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If I had to choose, I'd choose French. French food, specifically. It's the only food I fantasize about cooking. I actually teared up during Ratatouille. Half the time, it's painfully complex and the other half of the time, it's amazingly simple. What I think that many people don't realize is how similar French food is to American. Hell, how similar the French people are to Americans. We both love wine, skiing, and action movies. Both cultures are more conservative and protectionist than I care to admit. We both speak "international" languages. We both have aircraft carriers. Both of our presidents have become sex-symbol celebrities. We both smoke more than the Swedes but less than the Chinese. We can both go on vacation in Canada. And, of course, for both of us, French fries are our national food.

It is with French fries that I began my meal at La Belle Vie, a very Parisian French restaurant in Chelsea with high tin ceilings, dark wood paneling, crooning slow music, and old school 1920s lighting. La Belle Vie, when I arrived at 6 on the dot, was also a ghost town. A woman at the bar, the staff, myself, and dim lighting. It was like a noir movie. I almost wish it was raining. And so it remained for quite some time. For you see, Speeds was late. I started to wonder if I'd been stood up. Two beers, a plate of tasty French Fries, and half of the Sunday Times crossword puzzle later, she arrived.

Under any other circumstances, I'd have been beside myself. But being how empty La Belle Vie was, it was actually relaxing to just sit there. Almost meditative. Still, by the that Speeds bothered to show up, I was officially hungry. We quickly ordered La Tarte Au Cepes, a wild mushroom, goat cheese and leek pastry appetizer to share. I ate half and it was heavy enough that I was almost full by the time the entrees arrived. The pastry was amazing by the way, though I'd have been perfectly happy without the goat cheese. Still, delicious.

Speeds ordered the Ravioli Aux Cepes, a porcini mushroom ravioli in a wild mushroom cream sauce. I don't usually think of ravioli as French, but it's amazing how that perception shifted once it was drowned in a thick wild mushroom. And it was very good. And very heavy. Speeds ate half and took the rest home for lunch the next day. My entree... uh, not so good.

See, here's the thing. I love Coq Au Vin. The best coq au vin I've ever had was at Le Grainne Cafe, but as of my last dining there, they stopped making it. The thing about coq au vin is that if it took you less than three hours to make, you did it wrong. The chicken, the wine, the brandy, the vegetables, the stock, the stuff, simmers away for an eternity before it's served. And when it finally winds up in front of you, the chicken's so tender you could cut it with a spoon. It's practically a stew. This, whatever it might have called itself, was not coq au vin. It was chicken in a heavy red wine sauce. It was dry chicken in a heavy red wine sauce. And while Speeds liked it... a lot (though she acknowledged the dryness), I couldn't get into it. Skip it.

Human beings, like cows, have more than one stomach. Stomach one is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stomach two is for dessert. No matter how full you are, somehow you'll always have room for dessert. And for this dessert, we ordered La Belle Vie's Grand Marnier Soufflé. Since it takes a while to make, you need to order it when you order dinner, but I recommend doing so. It was excellent. If you're new to soufflés, picture an extremely light cake made from baked whipped egg whites with powdered sugar and a Grand Marnier sauce poured over and into it. It's hard to describe the fluffy moist combination, but it's almost like eating a cloud that wants to rain creamy orange liqueur.

Two beers, a side of fries, an appetizer, and two entrees, one dessert and two coffees, plus tax, plus tip, totalled $97.

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