La Tour d'Argent Loses 3-Star Rating

Guide Michelin, the bible of French gastronomy, has withdrawn its top, three-star ranking from La Tour d'Argent, one of the most famous restaurants in France--and the world.

At the same time, the 1996 edition of the influential guide, published Monday, promoted to three-star status the Parisian restaurant Arpege and its 39-year-old chef Alain Passard.

La Tour d'Argent, founded in Paris in 1582 as an eating house for royalty, first won its third star in 1933, the first year that Michelin so recognized any Parisian restaurant.

The restaurant has for years been one of the best-known destinations for epicures worldwide. Many critics have complained that Tour d'Argent had declined considerably, but apart from taking away its third star for a year once before (in 1952), the tradition-bound Guide Michelin was--as usual--slow to acknowledge that. Michelin's younger, more controversial rival, the Gault Millau guide, dropped Tour d'Argent from its top ranking more than a decade ago.

Bernard Naegellen, director of the Michelin Guides, said that Passard, at Arpege, is "extremely refined in his approach and touch." Passard is also among the most daring and innovative of a younger generation of French chefs; his specialties include stuffed candied tomatoes for dessert.

L'Arpege is the only new three-star restaurant in this year's Michelin red guide. There are now 19 restaurants in France with Michelin's highest honor. A 20th, Pierre Gagnaire in St.-Etienne, near Lyon, was dropped from Michelin at Gagnaire's request after he filed for bankruptcy last month, an unprecedented act for a three-star restaurant.

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