A "simple" fillet of Florida pompano ($40) cooked en croûte was far from innocuous. Instead of soggy puff pastry, this sexy fish was decked out in a fine, brittle, uniformly golden crust, as thin as a sheet of parchment and tasting like essence of pancake. The ethereal crust broke open to reveal snowy, mellow flesh, practically hissing marine-scented steam. Smoked eggplant purée made a silky and wicked divan for this diva, as deeply perfumed as the bed in an opium den, along with a dab of high-compression tomato confit, braised fennel, green olives, and lemon, olive oil, and herb sauce vierge.

I've never tried the famous dish at Antoine's, but Boulud's oysters Bienville ($18 for a half dozen) were beyond divine, and anybody who wants to extol the aphrodisiac qualities of oysters need look no further for final proof. New Orleans couldn't possibly improve on Bell's execution: baked Maine oysters topped with a reduction of minced pink shrimp, mushrooms, white wine, and cream under a crisp, lightly browned gratinée. The flavors were so carefully balanced within their little gray shells that it was like the invention of an entirely new food. A mild, flaky redfish fillet ($34) braised with beautiful fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, and white wine in court bouillon made the second course as buoyant as the first was fleshy.

Throughout the presentation of these lovely dishes, the staff never made a wrong move. Our waiter was particularly graceful. He had ready answers to every question about ingredients and provenance and interesting suggestions for wine pairings by the glass. The timing of everything was choreographed — from the little Parmesan shell amuse bouche to the young woman bearing the bread tray (the bread comes from Old School Bakery in Delray Beach, and she knew it) to the shy busboys who cleared the plates.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Cafe Boulud

301 Australian Ave.
Palm Beach, FL 33480

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Palm Beach

Details

Café Boulud 301 Australian Ave., Palm Beach. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. Late-night menu Saturday beginning 10 p.m. Call 561-655-6060.

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Our desserts were particularly gorgeous: a fresh strawberry tart with pistachio mousse, a tiny jewel of gold leaf at the center, paired with an intense, fruity oval of strawberry sorbet. And a savory square of chocolate pavé, a dense, flourless cake made with dark Araguani chocolate — one of Valrhona's "Grand Cru" line — flecked with Maldon sea salt and paired with a scoop of olive-oil ice cream. The ice cream had the richness and subtle pepper of olive oil without a trace of bitterness.

It was a perfect meal, the kind of dinner you spend the next two or three days obsessively reimagining, a little woozy and lovestruck. It's a no-brainer for special occasions — Boulud ought to top everybody's birthday, anniversary, and celebrations list — but it's worthy of more frequent splurges too. I figure you can skip two mediocre lunches a week or cook a month's worth of dinners instead of picking up fast food; your parsimony will buy you a trip to the restaurant and one hell of a gastronomic memory.

Having at last achieved its potential, Café Boulud is finally worthy of the master's name.

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