Le Bec-Fin

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Early evening at Le Bec-Fin, in its 19th-century-Parisian-salon styling. (Michael S. Wirtz)

If Georges Perrier is to be believed, time is ticking on Le Bec-Fin.

"Three more years and I walk away," says the chef, now 62. "This kind of restaurant, unfortunately, is on the way out."

He's right to predict the demise of multicourse blowouts like Le Bec-Fin, a truffle-'til-you-drop culinary orgy in which no luxury is spared, and more than a few expense accounts have met their maker in a blinding flash of polished silver and premier cru Bordeaux. People no longer need to gorge themselves on six courses (and spend about $200 a person doing it) to approach culinary nirvana. Le Bec's Old World formality, albeit un-snooty, isn't for everyone.

And yet, a meal at Le Bec-Fin remains an experience unlike any other, a rarefied pursuit of dining perfection in its most symphonic expression, from the lavishly gilded room (think King Louis) to the genuflecting tuxedoed servers and a cellar stocked with some of the world's most prestigious wines.

Most impressive, though, is how Perrier's kitchen has remained up-to-date, all the while honoring the signature dishes that made it legendary to begin with. First-timers might not want to miss the amazing escargots in champagne-hazelnut butter, or the wild mushroom ravioli, or game birds like the wild Scottish partridge that are carved tableside and glazed with the essence of their natural juices.

Anyone seeking refined contemporary cooking, meanwhile, will find it the rule, not the exception, at Le Bec-Fin. Lunch chef Jerome Bacle turns familiar tuna tartare electric with pickled raspberries that tingle with gingered spice. His black bass is a stunning evocation of Spain, perched atop an orange chorizo emulsion swirled with black squid ink.

Dinner chef Pierre Calmels is no less modern with dishes like pesto risotto topped with garlic foam, or tomato water shots with olive oil. But his menus rely more on soulful seasonality. Luscious scallops pair with honeyed red cabbage. Black bass luxuriates over a fall study of squash: beer-marinated kabocha, caramelized butternut, and pickled Cinderella pumpkin.

Few of these plates are petite. And by the time you're halfway through one of the exquisite meat dishes - veal medallions with sweetbreads and chestnuts, or lamb with flageolet beans - the mere notion of three more courses sounds absurd.

Oh well, you're here. Your bank balance already will never be the same. So why even pretend to resist the chariot of cheeses, the chalices of sublime sorbets, and the pastry cart that glides to your table lavished with frozen souffles and chocolate-ribboned temptations?

Enjoy them while they last.