Pate Favor

She reacted the same way to the duck and black truffle ("Like mushrooms," I conceded) soup. This crockful could have been intimidating, topped as it was by a baked, rounded pastry shell Leigh likened to a woman's breast. Underneath the croissantlike covering, a rich, steaming broth was stocked with tender wedges of duck, soft chunks of carrot, and sliced scallions. Meaty truffles and strips of pate floating on top were a bonus. Buoyed by the caviar success, Leigh dug right in. "I like it!" she announced.

The cheese starter was another culinary success for the kitchen/personal defeat for the evil me. The wedge of Brie coated in crushed almonds could have been a little warmer; most likely it was cooled a bit by the fruity pear chutney, thinned with honey, that topped it. Fresh cilantro gave the dish an herby bite, an outstanding match with the warm French rolls that had been served at the beginning of the meal.

Leigh's cautionary nature betrayed her when it came to selecting the main course: Faced with a choice between Long Island duckling with orange sauce and wild rice or roast duck with tamarind-chipotle glaze and mashed plantains, she went for the classic. This half-duckling had a crackling skin and great flavor, but it had been overbaked and was more stringy than I would have liked. The sauce, though, was expertly prepared, with sections of fresh oranges garnishing the bird. Buttered wild rice had a sprung quality to it, as if it had been cooked with too much water, while sauteed summer squash and zucchini were merely bland, boring.

The same sides, plus a good quantity of sliced roasted potatoes, accompanied a whole New Zealand rack of lamb. Touched with pungent Dijon mustard and a surprisingly delicate garlic-herb crust, the eight riblets were musky and juicy, cooked to pink-in-the-middle order. We accepted our waiter's offer of mint jelly, which he spooned onto the plate at the table; service in general was exquisitely polite, knowledgeable, and well paced.

The Bistro's French-Continental menu features a number of world cuisine-influenced dishes, including chicken curry and vegetable risotto, veal scaloppine "Theresa" topped with shrimp, yellowtail snapper encrusted in yucca with roasted pepper-orange salsa, and Wiener schnitzel garnished with lemon and anchovy. Spicy pan-seared Buffalo shrimp was a takeoff on the tangy chicken wings of the same name: five jumbos dipped in flour and coated with a snappy hot-pepper sauce. A black bean cake centerpiece was a perfect foil, glistening with a creamy citrus-champagne butter and jeweled with a tomato-cilantro salsa.

Desserts aren't quite as exotic-sounding, and I think Leigh was secretly relieved when we decided on chocolate mousse cake, a wedge of flourless fudge layered with fluffy mousse and real whipped cream, whose only drawback (if you could call it that) was its extreme richness. And the fact that it brought on an epiphany of my own: Taste may be cultivated rather than born, but it has nothing to do with age. I've seen kids down foods that make grownups quake with revulsion, simply because someone influential in their little lives had taken the time to teach them not just what and how to eat, but why.

In my own case, all Kim would have had to do was prepare me with a brief description or two: "This cheese smells like vomit but it's actually pleasant and mild; that stuffed intestine tastes like breakfast sausage links." (A sip of wine between bites would have helped, too, but I was too young to know that at the time.) Imagine how Big might have turned out with dialogue like "Caviar is strong and salty, a little fishy. Cut it with hard-boiled egg and onion and wash it down with freezer-cold vodka. You'll like it better on the second bite." The overgrown twerp probably would have lost his virginity that much faster.

Baked bliss potato with caviar
Duck and truffle soup
Buffalo shrimp
Rack of lamb

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