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Wall Street lawyers who are daytime regulars at New York’s Bouley Bakery — you know who you are, you S&C guys! — might be shocked to see the place at night. The famous TriBeCa restaurant, which began life as a bakery (hence the name) and eventually evolved into a New York Times four-star restaurant (one of only five in the city), has always had a problem with space. By day, it’s packed with a crowd that’s predominantly white and male, watching the clock, earnestly sober in its mostly whispered conversations. As a result, lunch tends to be pretty much a matter of three courses, a couple of bottles of sparkling water, and an espresso or two. By night, though, this small room is transformed. A space that had seemed merely crowded suddenly becomes intimate. There are candles at every table, bowls of pink and yellow roses, too, and in the glow of this subtle, muted lighting, the whole room is bathed in soft pastels. Very beautiful, and very seductive. On a recent night, sitting next to us, at the curve of the comfortable banquette, is a young couple. She’s tall and blonde with perfect skin, dressed to the nines in elegant black. He’s a hunk — albeit one in a checkered shirt that’s open at the collar, with a voice like Charlie Sheen’s. Maybe not the perfect couple, but in love. They hold hands, look deeply into each other’s eyes. He wants to know if she’s going to Brussels — or is it Paris? — this weekend. The talk turns from love to mystery. Her jewelry, it seems, is missing. Dabbing at her eyes, she says she’s convinced that they — the unnamed mysterious they — took the baubles from her hotel room. He: “I think you just lost them. Look. No one stole any of my stuff.” She, without missing a beat: “You have nothing worth stealing.” It’s then that our waiter, a Belgian named Thierry, arrives on the scene. He’s a natural comic: His pockets seem to be stuffed with toys and contraptions of all sorts, gizmos and gadgets, spoons that shoot out and extend about a foot. Thierry is also a very adept waiter. He pours two glasses of the house Champagne, Egly-Ouriet, while we await our first course: “We must compensate you! For your patience!” The champagne is good, indeed very good, yeasty like baker’s dough. After that, we taste our way through a nine-course menu de d�gustation ($125). It’s soon apparent that certain themes will be running through tonight’s cooking: native American ingredients (fresh New England lobster, Hudson Valley foie gras, Long Island duckling) accompanied by a succession of spectacular, brilliant-colored sauces (basil pounded into a startlingly green paste, for one). The brightness of these sauces is, in turn, reflected in the acid punch that seems to lie in wait beneath their colorful surfaces. And then there’s a veritable stepping stone of dishes that go from lighter to heavier. David Bouley’s is, in short, a most carefully conceived cuisine. The only major disappointment of the night is the wine list. It’s short and frustrating, with many wines marked “NA” (as in “not available”) or “P/R” (“price on request”). It’s also expensive, with far too few older wines and way too many really young ones. This is, to put it mildly, an embarrassing situation for such a great restaurant. Oddly enough, there are a few winners at the low end of the totem pole: the 1998 Beaujolais blanc “Clos de Loyse” from Jadot’s famous Ch. des Jacques is only $28, while the ’97 pinot gris “Reserve Personnelle” from Trimbach is a mere $65. We start off, instead, with a cru classe blanc from the Graves region of Bordeaux, the ’96 Ch. Olivier ($50). It’s denuded and dilute and far too new-oaky. Later, the much more expensive ’94 Ch. Figeac, a red Bordeaux from one of the oldest properties in St. Emilion, will prove another letdown, its elegant nose giving way to an iron-curtain finish on the palate. Only a fine young red burgundy, the surprisingly intense ’94 Volnay “Clos de la Bousse d’Or,” from the Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, redeems the wine side of our dinner. The food side is another matter entirely. Scuba-dived sea scallops — that’s what the menu says — from Maine arrive in a fantastic ocean herb broth laced with basil and garlic. The broth, its base a nourishing chicken stock, is steeped in garlic and salt, and it goes down warm and restorative. Atlantic salmon — wild, from the coast of Maine, and smoked to order — comes with oestra caviar in a vodka sauce with dill. With it, we’ve moved effortlessly from warm to cold, from a gentle soothing something to an explosion of flavors. The contrast is amazing — and purposeful. Accompanying the smoked salmon, even the ’96 Ch. Olivier seems to have developed new depths, showing touches of licorice and anise on the nose. Chatham lobster with Maryland crabmeat, sweet peas, and Concord grape sauce is tender and succulent. Less successful is monkfish wrapped in eggplant bathed in a gin and sage sauce. After that, though, the cooking soars from strength to strength. Hudson Valley foie gras with organic quince puree and an Armagnac sauce is splendid; the foie gras perfectly cooked. Breast of Long Island duckling with organic spring wheat, golden raisins, and cracked black peppercorns comes red — its texture like butter — and the contrast with the spring wheat astonishes the senses. Could anything be better? Well, there is the organic baby lamb from Cooperstown, New York — and you thought Cooperstown only had the Baseball Hall of Fame going for it! — accompanied by a daube of wild mushrooms. All, in all, a brilliant meal, carried out with �lan. The proof of the pudding: The lovers, consumed though they might be by passion, have long since wolfed their way through dinner. Tears may have fallen tonight in this beautiful place, but they fell on empty plates. George Sape is managing partner of New York’s Epstein Becker & Green. John Anderson is deputy editor of The American Lawyer.

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