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Dining a la Disco

Sempers has great food. Marvelous decor. And, alas, a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

Talk about a misalliance! Sempers describes itself as a supper club/discotheque, and while I have nothing but praise for the club -- the food is great and the decor splendid -- the disco, on the other hand, is a bloody nuisance. I can think of few worse combinations -- except, perhaps, a deli/crematorium.

The first time we visited, my companion and I had just started dinner when -- at 9:30 and with no warning -- the place was plunged into near-darkness, and a strobe light raked the room. This scared me half to death, because the last time that happened, I had an acid flashback.

If I were Chef Ron Klotzer, I think I'd feel aggrieved. Right now, his food must compete for attention with a light show and the likes of Donna Summer. This is a grave injustice. Klotzer's food deserves our full attention. But who can attend when the Bee Gees are caterwauling like castrati? Who can concentrate on a breast of duck, however excellent, when Barry White is doing his utmost to lure you into bed?

I have nothing against discotheques. People who like that sort of thing, as Miss Jane Brodie used to say, like that sort of thing. What I quarrel with is its being here, sharing a roof with an excellent restaurant and creating problems for people whose only desire is to eat in peace. (Studio 54, where are you?)

Sempers, I must stress, looks terrific. Arranged on two floors -- the dining room's up and the disco's down -- it bears the imprint of lots of money. A central, golden column, some 37 feet high and hand-gilded, looks like something Kublai Khan might have ordered for his pleasure dome. The place is all soft curves: the walls, the staircase, even the ramp leading down to the dance floor. That ramp has something magical about it. Seen from the patio, it stretches into the distance like the Yellow Brick Road. Hovering above the dance floor is the dining room. Held aloft by that gilded column, it looks like the mid-section of a very ripe peach.

The patio is spectacular as well. There's a bar here and lots of outsized furniture. Really outsized. It's big enough to accommodate Gulliver's Brobdingnagians, who, you'll remember, "were tall as steeples" and whose king described people like you and me as "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." (Personally, I think the king was being kind.)

Sempers, in its appearance, at least, owes much to Miami's South Beach. If Houston had glitterati, this is where they'd want to congregate. For now, though, the place must settle for men who gather at the bar with their shirts undone. (Is it possible that these garments don't have any buttons?) Men with lust in their hearts. Men who will be gathering at bars ten years from now. Men who will never learn.

We had an excellent waiter that first night, but overall things seemed a little slack. Not so the second night. That's because Sam Bachachi, Sempers' general manager, was on the premises. His are the eyes that never slumber. He was everywhere and doing everything. He bused our table, took our coffee order, brought our desserts, showed us around the patio and waited with us while the valet fetched our car. All this on a busy evening.

Klotzer, a German national, is a clever fellow whose resume includes stints at what was once the Ritz-Carlton and the now-defunct Grange. He casts a wide net, drawing on the culinary traditions not just of America and Europe, but of Asia as well. This is fusion cuisine, yes, but the thoughtful kind. There's nothing eclectic about this man. His combinations succeed because he achieves his effects with little fuss. Lobster artichoke martini ($9.95), one of his signature dishes, is a case in point. Served in an oversized martini glass, it consists of pan-roasted lobster and sauteed artichoke hearts in a rich fish stock to which vermouth and heavy cream are added. It's absolutely top notch, and one of those things you could feed me seven days a week without ever hearing a peep of complaint.

Tuna cakes ($8.95), another appetizer, are excellent as well. The tuna is diced and marinated, combined with green onions and Japanese bread crumbs, and then pan-seared. The cakes are served with Asian slaw -- carrot shavings, radicchio and daikon, also known as Chinese radish -- in a terrific dressing using soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and honey.

Also first rate are the quesadillas ($6.50). What a cornucopia! Duck, black beans, sour cream, roasted bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes.... Many quesadillas are unpleasantly dry. Not these. Along with goat cheese, Klotzer uses mozzarella, the latter lending some needed moisture.

The entrees we sampled were almost all excellent. The Chilean sea bass ($22), another signature dish, was exquisite. The fish is pan-seared, baked in an oven and topped with toasted almonds. It comes to the table with artichoke hearts, asparagus and an emphatic balsamic-basil butter. The rack of Colorado lamb ($27) is equally impressive: pink and robust and proud of being lamb; rejoicing in it. It comes with a tangy goat-cheese polenta, garlic spinach and grilled olive bread.

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