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La Côte Basque redux

There's an old saying - well, not that old - that when you see married couples having lunch on a weekday, it's because they're on their way to the divorce lawyers. This always makes me chuckle, on the rare occasions when I do have lunch with Kathleen on a weekday. It doesn't happen often.

And it happened only accidentally today. When I got up at 9:15, I was surprised to see that Kathleen was still asleep, since she'd told me that she was going in to the office. I decided right away that I was going to go see Derailed across the street at ten, and when I left the apartment, Kathleen was reading the Times. Walking home from the movie - there is nothing that can be said about Derailed except: Clive Owen owns this film; he makes you forgive its creaky plot points over and over and over again; and "See this thriller!" - I wondered if I would find my dear wife snuggled up under the covers. It turned out that if the movie had been a half hour shorter, that's just what I would have found. Coming into the lobby when I did, however, I ran into my Prof's wife, and we were talking about La Côte Basque when Kathleen slunk into view. She said that she was on her way to lunch, and, after introducing her to Mme Prof, I invited myself along. We went to Burger Heaven, where we sat and talked for a long time, although not about divorce. On the contrary. We talked about how blogging has cleaned up my life. Ordered it and made it work.

But just now I'd rather talk about La Côte Basque, or, as it appears to be styled nowadays, LCB Brasserie Rachou. (The last part refers to chef-owner Jean-Jacques Rachou.) "LCB," which I find I automatically pronounce as "Ell-Say-Bay," seems quite arch, since it can't mean anything unless you know the name of the restaurant that, prior to last year, occupied the same space. La Côte Basque was one of New York's premier "temples of gastronomy," very grand and very expensive. Kathleen and I went perhaps six or seven times over twenty-odd years, almost always to mark a birthday or an anniversary. But the grand old French restaurants are no longer popular, and for the most part they've closed. M Rachou is to be applauded for coming up with an attractive, and, I hope, successful rethink. The quaint old murals and the Louis Quinze chairs have been retired (the Villeroy & Boch "Basket" is still in use, however). The new color scheme features a distinctive ocher mustard, with black trim. The walls have been lined with mirrors and adorned with belle époque light fixtures (with frosted glass shades) and amusing medallions of sporting folk circa 1900. There are even more banquettes than there used to be, which is very good, because - the only design error - the unupholstered bentwood chairs are almost shabby and obviously not comfortable. The floor has been covered in small tiles.

Other diners were presented with the full menu, but we, for some reason, were not; nor did we mind. The holiday menu was just fine, even though it didn't announce just where the prix had been fixed. (The figure turned out to be "$50" - extremely reasonable.) Kathleen chose salmon tartare, sea bass, and pumpkin pie. I went the supplemental route ($3.50 tacked onto each dish) and had crabmeat salad, filet mignon Périgourdine, and the restaurant's signature Grand Marnier soufflé. Everything was great, but the Périgourdine sauce was sublime. Complex but elemental, it was the earthiest thing that I have ever tasted; it was as though the meaning of existence could be packed into an exotic mushroom. Well, why not? It was. Thanks to an amuse-gueule of pumpkin bisque, we could hardly clean our plates, but I struggled manfully with that sauce (one slice of filet would have been enough). Almost as extraordinary was the bottle of wine that I chose, Lynch Bages 2001. Two glasses of Pauillac were enough to put Kathleen to sleep, but she managed to get home under her own steam, or at least with her head on my shoulder in the taxi. And so our luxuriously quiet Thanksgiving Day crept into the night. We hope that yours was just as warm.


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