Give Me Moa!

The bouillabaisse ($16.50) was disappointing. Even before the move to Bouillabaisse Country, this was one of Lois' specialties -- and hers was truly fantastique. The Moa Room's wasn't quite. It had an excellent broth, sweet with the anise undertone of fresh fennel. Also fine was the rich, garlicky rouille (roasted red pepper aioli) floating on top and spread on pieces of baguette toast. But the soup was served infernally hot in a covered tureen -- a strategic error, since between the kitchen and the table every single species in it cooked to death.

"The overcooked whitefish is standard for bouillabaisse," said Terry, "because it just overcooks automatically as soon as you drop it in the hot broth. But here the clams are rubbery and the lobster is actually mushy. Everything has given its all to the broth; they should have just strained it out and started over with virgin shellfish."

"The shellfish has to go in just before serving," Lois added. "And a proper bouillabaisse has much more shellfish and less whitefish. The menu says it has lobster, clams, mussels, and prawns as well as halibut and monkfish -- but what's in here, all these big fish pieces and maybe six little clams, two shrimp, a couple of mussels, and one lobster claw?"

The kitchen returned to form with the sweet course ($5 each); in fact, Gardner is the rare dinner chef who's also got chops as a patissier -- at the exalted Postrio, no less. We enjoyed the juicy pearlike texture of quince fritters, served with a subtle anise sauce and with a scoop of ice cream just touched with clove. I'd argued against ordering prune and armagnac souffle with orange creme anglaise: "Prunes and armagnac are for duck legs, not dessert," I opined. "Prunes and armagnac are for anything they want to be," Terry riposted. He was dead right: The souffle tasted gorgeous, with an ethereal bread pudding around the outside and a warm, loose, lush custard in the center. But the biggest hit was orange coconut napoleon with citrus vanilla sauce. "This pastry is so light, it wasn't rolled 15 times, it was rolled 25 times," TJ declared. The filling of the phyllolike layers scintillated with fresh orange flavor, with coconut shreds lending texture and nuance. The only disappointment was a chocolate roulade; it had a nice chocolate mousse filling, a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate sauce, pleasant poached pear slices -- but the cake that held it together was boring. "This isn't a real genoise," said Terry. "It's Duncan Hines quality." With that, we headed for a nearby quiet bar to talk the night away, and then dream of sharing another dinner -- next time, in Carcassonne.

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