Asparagus Addict Attains Nirvana

PARIS - I'll be honest from the start. I am an asparagus addict. From the first sighting of those slender spears during the doldrums of February until their traditional disappearance from the French market on the feast of St. Jean in mid-June, I could savor their dense, mineral-rich flavor morning, noon and night.
So when I discovered that the Michelin two-star chef Michel Rostang was offering an all-asparagus menu, I beat a path to the door of his elegant restaurant in the 17th arrondissement. I admit to falling out of love with Rostang some years back after a few meals that seemed to reflect a man stuck in gastronomic mud and on a road to nowhere.

He has awakened, big time, now a passionate chef whose table reflects a curious mind and an intensely intellectual approach to food. The asparagus meal was full of surprises, void of clichés, a love poem to that admirable vegetable.

I was mildly disappointed that nowhere in the meal did asparagus play the star, but by the end of the meal realized the wisdom of assigning it a supporting role in a number of dishes.

The first course, soupe claire d'asperges vertes de Provence was an eye opener: With Asian overtones, this complex blend of asparagus, coriander, faintly puckery epine-vinette, or highbush cranberries, and cubes of fresh tuna bathed in a clear broth was a perfect tonic. No surprise to know that asparagus were once revered for their health giving properties and used as medicine.

The star of the evening was a simple soft-cooked egg nested in a tulip of crisp phyllo, topped with a generous spoonful of Sevruga caviar. Flanked by pan-seared violet-tipped asparagus from the farms of Jean-Charles Orso in the hills of Cannes, the soothing dish was offset by a rich, heavily reduced, almost caramelized sauce of sweet sherry.

Off the special menu, diners can also regale their palates with roasted green asparagus with spiced crabmeat in a reduced crustacean sauce; rich nuggets of lobster meat paired with asparagus and baby violet artichokes in a delicate anchovy sauce, and farm-fresh guinea hen with an Italian Arborio rice risotto with asparagus butter.


THE wine list offered a fine discovery, a finely flinty white 1995 Coteaux d'Aix en Provence, from Domaine Hauvette, where Dominique Hauvette crafts a well-made organic wine on the plains of St. Remy de Provence.

Michel Rostang, 20 Rue Rennequin, Paris 17; tel: 01-47-63-40-77; fax: 01-47-63-82-75. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and three weeks in August. All major credit cards. 325-franc lunch menu; 745-franc asparagus menu. A la carte, 600 to 800 francs, including service but not wine.