a creative gazpacho), this dish is of benchmark material. 10/10







Then, their legendary fines ravioles potageres. I read about comparisons with Chinese wonton soups, but  If you cook  both versions (Passard’s recipe is easy to find online) you will quickly realize that they have nothing in common apart the fact that they are boiled pastas. The ultra refined al dente pasta (another thing that you’ll realize when trying to replicate  this recipe is the amount of patience and long practice that is needed, even by professional cooks, to get to this level of precise refinement of both the stock and the texture of the pasta ) is a work of world class precision, and again that is what I call fabulous creativity (not many kitchen brigades would think about proposing ravioles the way they are doing it). The pastas were stuffed with seasonal vegetables, the one with beets tasting really of beets…but the others we were trying could have been whatever vegetable we would want them to be and it would not matter because they had no distinct taste. Furthermore, the taste of the broth (parfum de Melisse, on this instance) was one of such aggressive minerality (like a tisane high on mineral aromas, which means not a pleasant tisane) that I found this dish hard to enjoy. 5/10 (Still, keep in mind that this broth and the content of the ravioles varies a lot depending on the seasons, so there are chances you’ll stumble upon far more enjoyable ones).







Aiguillette de homard bleu nuit acidulé au miel nouveau, transparence de navet globe au romarin –  For my taste, most boiled lobsters (this one was boiled), as great as they might be,  can’t hold a candle to the finest grilled ones (for palatable impact) and sweetness (the lobster was slightly honey-flavored) to seafood dish is just another road block on my way to enjoy the marine freshness of the lobster. It was cooked right, as evidenced by the tender flesh of the lobster, but exciting this was not  6/10







Sole poached in vin jaune was delicious and its cooking without reproach, the accompanying pieces of octopus not startling, but properly tenderized. 7/10 for the fish (it came with nicely smoked potatoes, chives and cabbage)







Corn risotto/parsley emulsion is the kind of dish that many ambitious tables will take for granted because it looks simple  and sounds easy to create, but the reality might tell a different story: the stunning corn flavor was enhanced by a balanced and addictive creamy-ness that you can’t just provoke by adding cream to corn. I love this kind of dish since it  lures  into believing that you can replicate it. Yes, anyone can re-create this recipe, but few will be able to replicate the exact depth of eventful flavors of this dish.  Inspired!  10/10


ARPEGE, PARIS - Robe des champs Arlequin a l'huile d'argan





Robe des champs Arlequin à l’huile d’argan, merguez légumière, aubergine d’autrefois, courgette ronde de Nice, carotte white satin is a creatively constructed dish of  semolina, vegetables (beets, tomatoes,carrots), vegetable sausage….  but I was disappointed by a dry vegetable sausage that was oddly sweet and salty in a non appetizing way. The bitterness of the rest of that dish was the other major problem. Not a pleasant dish at all, for me and my wife was even more critical of that dish . 0/10







Things then took the direction of the finer dishes of this meal: my wife’s T-bone d’agneau de Lozère aux feuilles de figuier, aubergine à la flamme (roasted T-bone of lamb — the image on the left or above, depending on your web browser’s display settings) would be a crowd pleaser at a world class steakhouse (fabulous taste) and my piece of pigeon/cardamom was a benchmark beautifully rosy (ideal doneness) bird with exciting taste. 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for the pigeon, but scores will never be high enough to convey the real great pleasure that my wife and I were having with both the lamb and pigeon. Exciting. Also, ppl talk a lot about the beautiful  dishes at l’Arpege, and we were eyeing at an example of just that: the way my wife’s dish was constructed was of unusual  supreme visual appeal  (hard to tell  when looking at that pic, but definitely easy on the eyes in reality).







The pigeon came with white beans that had such an amazing  mid eastern flavour profile.







Red pepper velouté was another benchmark offering of its kind, with superb creamy texture, joyous mouthfeel, the feast went on with the exciting combination of an addictive speck cream. A lesson in the art of taking a familiar dish and turn it into something profoundly inspiring. 10/10







To end the meal, a well kept aged Comte from Maitre affineur Bernard Anthony and a superb piece of moelleux du revard.









Then their millefeuille (blackberry ,thyme) which is indeed light and an enjoyable alternative to its classic version (7/10), and a rework of the classic ile flottante that showcased a creative mind but which, for me, suffered from strong coffee flavour (6/10). My wife observed that the classic ile flottante fared better. I personally do not mind this creative take, but it was just difficult to cope with the strong coffee taste.







A plate of mignardises comprised of vegetable-flavoured macarons (not as bad as I had anticipated), the nougat truly delicious, the apple tart shaped like a rose having nice buttery pastry with joyous apple flavour (8/10)


Prosthe young and dynamic sommeliere from the Czech republic.  Her wine suggestions by the glass were  so inspired (2)The superlative delicious pigeon/lamb/corn risotto, benchmark creative takes on the gazpacho/red pepper velouté. All items that many will pretend to be able to easily deliver, but few will really reach  out to the depth and deliciousness of those. Usually, when there are lesser impressive items in a meal, my overall impression is affected, but not in this case. Here my overall impression had just the finest dishes in mind (3)the very approachable and genuine Maitre D’ Helene Cousin. 

Consthe Arlequin robe des champs, lobster, ravioles potageres, vegetable tartlets (though, for the sake of accuracy, it is important to remind  that they do offer different versions of those, so you may be luckier than I was). Also, the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to explain the dishes a bit more, exactly like what Maitre D’ Helène Cousin did when she served the red pepper velouté










The wine service:  A section that I add to my reviews when I am very  impressed by the wine service at a restaurant. The behaviour of the sommeliere from the Czech republic  was admirable in all possible aspects: being able to listen, share, never contradicting while making her point whenever necessary, etc. But all of that was done way better than  what passes as the norm for great hospitality standards (Helene Cousin also excels at that, but in the different role of the Maitre D’).  Right upon perusing the wine menu I knew I’d pick the  2008 Meursault  ”Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir”  from the domaine Roulot. She had other choices in mind for me as she pointed to amazing little gems that were less expensive and indeed of great quality. But I went with what I had in mind for the most part of this meal, and she never interfered. A first great classy act from her part. This Meursault is a type of  Bourgogne blanc wine that I highly  enjoy for its  balanced acidity/minerality, enticing  nose of ripe fruits, great level of  intensity/complexity. It will continue to age well, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s already a top flight flacon). Me chosing that Meursault was also a trap:  was my sommelière going to be passive and not flag wine/dish pairings that made no sense (it is surprising how many sommelier/e/s even at highly regarded restaurants do fall into that trap)? NO she never fell into that trap! She is a very present/focused/competent  sommelière as she  tactfully intervened whenever necessary.  The way she did that and the suggestions she had is about the difference between a great sommelière (which she is) Vs a standard  sommelier-e. For me, a great wine pairing has nothing to do with showing off pricey wines. It should be about  finding, even among the more affordable ones, the wines that turn into true gems because their pairing to a specific dish is flawless.  It’s exactly what she did.  A world class sommeliere.


Service/Ambience:  Professional.  The younger waiters and waitresses looking very serious, though their youth and energy makes the whole effect not heavy (as in way too serious).  Maitre D’ Helene Cousin truly embodying the concept of L’Arpège — which is the theme  of  a ‘maison de cuisine’, a house imagined by   Alain Passard where he receives his guests in a cosy environment (which explains why you do not have the huge space between the tables / grand luxury, etc…of most of the grand restaurants of Paris) — with cordial and yet professional demeanour. I like this approach of being genuine/approachable (The sommelière from the Czech Republic also followed  this approach faithfully) since it reminds us that, after all, the most important is that the customer is there to have fun.  The only suggestion I would have is  that the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to be a tad more chatty in his description of his dishes. All in all, they are French, I am French, so communication was naturally flawless.


Decor:  The interior decor is oftently described as understated.  But this place is all about details, so the idea, as Chef Passard has  widely explained to numerous medias, is to  replicate the ambience of a house. Thus, no grand formal luxury,  but the apparent understated warmth of the art-deco inspired  home that Passard has imagined for his guests: pear tree wood panels (designed by Jean-Christophe Plantrou) sparsely adorned with  few of his paintings,  some glass etching works, some retro style chrome-armed chairs, ebene de macassar material (this material is elementary in classifying L’Arpège interior deco as Art deco). Passard replacing the usual flowers on the tables, by vegetables.



Overall food rating (by the highest Classic French 3 star Michelin standards): 8/10**  I was immensely impressed with  the best dishes of this meal which were so inspired  and had such high impact (on my palate) that the lesser items were long forgiven (though, not forgotten…which is the sole reason I am not giving a 10/10 to this meal. Trust me, I am tempted to give that 10, Lol.. but have opted to remain rational)! There are always restaurant meals which finest dishes are  impressive, but this one was  something else.  The heights of this meal, for their  benchmark joyous flavors and superb creativity, will rarely be paralleled. As with any restaurant meal that impresses, I do not know if  L’Arpège can do this all the time. All I know is that the best dishes of this meal I just had, are …. true benchmarks, by any top dining standards and will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right. It is rare that an 8/10 meal delivers dishes far superior to a 10/10 meal (for eg, a flawless high level meal but with no particular heights) and this was one of those rare cases. Soul satisfaction    ***Two months after this meal, I raised the score of my lunch at L’Arpège to a 10/10. It might sound  controversial to assign a perfect score to a meal where many items triggered indifference from my part (the amuse bouches, the ravioles potagères, just to name a few), but at the end of the round, and with hindsight, I was left with a much more important reflection:  even among world’s very best, few Chefs have the  exceptional palate found behind the finest dishes of that meal (referring to the incredible heights of deliciousness of the better dishes that they’ve cooked. And where many would reproduce those simple looking food presentations only to end up with  items of ordinary effect (which happens a lot because many kitchen brigades/cooks simply can’t make the difference between EASY vs SIMPLE), L’Arpège offers plenty of inspired touches to admire  for those with an eye for details.  If such heights would have been the norm I’d play it rough (referring to the lesser dishes), but is is not. It is not the norm. It is NOT! What I like the most with L’Arpège is that they have opted to be different (from the conventional fla fla of luxury dining), NOT  for the sake of just being different because it’s trendy, BUT because they truly are.










Conclusion: I prefer a table that does not rests on its laurels like this one, rather than places where everything is uniformly done well but without soul/inspiration.  The better dishes of this meal were true moments of  divine ‘gourmand’ enjoyment. I’ll also  add this: for me, being creative is doing things the way few are thinking about doing them. The way they have thought their ravioles  (that level of finesse in creating those ravioles  and the thought they did put in working its taste – the fact that I did not like it substracts nothing from the true creativity of that dish — ) has nothing to do with what most ambitious kitchen brigades  would think about doing with a bowl/some pasta/some vegetable and water in their hands. The gazpacho, the corn risotto, the red pepper etc..same thing: easy sounding creations  that tons of kitchen brigades can do, BUT rarely with this level of utter refinement, attention to details, and superlative work of the taste.

For something safe all the way, which is not my thang, this meal (I judge meals, not restaurants) was obviously not perfect. But if for you, the higher highs can potentially …potentially, I wrote…rise to benchmark  levels (the case of  this lunch), then this would be a standard bearing one. My wife argued that despite the benchmark lamb/pigeon and the fact that she highly regards this place as one of world’s finest (especially for its refreshing and successful different approach of French/Cosmopolitan cooking), an 8 over 10 will be an accurate score for  the overall food performance of this lunch.  I think that when your higher highs are far better than restaurants of your rank (which was the case on this lunch), then you deserve a 10/10….but way too many items left me wanting for more on this lunch (lobster, ravioles potageres, arlequin Robe des Champs), which in the end leaves me with the 8/10 as a fair overall score (update November 2013: a score that  has NOT stood the test of time – SEE my addendum, written in red, to the overall score section ) . More importantly, L’Arpège  continues to rank among  the stronger  3 star Michelin destinations around the globe, one of my few favourite.

Added in October 2013 – What I think a month later :   I purposely add this section to all my reviews because there’s of course different stages of the appreciation of a meal.  There is the  ‘right-off the bat’ stage  which is obviously the freshest impressions you have, then of course what you think about it later on. Some people think that you should always wait before  unveiling your thoughts about a meal, which to me is akin to  manipulating reality. It’s one thing to think for a while before making an important decision, but if  talking about the appreciation  of your meal does  require some second thoughts, then I am afraid you are just sharing a portion of the reality. What you’ve read before was my fresh impressions. What you’ll read next is where I stand a month  later: that meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as  a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot who’s supposed to  read in your mind and  feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their  3 star Michelin rank (needless to stress that for me, this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal). And that reason is the same that makes  a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari  all well praised cars: the details!  If for you a Porsche is simply an assemblage or metal, nothing more, then do not bother with it! You are losing your time. Same thing for this meal at L’Arpège: if for you  that Arlequin of legumes is just a take on the couscous, or those ravioles are just interpretations of wonton soups, please do yourself a favor:  stick to the numerous canteens you won’t fail to find on your way.  Leave those to people who can appreciate the details / thoughts that were invested in those dishes. I do not mean to sound  rude by saying so, just pragmatic as you’d want to constructively tell to anyone who can’t properly appreciate a great song in its full nuances to simply stay away from it. Despite how easy as it sounds (upon reading many reports about their cooking), what I was sampling  takes, in facts,  a lot of training, efforts and skills (it’s one thing you not like a dish, it is another thing to trim it down to what it is not) . When this brigade at L’Arpège performs like  it did on this meal (referring to the finest dishes of this meal, obviously), the analogy I’ll consider is one related to sports, the 100 metres race: this brigade powered through the finish line when many of its peers are still at the starting blocks.

Aller au restaurant, c’est se fabriquer des souvenirs.” – Chef Jacques Maximin (Bistro de la Marine, Cagnes sur Mer)

IMPORTANT: This is not a show off, nor to brag about anything. That is not my style, btw.  I believe that it is important you know the background of the person who is reviewing her/his meals so that  you can put in context that person’s appreciation of her/his meals. It might not mean much since restaurant experiences are variable by nature, all kind of tastes abound in nature, but it is a piece of information that is delivered with the intent of sharing, so that that we are better informed, less ignorant, therefore I do hope it will serve you somehow.

(PS: You will find, completely at the end of current post, a list of my favourite tables around the globe).

It’s just recently that I have decided to review restaurants. Not all restaurants that I do visit are subject of a review neither (for ie, on romantic diners, diners with friends and relatives, etc..). So my review site does of course suffer from little reviews in comparison to effective meals sampled over the years. But I’ll try my best to gather a quick overview of the most important years in my diner’s lifetime. Again, this is not meant for a show, that is not my style anyway, but as some informative background (I’ve always insisted on the fact that a reader needs to know the dining experience of the restaurant reviewer whose writings he is  perusing). Also notice that my only goal throughout all those years was mainly to sample the very best in Classic and Modern French (that explains why, for me, the greatest Chefs of all times are Chefs Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson, etc)

Some of the  2 and 3 star Michelin restaurant meals I tried in between 1990 – 2010  (None are reviewed since it is just recently that I started reviewing some of my meals) along with the score of the meal, listed from the meals I rated higher: Gerard Besson, closed (3 times, 10/10 the 3 times),  Le Theatre of  Chef Maximin  – now closed  (3 meals; 10/10 the 3 times), Girardet, Crissier (now close, 2 meals, 10/10 both times), Joel Robuchon at  Hotel du Parc (now closed, 2 meals 9/10, 10/10), Noma (1 meal, 10/10), Alinea (2 meals, 9/10, 10/10), Fat Duck, (1 meal,  9/10), Le Cinq (3 times, 8/10, 10/10, 9/10), Louis XV (2 times at the moment of posting this ; 9/10, 10/10), Arpege (3  times at the moment of posting this, 8/10,  10/10, then 7/10), Rostang (1 meal, 8/10), Pierre Gagnaire (2 times, 8/10, 7/10), La Bastide de Capelongue, Bonnieux (1 meal, 8/10), Michel Bras (2 times, 7/10 both times), Les Ambassadeurs (2 meals, 10/10 under Chef Piege, 8/10 under Alleno),  Michel Sarran (2 visits, 9/10 then 7/10), Lucas Carton / Senderens (closed, 2 meals, 8/10 both times), Troisgros (2 meals; 8/10 both times), Le Parc of Franck Putelat (1 visit, 7/10), L’Oustaù de Baumanière (1 visit, 7/10), Bristol (1 time, 7/10), Georges Blanc (2 meals, 7/10 then 6/10), Relais Louis XIII,  Paris (7/10), French Laundry (1 meal, 7/10), Taillevent (1 visit, 7/10), Westermann’s Le Buerehiesel (2 times, 7/10 both), Hostellerie de Plaisance, St-Émilion (1 meal, 7/10), Grand Vefour (1 meal, 7/10), Passage 53, Paris (1 meal, 7/10),  Cordeillan-Bages (1 meal, 7/10),  Le Petit Nice, Marseille (1 meal, 5/10), Le Bernardin, Nyc (1 meal, 5/10), Pre catalan (2 times, 4/10, then 5/10), Waterside Inn, Bray (1 meal, 5/10), Jean Georges, nyc (1 meal 5/10)

1985-1988 (The African era):

This was the period of the best produce I ever sample in my entire life. Those years were spent in the Indian Ocean, and two decades later, I still have found no meat, no seafood, no veggies as stunning as those found during that era.

1990 (My 1st two and three star Michelin)My first coup de Coeur for Chef Maximin

-Louis XV, Monte Carlo. 3 star Michelin. June  1990

-Le Theatre, 2 star Michelin, July 1990

At that time, I was living in Southern France. My very  first Michelin star restaurant ever was 3 Star Michelin Louis VX of Alain Ducasse, in Monte Carlo. Hard to give a rating of that dinner since this was my very first introduction to such opulence and level of food. So nothing to compare it to at that time since this was the very 1st dinner experience of that caliber. Also: since this was a 1st time in a palace-looking setting, with such high level of service and food so expertly composed, I was simply impressed. Subsequent meals at Louis XV have left me with less enthusiastic emotions, but there’s no denial that the produce serve there are simply stunning. At that time the highlight was, for me, Jacques Maximin food at his 2 Star Michelin  his restaurant Le Theatre. Chef Maximin was at that time among the most talented Chefs of French dining around the world and to some, like me, he was simply the best. He actually let his friend Alain Ducasse at the helm of Louis XV and chose to go his own way with a relatively  less spectacular restaurant setting. To me, he was far better than Ducasse…which can come as a shock to some….but to those who have been able to compare both Chefs at their very best, many will confirm that I am not wrong. This led to many other meals at Le Theatre, and on each occasion Chef Maximin just proved me right in elevating him in my top 5 best Chefs ever. Ducasse himself has always considered Chef Maximin with high esteem, and many of the very best of French fine dinings found motivation in Chef Maximin’s  guidance. Nowadays, many are impressed by Chefs like Adria, Blumenthal, Achatz, Gagnaire, Bras, Passard, Redzépi, Keller, etc. Although the latest are great Chefs, I believe that a Chef like Maximin was way superior because he had better natural cooking instinct and was gifted with a greater sense of flavor impact.  My intent at that time was not to  review restaurant since I would have never thought this to be a subject of interest: it’s purely subjective and food is just food. But some later events that came to my attention just legitimized my motivation to also provide my side of restaurant dining. On a personal note, this was the beginning of long years of intensive cooking and experiments.

1991-1995 (the Asian era):

-Several high end restaurants and also street food meals in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong  Kong, Burma and Singapore. At that time, Michelin stars were not really present in Asia but many tables in HK and Bangkok were already of at least 1 star. During those years, my favourite all-time Indian restaurant happened to be in Hanoi (Khazana). Street food in Bangkok was the most impressive of those, and my favourite all-time duck (HK), nem and phos (Hanoi) were sampled in that period. And Burmese cuisine was the best discover I made at that time.

1995-1998 (The European 3 and 2 star Michelin Era): Gerard Besson and Christian Constant  join Jacques  Maximin in my all-time top 5 favourite Chefs

Up to 1995, my only experience with Michelin star tables was limited to the July 1990 dinner to Louis VX in Monte Carlo and Maximin’s dinner at Le Theatre. But this would change in an extreme way: 1995-1998 was marked by a visit to no less than 35 two and 3 star Michelin in Europe. Not a lot for an intensive gourmand, but given the time consuming and careful selections, it’s also normal. Among those, the major meals were sampled at  Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet (1995), on that same year: Georges Blanc, Bernard Loiseau, Alain Senderens, Marc Meneau’s L’Espérance, Jung’s Au Crocodile, Gerard Besson, Westermann’s Le Buerehiesel, Vrinat’s Taillevent. In 1996, Bocuse, Pierre Gagnaire, Troisgros, Auberge de L’ill of Haeberlin, L’Arpège of Alain Passard, Michel Bras, and many more. I had only one big regret at that time: to have missed Chef  Marc Veyrat (actually, by a silly and avoidable misunderstanding with the restaurant staff during reservation time). It’s of that era that I started to identify the type of Chefs which talent really impress me: Chef Christian Constant’s work at les Ambassadeurs (that he left in 1996) has being so marking to me that up to now, he remains in my lifetime top 5 best Chefs ever (along with JR, Girardet, Jean Francois Piège when he was at les Ambassadeurs – a discovery that will come later; see the ‘2000-2005’ era — , Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson) . Chef Besson is my revelation-Chef of that period along with Constant.

2000-2005 (Some other European 3 stars, intro to Adria and Blumenthal + a marking discovery: Chef Piège joins Maximin, Constant, Besson, Joel Robuchon in my lifetime top 5 of world’s favourite Chefs)

After 2 years of break (I am not a fan of food perse as you’ll find in my writings and those two years is a proof of that — when I go dining, it’s really to aknowledge the depth of skills of a specific kitchen and see what it can bring to me in my evolution as someone who has always been interested in techniques to push flavors and textures as far as possible within classic techniques), those 5 years were marked by sporadic visits to some tables known as very dominant at the time: 2000 was marked by 2 meals at El Bulli. This was my introduction to Adria’s work. At that time, his food was closer to classic French than what it turned into later. The two back to back meals were indeed marked by an exceptional sense of creativity and  those too meals proved that Adria is also a fantastic classic Chef (although the most seem to remember him through what he did later: molecular cuisine). I never managed  to get a reservation there the following years, which is not a surprise given the popularity that he later on enjoyed. So, my only experiences with his cuisine is limited to those 2 meals in 2000. Heston Blumenthal’ Fat Duck was a must-visit given the rise in popularity of Mr Blumenthal so FT was tried in 2005. It was total novelty for me (so nothing I could compare to, at that time), so hard to rate that dinner but definitely a must in terms of dining experience. Those years were completed with visits at Régis Marcon, Guy Savoy, le Meurice, Le Bristol, Les Ambassadeurs, three visits at le Cinq and many more 3 and two star Michelin tables.

In 2004, a marking moment: the discovery of Chef Jean Francois Piège’s work at Les Ambassadeurs. He joins my lifetime top 5 best Chefs.

2006 – 2007 The American (USA) Michelin stars era

Living so close to the US and having never tried their best tables would not make sense. So 2006, 2007  was focused on Jean-Georges, Daniel, Le Bernadin, Keller’s Per se and the French Laundry. I was –unexpectedly—disappointed by that period since I thought some of those 3 stars, during that rundown, performed less convincingly than at  most 1 star tables I had tried in France. I am sure it’s not always like that, but on that given time frame, none of those big restaurants have left any great impression on me. I had the feeling of eating well executed food, indeed, but nothing more.

2007 – Noma, Alinea (going out of my way, experiencing difference)

That year, another break was necessary for me, especially after the very busy 2006. But a friend insisted that I give a try to something completely different from what I have experienced: Nordic cuisine based on an interesting take on foliage and from what he told me, in his own words, spectacular creativity. So, an exception was made along with another discovery recommended from that same friend: Alinea in Chicago. Alinea, along with FT were the only exceptions I made in moving a bit away from  my favourite type of cuisine (classic or Modern French) into a style that I found interesting but that I remained not fond of (molecular). To some extent, I’d say that I found Noma’s more interesting, more fun, without necessarily moving me neither. A question of personal taste, as usual.


2009 – For the sake of bringing an independent voice and something constructive to the now widly ‘restaurant review’ practice, I decided to write about some of my dining adventures as well. That gave birth to my fine dining and best bistrots review site of Montreal (the city where I was located at that time)

2011 – Visited the only 3 star Michelin  Parisian tables  that I had not visited to date: L’Ambroisie, LeDoyen.  Chef Bernard Pacaud was at the helm on that lunch (there were only 3 tables occupied and since he is close to retirement, he seemed to be mostly working on lunch time when I was there) and his meal turned out to be the  best 3 Star Michelin repast I ever enjoyed  since the time of Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Frédy Girardet.  As for my meal at Ledoyen, it  unfortunately did not impress (I  never thought that I would one day stumble upon a lobster and citrus emulsion that would be discrete in terms of palatable excitement,  an achievement that did materialized itself on my lunch here, hopefully just an off day) .  Then I completed the year at a table which Chef  I do consider as one of the very best titan-Chefs of the globe: Chef Christian Bau’s Victor Goumet Restaurant Schloss Berg. I took the time to review all three meals on current web site. In fine, I also visited San Sebastian in the Pais Vasco, temple of the famous pintxos (Pais Vasco’s tapas), and ended up being very impressed by their produce and work of flavors. It’s in those occasions that I am thankful to the Lord that he gave me a palate that is not muted ;p San Sebastian, as well as the entire Spain, is indeed one of world’s few real gastronomic destinations, because there…it is talent that commends the buzz. Not wind nor megalomania.

2012 – First time that I try some Michelin stars ventures in Italy (I do usually stick to their laidback trattorias whenever I am there and I am still ever fonder of those upon this visit of some of their Michelin stars ;p).  This visit to Italy covered only the regions of Liguria, Lombardy, Veneto and Cinque Terre. As it so oftently happens to me whenever I do visit  Italy, I found  another coup de Coeur in their coastal regions and this time it is a tiny trattoria in Corniglia  called  A cantina de Mananan. Being born and raised with stunning produce all around me, oftenly elevated with brio by real gifted cooks, it was with great joy that I could re-connect with such great souvenirs  in that little trattoria. Visited Michelin star destinations during this trip were 2 stars Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia (classic Italian cuisine full of flavors where ingredients are not just of superior quality, but the cooking skills paying justice to that quality, too. I was impressed to see how younger Chefs carried on flavors passed from generations to generations, the only my get food plenty of soul. That is exactly how I would describe my lunch there, and this is the kind of cuisine that I appreciate the most. The locals told me that it was even better, before. So imagine…), then 2 stars Trussardi alla Scala in Milan, too (Nothing that I found out of the ordinary based on the usual 2 star Michelin standards that I know, thus I was not particularly moved, as I could easily name plenty of 2 stars that were more memorable in my mind. That said, not bad at all, good actually and a safe choice for some good upscale dining, but not a favourite neither), 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore (My type of 3 stars, where there’s no fuss but a strong focus on real delicious Italian fare done with panache. A beautiful and lovely classic 3 star Michelin venture that I enjoyed a lot), then 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Rubano (young, modern, fun place but the savouries left me indifferent as they were well executed but, for me,  lacked mouthfeel excitement during that lunch there).  I took the time to review the meals at Le Calandre and Dal Pescatore on current web site.

Sept 2013 – Went visiting two old time favourites after many years of no-show. First L’Arpège in Paris. There’s a lot of blabla about how easy it is to make food delicious and that food is inevitably delicious wherever there’s cream, sauces, etc. The problem is that reality unveils a totally different story: I remember a friend who I once brought to L’Ami Jean in Paris and he kept laughing at them suggesting that any meat that has fat in it and that you braise will of course be delicious and that he did not need L’Ami Jean to get to that point, Lol. It’s been almost 2 years now that that friend is trying to put his suggestions  into practice, alas in vain, and he now understands … to borrow an analogy from music … that it’s one thing to observe thatà a song is made of octaves, it’s another thing to appreciate their nuances. Cases like this abound.  Of course a bowl of ice cream with a bit of caramel in it is supposed to please the most, but 3,4,5 versions of that can vary, if you bother about  details, from the ordinary to the most sophisticated (in depth of taste, for eg)  even despite having the exact same appearance. So, that was how I’d describe this meal at L’Arpège: its finest dishes (yep, yep there are items I did not like, but they were long erased from my mind, largely overwhelmed by their finest counterparts), although simple  looking are no easy dish to conceive for even the most ambitious kitchen brigades out there. And their taste, their taste, their taste was deep and divinely delicious!!!!  Simple looking Vs easy, that’s for me the major difference to make, because I don’t go to restaurants for easy dishes. As simple as they might look, the dishes here were complex in reality: full of character,soul, inspired in their execution, so much so  that even the dishes I did not like commanded admiration (take the dish of Arlequin de legumes. Really not to my taste, I even scored it with a 0/10, simply because the taste clashed with what I perceive as eventful, but I admired the creative  execution because I know well that many will think that it is a matter of just adding semolina to some boiled vegetables, but that if you play attention to the nuances of that dish..well, it’s far from being as simple as that. It’s right there the problem of most kitchen brigades: they tend to confuse simple looking execution with  easy creations, a problem that L’Arpège does not suffer from. L’Arpège continues to be in the top tier of my favourite 3 star Michelin restaurants around the globe. Then Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, where the food has not impressed me this time (this, French/Med classic cooking is my favourite type of cuisine because you can do a lot, with very little, which is essentially all that interests me about food; for eg pot cooking vegetables is usually eventful since it’s the occasion for the aromas of the ingredients to truly express themselves,  but unfortunately for me, although nicely executed, the food on this lunch had flavors that were generally discrete in their expression. And yes, of course, there  is always a subjective level in what people think of as eventful or not, and for me those were uneventful flavours) , but it does not matter since the experience of being there, that world class service, the little details that makes a restaurant grand (the luxury, the carts of bread/outstanding cheeses, the presentation of the butter, etc)  and that beautiful dining room are still amazing souvenirs for the mind and the eyes. I am not trying to balance my slight disappointment of the food (again, nothing bad, just not as eventful as I came to expect from such cuisine) with the positive comments about the overall experience …just for the sake of sounding fair, far from’s just that when I don’t like, I don’t and I’ll say it but where it pleases me, I will do the same thing. Regardless of the food performance that did not knock my socks off, Le Louis XV continues to be a  grand classic experience that is unparalleled.

In November 2014, I visited Tokyo and that trip revealed how food is, in general, a matter of perception as Wagyu, a meat praised as one of this globe’s finest, was not even as half as flavorful as any ordinary cut of Black Angus having less marbling than the steaks of Wagyu I have enjoyed in Tokyo (i tried Matsusaka, Sanda as well a Wagyu from the Oki Islands). Sushi was also another revelation but not the way I was expecting it: Yes, the tiny group of elite Sushi shops (for eg Mizutani, Sawada) do certainly have access to seafood of exceptional quality, BUT the rest of the sushi shops are not that vastly superior to a good Sushi shop in North America. And most sushi conveyor belts would not be allowed to open even in a city like Montreal. That said, Tokyo is a true world class food destination as plenty of really great food can be found virtually at every street corner with a standard of cooking and a level of consistency, as well as competitive prices, that can be found only in few cities around the globe. I ate really well for less than $5 in Tokyo, a possibility that is simply unimaginable in most western cities. Food aside, Tokyo is a magical city with incredible energy (the seas of people and neon lights, the never ending electric ambience, the mesmerizing marriage of the old and the new architectures). One of this globe’s hottest destinations, without a doubt! (major restaurants visited during this trip: Sushi Oono, Sawada, Sushi Mizutani, Dons de la nature, Ishikawa, Fuunji)

In Nov 2015
, I tried 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire for the 2nd time in 10 yrs. This is true world class French cuisine. I went expecting a meal made of ups and downs as sometimes accounted online, but what I suspect  to be perceived as occasionally  ” off ” at PG were actually their riffs on genuinely well conceived non french food items (for example, a take on the japanese chamachurri in the case of this meal). So, nothing technically faulty at all. When comparing the rating of my meal at l’Arpege to the one at PG,  you may ask why a 10/10 in the case of L’ Arpege and a lower rating for Pierrer Gagnaire’s (both essentially cooking French food regardless of how their food is described by the medias ) . Take that with a grain of salt as  at this level of cooking, it is just a question of personal taste. But If you still insist in knowing why, there you go: the flavor of fire (of which I am a fan) was more present at l’Arpege (but that has to do with my choices of food, not the fault of the kitchen at Pg) and the best items at L’ Arpege fared slightly more delicious to my palate ….slightly i’ll stress because Pg’s work of the flavors is generally outstanding (the superlative vanilla souffle/beets/lamb, etc).

***A list of my favouite restaurants around the globe:

Restaurant L’Ambroisie, Paris
Maison des tanneurs, Strasbourg
Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg, Perl-Nennig
La table D’Aki, Paris
A cantina de Mananan, Corniglia
Lawrence, Montreal
Le Marly, Montreal (Now closed)
C’heu l’Zib, Menetou-Salon
Le Sergent recruteur (Chef Antonin Bonnet), Paris
L’auberge du XIIe siecle, Sache
Ca La Maria, Mollet de Peralada
Brouwerskolkje, Overveen
Pasquale Paoli, Rousse Island (Balagna)
Khazana, Hanoi
Aung Thukha, Yangon
Da Vittorio, Brusaporto
L’autre pied, London
The Square, London
Le Gavroche, London
Xindalu, Shanghai
Michel Rostang, Paris
L’Abeille, Paris
Le Cinq, Paris
Taillevent, Paris
L’Arpège, Paris
Edsbacka krog, Sollentuna
Lux, Stockholm
Chez Dominique, Helsinki
L’Auberge de l’Ill, Illhaeusern
Cabana Las Lilas, Buenos Aires
Bistro de la marine, Cagnes sur Mer
Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
Olivier Roellinger, Cancale (His previous restaurant)
Graze, Bangalore
Restaurant Emile’s, Calvi
Aubergine, Carmel by the sea
Tetsuya’s, Sidney
Kolonihagen Frogner, Oslo
Au rince Cochon, Limogne en Quercy
Les Crayeres, Reims
Les prés d’Eugénie, Eugénie les bains
Residenz Heinz Winkler, Aschau im Chiemgau
U Kastelana, Brno
La Pyramide, Vienne (Isère)
The Dolder Grand, Zurich
Urasawa, Beverly Hills
Frédy Girardet, Crissier (retired)