December 5, 2005 | Ask Gael

Stop the (food) world, I want to get off

        If you hunger for constancy and dignity, it’s time for Café Boulud. The big cheese himself, Daniel Boulud, may be downtown at Daniel, on the road peddling his pots, or cooking for charity. But he’s given a talented protégé, 30-year-old Bertrand Chemel, leave to invent within his café’s stated quartet of themes - tradition, season, market, and a detour to foreign kitchens. “In Brittany, I would not have this beautiful bluefin tuna,” Chemel marvels. Italy inspires tonight’s roasted duck breast - meaty as steak, sliced in luscious rare chunks, on a bed of bitter greens. (I’m brushing aside a too-distracting clutter of sweet mustard fruits.) A judicious dose of ginger keeps squash soup deliciously balanced. Feathery foam lightens the texture but not the savor of mushroom soup. And we love the goat-cheese soufflé escorted by beet salad. Nantucket scallops, new for fall, get a celery-root purée and tangerine-touched cauliflower. Meringuey sabayon-cloaked roasted apple with lemon gratin makes a stunning finale. It’s Michelin launch night, and tables are still turning at 10 p.m. Those French chaps in unstylish worsted are with their ambassador. In the high-energy crowd, Thomas Keller salutes his Per Se team’s three-star triumph at a table for six.

20 E. 76th St. nr. Madison Ave. 212 772 2600.

Patina Restaurant Group