Stumbling Onto a Good Thing

In this tumultuous city (New York) with all its restaurants and food editors and savvy eaters, anything good would be assumed to have been written and overwritten about. So it was with the greatest surprise and pleasure, that my Bichon, Mimi and I chanced on a discovery on the way back from the groomer's. La Boite En Bois (the Box in the Woods or the Wooden Box, we weren't quite sure) at 73 West 64th Street, just above Columbus Avenue, is a most unlikely and happy find: a French restaurant with an Italian heart. The best of all possible worlds.

The heart belongs to Gino Barbuti, trained as a French chef in British restaurants, then French restaurants here, before opening his own place and sending four daughters through college: my idea of a true hero. The atmosphere/ambiance is as charming as it is cozy, little wall-hangings offering touches of Paris, the Moules Frites evoking Saint Tropez, only better, with Gino's own particularly zesty tomato and garlic sauce, butter-like mussels melting on the tongue along with that flavorful crunch. Duck that could carry you to Lyons if you closed your eyes. Salads and appetizers to inspire several of your juices -- escargots and fish soup -- Okay-- soupe de poisson if you want to get fancy, that place you in Bandol, and a rose so good by the glass that I never had to order a bottle. Leave room for dessert -- feather-light Tarte Tartin with homemade ice cream, or a creamy, burnt sugar-capped Creme Brulee.

The place, down a few steps, like Alice's Rabbit Hole, with its cheerful yellow awning adding color to the dreariest day, inspires one to do what is foreign to most New Yorkers: Slow Down and simply Experience.