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House of the Rising Sun

The stars align at Scott Tycer's Aries

You can hardly miss with this menu. The Hudson Valley foie gras and caramelized pineapple is one of the best foie gras presentations I've had in America. Acidulated fruit is a favorite foie gras accompaniment in France; the Champagne region's superstar chef Gerard Boyer often serves his with grapes and lemon juice, so the pineapple isn't as odd as it might seem. Tycer's version is served in a bowl with coconut milk. The white liquid modulates the sweetness, but it also makes for a stellar presentation. The colored juices oozing from the foie gras and pineapple float on the surface of the coconut milk in surrealistic patterns that change every time you take a forkful.

Tycer cold-smokes his own fish. I order smoked salmon and sturgeon served with a salad of warm fingerlings and clams on top. Fingerlings are tiny potatoes; they are tossed with the clams in a simple dressing of olive oil, which spreads across the plate and onto the smoked fish. Potato, smoked fish and oil are a traditional French salad combination. This is one of the most clever variations on the theme that I've seen, and the artisanal smoked fish also makes it one of the best I've tasted.

Of the seven entrées I try, my favorites to eat with white wine are grilled poussinserved in a big bowl of white-bean-and-bacon cassoulet, and a sea bass on saffron croquettes with a potato emulsion sauce. The free-range chicken breast with potato puree, mustard sauce and garlic confit is more subdued -- sort of haute comfort food. The Oregon poussin with Moroccan barbecue and couscous is an international twist on homey flavors, but slightly out of sync with the other dishes.

Chef and owner Scott Tycer: To call him an artist doesn't do him justice.
Troy Fields
Chef and owner Scott Tycer: To call him an artist doesn't do him justice.

With red wine, I try the Allen brothers steak with bordelaise sauce and goat cheese potato gratin, which is probably my least favorite entrée. It's a great steak, but it bears little imprint of the chef's hand. I vastly prefer the Colorado rack of lamb. The juicy pink lamb chops are served with a slick sweet-and-sour eggplant puree that becomes a sort of haute barbecue sauce. With a little chard, some fingerling potatoes and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes, this is a red-meat eater's gourmet dream come true. Especially with a bottle of Ridge zinfandel. Yow! My mouth is watering all over again.

When our entrées are gone, my girlfriend and I both smile fiendishly.

"Bring us the cheese cart," she says, waving off the dessert menus. There is an item on the dessert menu that reads "selection of five farmhouse cheeses with fresh fruit and honeycomb." When you order it, the waiter brings a wooden cart to your table with an array of eight to ten cheeses on it. After a guided tour, you get to choose five. There's an old Cheshire cheddar and a chunk of Reggiano that the waiter attacks with a sharp flat tool; they are both as hard as soap. Then there's an exquisitely smelly, melt-in-your-mouth French Reblochon. We skip the mild French Clisson and pick a couple of goat cheeses. They are served with fresh fruit and an innovative accompaniment, a piece of honeycomb oozing honey.

The cheese cart appears on both the appetizer and dessert menus; I recommend having it between your entrée and dessert. The wisdom of this strategy is that you get to savor the cheese with the last of your wine, without missing out on having some sweets with your coffee. The chocolate cake is good; so are the shortbread cookies that come with the miniature dessert assortment.

But the truth is that Aries' desserts are wasted on me. With the last slurp of wine and a gooey French cheese that's smellier than my junior high gym locker, I have already died and gone to heaven.

Wine Notes: L'Ecole No. 41, Chardonnay, 1999, $35

I'm bored with over-oaked (and overpriced) California chardonnays. Aging on the lees, fermenting in new oak and all the other manipulations have caused us to forget the lovely flavor of the grape. So it's a pleasure to find a straightforward (and reasonably priced) chardonnay like this one. The aroma of this well-balanced wine reminds me of pears with a note of thyme in the background. L'Ecole No. 41 is one of the best wineries in one of America's emerging regions: eastern Washington. The Walla Walla Valley, where the grape is grown, seems like an unlikely area for wine. It's essentially a well-irrigated desert. But the proof is in the drinking.

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