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Fedded Bliss

From there on out, though, our dinner was flawless. Another appetizer of six escargot swimming in a garlic sausage ragout ($7) merged the sharp bite of sun-dried tomatoes, the merest whiff of roasted garlic and quarter-sized slips of an intensely seasoned sausage with the snails. Unlike most chefs, Degenhart titles and describes dishes accurately; this was indeed the rich, well-spiced stew it is supposed to be ("ragout" comes from the French ragouter, "to stimulate the appetite"). The roasted yellow bell pepper and potato potage ($5) tasted wonderfully of peppers added to a vichyssoise-type base; an equally intricate melding of flavors starred in the wild mushroom salad ($7), which bestowed an understated rosemary vinaigrette upon chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms and the most beautiful selection of field greens I've eaten in this country. Really. It was as though the kitchen had hand-picked thirty of the crispest, most impeccable and flavorful leaves and served them just minutes later. (My enthusiasm may sound a little dramatic for lettuce, but these greens were truly perfect.)

It's that commitment to top-notch ingredients that propels Tante Louise to the top of the charts. "We could charge less for dishes," Corky Three later says. "I know some of them are on the high end, but Michael goes looking for those out-of-the-ordinary, flawless specimens that, frankly, cost more." For example, there was that venison we had during our anniversary dinner, a glorious roasted rack ($29). The meat came from New Zealand--and I'd gladly swim there for another taste. The venison was cooked to medium-rare with a glazed rind of orange juice and musky achiote whose richness was kept in check by salty prosciutto. Little baubles of painstakingly balled potatoes and translucent shallots surrounded the chops and soaked up an apricot demi-glace. Superb as that was, it was matched by our other entree: roast breast of duck ($19) in a rhubarb-sweetened red-wine syrup served with portabello sections, a mixture of heirloom beans (among them black-eyed peas and what looked to me like Colorado pintos) and a duck confit. Hey, there's nothing like duck with a side of duck, especially when the duck is this good.

Except, maybe, pastry chef Eric Caftor's wedge of a ganache-like, sinfully chocolate substance in a soft crust ($5)...or, perhaps, his super-creamy maple creme brulee ($5). Even our wine--which we bravely chose ourselves while Mandeau kindly treated us as though we knew what we were doing--was excellent. Toward the end of our dinner, Corky Three came by the table to pour out the last of our choice, a Spatlese. "This is a nice change of pace, wouldn't you say?" he asked.

I think he was talking about the wine, but since I have a newborn and a toddler and am teetering on the brink of insanity at my house, I was following a different train of thought. "Yes, this is wonderful," I said. "In fact, I don't think we're ever going to leave this place. We're moving in."

Without missing a beat, Corky flashed his notoriously warm smile. "Oh, that would be very nice," he replied.

You bet it would, toots.

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