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While the dining room itself is devoid of drama—there are a few potted plants and simple leather banquettes running along the walls—the menu is devoted to pushing the boundaries of accepted gastronomic taste. The regular menu ($45 for a three-course dinner) kicked off with a deliciously smoky amuse-bouche mousse made from black-trumpet mushrooms, with a skim of oil flavored with blood-orange vinaigrette, and a sliver of black truffle. This was followed by an appetizer of velvety foie gras, served in the manner of a traditional ploughman's lunch, with slivers of Beaufort cheese and bread. It was quite delicious, provided you ignored the covering of bubbly, Ajax-like foam made of salt water and Belgian beer.
Among the eccentric entrées to follow, the pan-seared scallops, layered with pieces of squab, a drizzling of sea urchin, and a long chocolate crisp, earns raves at my table although I thought the dish tasted like a bizarre form of seafood candy. I preferred the lacquered duck breast, which is expertly carved in sections, then stacked atop a little structure of snow peas, with a crackling of skin, some caramelized pear, and a sliver of hazelnut crumble for a roof. The ballottine of chicken tasted like excessively fruity bath soap when I first sampled it, although its accompaniment of orange-carrot jus and "delirium" has since been replaced by a less cloying potion made with braised red endive and a dripping of dill sauce. The highlight, though, was the côte de boeuf. It's first rubbed in garlic with the bone in, roasted in a smoky thatch of hay, and cut in tender, baby-pink slices and arranged beside a mound of oyster mushrooms and green mangoes, with a paper-thin croûte balancing like a bridge in between. None of Liebrandt's peculiar touches, however, prepared me for the outlandish goofiness of the desserts. The creations are mostly ethereal flans, foams, and gelées made with ingredients like Pepsi, mentholyptus, or Guinness stout. The Guinness is served in jellied form, as part of a tasteless flan made with orange water; the Pepsi is reduced down, then dripped over a kind of frothy, whiskey-flavored zabaglione. I'm not sure either of them tasted very good, but then, that's not always the point at Papillon. Spectacle is the point, and in the end, you can't help enjoying the show.
Prawn cocktail, $9; cottage pie, $10; lamb shank, $16; beef in Guinness with chive mashed potatoes, $14.
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