May 21, 2005
Le Printemps (literally "the spring") is one of the four Parisian department stores, located in the ninth arrondissement on boulevard Haussmann. In addition to the twice-yearly sales and the promotion weeks, they occasionally organize themed events in their stores, setting up temporary stands and attractions, and showing artists' work.
One such event was Les Invasions Gourmandes in November of last year, during which I hosted a Bar à Veloutés. For the two weeks of the event, they had set up a restaurant éphémère (a temporary restaurant) called Restaurant Elémentaire, with a menu by Pierre Gagnaire and a décor designed by Christian Ghion.
They are just now hosting a similar event called Parenthèse Végétale (vegetal parenthesis) until June 4, and the ephemeral restaurant this time is designed by the über-famous (and medievally coiffed) Matali Crasset and serving food by no other than, drumroll please, Alain Passard of L'Arpège fame.
The restaurant is called Végétable, which sounds more of a pun in French (as the contraction of végétal and table) than in English, but in both cases, it is a good illustration of Passard's deep love for veggies. The dishes served here are taken straight from the Arpège menu, the vegetables come from Passard's private garden, and the cooking as well as the service are handled by his usual staff (which wasn't the case with Gagnaire's temporary restaurant). This is a unique chance to taste Passard's cuisine for a fraction of the regular price*.
I went there for lunch on Friday with my friend Alisa, and here is what we sampled, switching half-way through so we could taste everything. (And I apologize for the quality of the pictures which don't really do the dishes justice, I only had my phone with me.)
- Chaud-froid d'oeuf fermier, Sirop d'érable, the signature amuse-bouche at L'Arpège -- the warm yolk of a farm-fresh egg, topped with a cool dollop of whipped cream and maple syrup. You are given a spoon for this, and you are instructed to dive it right to the bottom of the egg before you scoop it up. Delicious, very unusual (unless you're a regular at L'Arpège), and the sensation of rupturing the yolk with the spoon and seeing it leak onto the cream is fabulous.
- Aigre doux "Arlequin", Navet au romarin: four little piles of hand-cut beetroot and carrots, topped with super-thin slivers of raw turnip flavored with rosemary, served with a sweet and sour dressing and a few cherry tomatoes. We weren't as impressed with this one: the veggies were great (cooked just so, the beetroot tender, the carrots al dente), but there was too much dressing and it overpowered their taste.
- Gratin d'oignons doux des Cévennes, Poivre noir Sarawak: a very thin layer of soft sweet onions, gratinéed with a touch of cream and cheese, kicked up by freshly ground black pepper from Malaysia and served with a wonderful mix of greens.
- Ravioles maraîchères aux herbes fines, Consommé végétal: these I just had to try after reading Louisa rave about them. They did not disappoint.
- Tarte à la Fourme d'Ambert, Poires fraîches: "the perfect compromise between cheese and dessert", said the waiter. This was a super thin disk of puff pastry, topped with warm Fourme d'Ambert (a blue cheese from Auvergne) and thin slices of pear. A great combination. We initially thought that there was too much cheese for the amount of pear, but we soon worked out that if you flipped the bite so that the pear landed on your tongue, you could then taste it better, much like sushi.
- Grand cru de chocolat noir, Citronnelle: three pucks of dark chocolate cake, molten in the center, deeply flavorful and not too sweet, served with a lemongrass-infused crème anglaise. This was wowing and I'll have to recycle the lemongrass/chocolate pairing idea.
* On average, first courses cost 10€, main courses 15€, desserts 12€, a glass of wine 6€
When? From now until June 4, non-stop service from lunch until 7pm (on Thursdays until 10pm). No reservations, but if you get there around noon, or after 2pm you'll have no problem getting seated.
Where? 3rd floor of the Printemps de la Maison (Note: the French count the ground floor as floor zero, so the French 3rd floor is the American 4th. Have I lost you yet?)
64 bd Haussmann
+33 (0)1 42 82 50 00
Paris Restaurant Picks: Bones, Walaku, Jeanne B., Septime @ Wanderlust
Twelve Hours in Paris
Twelve Hours in Paris