Monday, June 26, 2017

Friday June 9th: Arpege, The Marmottan Monet Museum, Spring

I wanted to go to Arpege as soon as I read its website. Not just concern for the soil (the French invented the word “terroir”) and the quality of the vegetables but the desire to share them with whatever animal chose to eat them really made this seem like a dream restaurant to me. However, getting into such a famous restaurant is rarely easy. Two other 3-star places I was interested in were not interested in me because I was a solo diner. The smallest number of diners they would take reservations for is two. That strikes me as very strange, but chefs of this caliber can be eccentric. Thus it was to my considerable surprise that Arpege approved my request for a reservation after first requesting my credit card number, and then insisting that I reconfirm 48 hours before dining. As I had a reservation for 12:00 Friday, I reconfirmed on Wednesday. I was asked for my credit card number again, and then I was supposed to be in. I arrive at Arpege, carrying a jacket in my bag in case it's needed. At the front desk, the woman informs me I'm not on the list of diners! How is this possible? I hadn't Re-RE-confirmed on Thursday! Now that's getting ridiculous. They finally find a table for me and I'm in. What wonders will now ensue?
I'm asked if I want wine with my meal. I tell my server only if one of the courses will be fish. The menu is called a Surprise menu because whether anything but vegs will be on the menu is a Surprise. I stick with tap water.
My first amuse is not only ridiculously beautiful but just as good as the meat and tomato amuse at last night's “restaurant.” 

That was the only tasty dish of the entire menu (not counting the cheese, which wasn't actually ON the menu but a supplement, as I discovered too late). I assume there will be lots of good stuff at Arpege. The Arpege amuse consists of 3 warm tarts. They contain, I think I hear, nettles, strawberries, turnips, rhubarb, white spinach and onion. And they're tiny! Imagine getting all those ingredients into tarts the size of quarters. However they did it, it's as good as the Parmentier from last night, the prawn ravioli from my first meal and the asparagus and cheese with hazelnut sauce at Jules Verne. That's the top of the line. As good as food gets. What can possibly top that? Next amuse course is bouillon with veg. raviolis. Not sure which vegs, but one was red so probably tomato. A kind of strawberry salad is up next. Strawberry halves in olive oil with mozzarella, cucumber and threads of red onion. Something I can make. Then something I definitely can't make, hay chantilly in asparagus veloute with peas, and of course, nettles. Don't think I've ever had anything made with hay before. Will I turn into a horse? An egg us up next, the chef's specialty since he first began collecting Michelin stars: raw egg, allspice cream, sherry vinegar in maple syrup stuffed into half an eggshell. Could still taste the raw egg, but the allspice helped. Next up, spaghetti with parsley and thyme, fresh eel, potato and poppy leaves. Aha! The spaghetti is made from potatoes. Very smoky. Didn't mind the eel at all. A woman at a nearby table tells her man to slow down. Good advice for me too, as the “pasta” is quite filling. Great to know I CAN eat eels, as long as David Toutaine goes nowhere near them. Next up: Fish! I order a glass of white wine to go with the turbot with peas and asparagus in a white wine sauce/foam along with some sorrel paste. The paste really helps the dish, as does the wine. The fish melts in my mouth, but the vegs are not up to my encounters with them at previous restaurants this week. And I'm getting very full. This is, after all, Lunch, usually a small meal for me. I had planned to go on a 4.5k hike before this meal, There is a kind of abandoned railway line turned into hiking park through Paris called La Coulee Verte (also referred to as Promenade Plantee) I thought I'd walk before lunch to give me a sufficient appetite. However, I've done so much walking already this trip, my legs were constantly sore and the idea of Yet More Walking was no longer something I could contemplate doing. Nevertheless, my appetite has expanded considerably since coming to France. And the fish dish is my last savoury dish of the meal. For desert, hay ice cream (is there a horse in the kitchen?), honey, sea salt, sauce of caramel. Hazelnut fragments. Nowhere near as good as the hazelnut/asparagus dish I'd had at JV but ok. I'm offered some cookies and candies which I decline. For all its stars and reputation as the restaurant with the best use of vegetables on the planet, the whole meal itself was OK. One great dish (the 1st amuse), tasty fish and such, but in general I was paying for the prestige and the creativity of the chef, not for the kind of overall delight that was Wednesday's meal at JV.
Next up, More Great Art. Specifically, more Monet. His name is even part of the Museum's. A long trek (my legs are complaining) takes me to the Marmottan Monet Museum in a distant suburb. It's supposed to have the biggest collection of works by my favourite painter. I've taken two pictures with my phone, one of a Monet and the other of a Chagall before I'm informed that no photography is allowed.

 I wander through an exhibition of Pissarro's works. They're OK. Better is a room full of Berthe Morisot. Following the signs, I descend into the Monet realm. It is spectacular. I had wanted to see this museum befor my trip to Monet-land tomorrow. Glad I did so.
Two great meals in one day? Is that possible? What is this, Vegas? I have managed to get a reservation at Spring, one of the most popular restaurants in Paris. Perhaps because it lacks recognition by the tire company, Spring not only doesn't ask me to reconfirm, it calls me at my “hotel” on Thursday to see if I'm still on for Friday night's dinner. I get there as soon as it opens, and am alone for quite a while. It never really fills up, which strikes me as odd.
Like almost all the restaurants on this trip, the staff is very friendly. Asked if I want a wine pairing, I inquire if they have cidre. They have pear, not apple, so I go with the wine pairing instead. This is not an expensive restaurant. As part of the pairing, I'm offered a glass of champagne. My first amuse is deep fried, breaded shrimp with a relatively tasteless dipping sauce (Boo!) and a piece of pimento (Yay!). OK, now I've learned something important, something I can do at home: pimento goes really well with squid. My server then brings me a glass of wine from the French alps, instructing me about how the cool weather there Forces this wine to be perfect with my first course, Trout from Banka, radish, dill. It turns out to be the best trout dish I've ever eaten. 

I am stunned by how good it is. I'm fond of trout, but I had no idea it could taste this good. Thanks, Alps. Next I'm offered a wine from Corsica. All I know about Corsica is that Napoleon is from there, I tell my server. This wine is from his home town, she tells me. The next dish is Turbot, fennel, saffron saboyon. I had turbot for lunch at Arpege which was quite good. This is 10 times better. This is why we have the capacity for pleasure. I'm stunned. Next up, a red wine and pigeon 2 ways, the first with eggplant and chickpeas, the 2nd with foie gras and chanterelles. After my disastrous pigeon “meal” at Toutain's, I was afraid that pigeon itself was not to my taste, but that did not turn out to be the case. Spring's pigeon with eggplant and chickpeas was delicious. I'm surprised and delighted. The foie pairing in the other pigeon dish unfortunately didn't make it. The chanterelles were good though. The red wine helped a lot. For desert, first an apricot (my breakfast meal as well) and then a Cherry clafoutis, a kind of pie that I couldn't stop eating, even though I had to remove pits from my mouth after each bite. Far and away the best desert I've had in Paris, and I really don't care for deserts unless they're just pieces of fruit and maybe some cheese.
On the walk over to Spring, I passed a bistro that listed 4 kinds of cidre on its menu. I went in and ordered one. It was delicious. I asked which cidre it was from their menu but the server offered no information. I noticed the staff were putting the chairs on top of tables and preparing to close. Odd, I thought for a little after 8 on a Friday night. I had seen a bar advertising cocktails earlier so I went there and ordered first a large mocktail, then a small cocktail, both of which were quite good. I had planned to go to the Experimental Cocktail Club but this would do. The Pink Bishop, 18cl, M de Minuty, Limanade Raspberry crush, Liqueur Framboise, Bitter Cherry Fee bros and BPF Blooming Passion Flower, 12cl. Brandy, Nectar de Fruit de la Passion, Miel, Triple Sec, Sirop d'Hibiscus Homemade. Very good luck with flowers this trip.


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