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Combe's surrogates have kept the menu consistent, probably because this intimate bistro has loyal followers who like the stability of a dinner selection that always includes lamb, beef, duck, pork and half a dozen seafood dishes.
After making quick work of a tiny jumble of fresh greens lightly dressed in a simple vinaigrette, Peter all but gnawed on the bones of the splendid grilled rack of lamb, cote d'agneau aux herbes. "Fabulous, fabulous," he said, dipping each tender chop into a dark puddle of Cabernet tarragon sauce.
For me, Marciniak's stuffed trout came steaming from the oven, covered with a layer of chopped wild mushrooms and herbs tucked into the center, all splashed with a sinful white truffle oil.
"This is very sexy food," Peter said later, as he cracked the caramelized surface of a petite crème brûlée with a spoon. "It would be a good place to come for a date."
That was obviously true on the bitterly cold Friday night when I returned to dine with two of my amis, Lou Jane and Franklin. An attractive couple sat at the next table, their fingers interlaced; I assumed they were on their second date. When I asked, they both laughed and announced that they were getting married the next day. At a corner table, another young couple was also holding hands and gazing deeply into each other's eyes.
Lou Jane says French restaurants provide the best culinary foreplay because the cuisine uses a lot of supposedly aphrodisiac ingredients such as the steamed mussels floating in a soothing cream-and-sherry broth that Franklin indulged in before dinner. Lou Jane and I shared the sautéed frog legs one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs ever, I'm told. The exquisite garlic-wine sauce was nearly as potent as the meaty limbs, and we lustily sopped up the lingering sauce with hunks of warm bread.
Because it was a weekend night, the two small, dark dining rooms had filled up quickly. And because the tables were, as usual, pushed a bit too close together, eavesdropping was unavoidable. When the man sitting behind Lou Jane started quoting radio right-winger Michael Savage, I half-expected her to turn and toss a frog leg at him. The guy piped down only when he started listening to our conversation, which included not-so-blurry recollections of various sexual escapades.
I was too focused on my filet de fletan to add much to the conversation; in spite of the Marquis de Sade's suggestion, even sex talk seemed less important than my hunk of lovely halibut slathered in a satiny sauce made with saffron and citrus crème fraiche. It was almost too rich to eat, but I forced myself.
Franklin was excessively fond of a tender filet dripping with a blue-cheese-and-brandy demi-glaze. After Lou Jane recovered from her initial disappointment that the Berkshire pork chop was boneless she prefers the bone, you know she noted that it was gorgeously tender and discreetly cloaked in a glaze of apple and sherry.
Soon enough, we realized that, despite the Marquis' encouragement to satisfy one's appetites with "little restraint," there's something to be said for a bit of modesty at the end of the meal.
Franklin raved over his doll-sized dessert combo plate: a tiny espresso cup filled with a dark-chocolate mousse and a crème brûlée not much bigger than a cosmetic compact. "It's the perfect size," he said. "You can't overindulge on sweets this way, even if you want to."