* Click here for rating key
Alain Passard -- L'Arpège Restaurant Review: This gem of a restaurant presents a poetic scene with a view of the golden dome of Les Invalides. A glass artist's engravings on the windows evoke the hair of Botticelli's Venus, while the panels of pear tree wood covering the walls are inlaid with Lalique glass motifs. In 1996, Alain Passard, a singular chef from Brittany, was at the top of his art as a rôtisseur (master of roasting meat). Amidst the havoc of the Mad Cow crisis, Alain Passard decided to ban red meat from his menu in 2001, instituting a vegetarian bend that brought a lot of buzz. Since then, Alain Passard has created two gardens (one of them near the Mont Saint-Michel), hired gardeners and bought two horses to plough the land. The beet in a salt crust appeared on the menu and immediately became a star. This was a première. No one had ever cooked a beet this way. The unctuous and sweet carrots with couscous grains are highly seasoned with pungent flavors to match the astringency of the oil of Argan. Even the modest leek in salty butter, enhanced with diamonds of black truffle, shines on the center stage though it usually plays a minor part in the culinary theater. Alain Passard keeps experimenting with new combinations, playing like a painter with colors, as with the golden yellow of a sweet onion gratin and a lemon confit, or the multicolored Harlequin jardinière (mixed vegetables) served with a vegetal merguez (sausage) and harissa (North African red pepper paste). Seafood, which never left the menu, now welcomes the company of poultry and occasionally calf's head, also prepared in a salty crust. Gaylord Robert, a rigorous expert sommelier, oversees the superb wine list. The service mingles seasoned professionals and apprentices learning their skills and altogether functions rather well. Today's Alain Passard cooking is like an aesthetic philosophy traveling with restraint and discernment in the universe of contrasting flavors. Lunch features a seven-course tasting menu (€ 140) while dinner brings a 13-course tasting menu (€ 320).