Seventh Street Bistro, 815 West 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 627-1242. "Special gourmet dinners" are served Sunday through Wednesday only, for no more than 20 people at a seating. Meals, consisting of six courses and all wines, change weekly. Reservations essential. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two: $200. "Six courses!" said the Reluctant Gourmet. "Not on your life. It will take you at least three hours to eat."
Actually, it took just over four.
"One hundred dollars?" said the playwright I invited in his stead. "You mean for both of us, don't you?" I told him that actually no, the meal was $100 apiece. "But that includes the wines," I added.
"Oh, in that case . . . ," he replied. Then he added, a bit anxiously I thought, "You are planning on paying for me?" I assured him that I was, and he agreed to meet me at the Seventh Street Bistro for one of their special gourmet dinners.
"Why would someone want to spend this much money for a meal when they didn't even know what they were going to get to eat or drink?" the playwright was asking as we sat down at a table festooned with glasses. Just then the waiter appeared flourishing a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Champagne. With a grand gesture, he presented the bottle to my friend. The playwright nodded, the waiter popped the cork, the wine flowed. The playwright took a few sips, looked around at the calm gray room, sniffed the arrangement of flowers on the table, gave a contented sigh. He buttered a roll and answered himself. "How nice to go out to eat without worrying about whether you're going to make a fool of yourself when you order the wine. What a pleasure not to wonder if the waiter thinks you're an ass for ordering the most expensive dish on the menu, or a cheapskate for ordering the least. This is so relaxing; I feel like a rich person." He took a bite of the bread. "This may be perfectly ordinary bread and butter, but at the moment it tastes like ambrosia."
"I wouldn't eat too much of that if I were you," I warned; the waiter was approaching with a couple of plates. On each was a golden round of brioche , at its heart a nub of chanterelle-studded foie gras . "This tastes too good," said the playwright. "I know it must be killing me." He put his fork into the buttery toasted bread, topped it with a slice of the sensually smooth pate and a look of total happiness crossed his face. He seemed so content with this symphony of richness that I refrained from noting that the pate had strayed slightly into the gray zone and was just a bit overcooked.
The waiter poured out some more Champagne (thereby almost emptying the bottle), then presented the next bottle of wine. He poured some for the playwright, who tasted it with a strange look on his face. He nodded to the waiter but whispered to me, "I don't know a thing about wine, but I don't much like this one." I could see why; it was one of those Meursaults that tastes more like ferns than almonds, somehow managing to have a green yet dusty flavor. It was also extremely cold. "Let it sit a while," I said. "I think the Champagne will taste better with this course anyway." The waiter had just set down some beautiful bowls. Each contained a rosy arrangement of lobster and carrots in an intriguingly playful sauce. Variations in the key of licorice: There were slices of fennel under the sauce, anise seeds in it and pale and lacy leaves of chervil sprinkled across the top. "Such luxury," sighed the playwright, eating the delicate meat.
But more luxury was yet to come. When the waiter reappeared, he was triumphantly bearing a large silver dome. Behind him marched another waiter. They set the plates down in unison, and then with a flourish whisked the domes away. On the plates were lovely coral reefs constructed out of overlapping slices of salmon. They looked serenely simple, but we were to discover that the smooth surface was deceptive. They were actually little surprise packages: Concealed beneath the silken slices of fish was a cloud of airy potato puree thickly carpeted with caviar. The dish was a triumph.
Next, the waiter brought out a sorbet and I couldn't help grimacing. "What's wrong?" asked the playwright, who was beyond criticism at this point. To him, every mouthful was a wonder, each dish a new delight. He tasted the ice and said, predictably, "Fabulous." "I hate sorbets in the middle of a meal," I said grumpily, putting the tiniest little morsel in my mouth. It was a cool surprise, as bracing as a shock of cold water on a sleepy face. The deep red ice had the clean flavor of grapefruit tempered by red wine and a touch of sugar. "Who could hate this?" murmured my friend. Who indeed?