This was not the first time I was disappointed by Alain Passard. Decades ago I had to be dragged into his restaurant on Rue Varenne by enthusiastic acolytes. I wasn’t impressed. I kept going back and over the years a few dishes impressed : He was the first to introduce me to mustard ice cream and I have made it ever since. I have also been taken by his slow-cooked, top of the stove method of cooking meats, fish, poultry. But anyone who serves langoustine carpaccio should be shot, for the essence of this voluptuous shellfish is in its cloudlike texture that emerges when cooked ever so slightly. I was a little skeptical when Passard went into veggie mode in 2001, for something about it did not seem quite sincere. But I am always willing to give a chef another try, and did so the other day. A big disappointment, once again. We sampled the 120 euro garden luncheon, and Passard turns out to be a real Johnny one note in the potager. I am known as the vegetable girl, so this should have been an easy win for him. In Provence, I grow everything he professes to love, and don't always succeed, but much of the time I do. It is almost August and granted, not the best year in the vegetable garden, but at the lunch at Arpege course after monotonous, unimaginative course turned out a little more than I could bear of carrots, beets, turnips, onions. Dish after dish I kept waiting for Passard to finish the sentence. But he never did. I might have been in the hospital cafeteria or in a vegetarian cult restaurant of the 1970’s. Vegetables are the soul of the kitchen, but you need to be creative, add a touch of fat, protein, carbs like beans or rice as balance and to satisfy. Wait ! Where are the tomatoes, basil, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tarragon, thyme, summer savory, sorrel, baby onions, all advertised on his web site ? They DO grown this time of year ! Tomatoes took a huge back seat, arriving as a bit of tomato water as a bath for vegetable ravioles, and as a dessert that tasted like Christmas, a whole sugary tomato stuffed with all manner of sweet, honey-like bits. Something has never rung true here, from the somewhat condescending service to the rather cold surroundings. I won’t be back. There are too many wonderful places in Paris to spend your money and have a fabulous time.
Arpege, 84, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. Tel: 01 47 05 09 06.