Bruce Auden continues to be the city's premier apostle of world-wise regional cooking, and there is no better place to get one's gastronomic feet and whistle wet than at the sinuous bar. Here, the noodle menu includes such enticements as chicken fried oysters with squid ink pasta and pancetta, and a red coconut curry with egg noodles, shrimp, and snap peas - which can be paired to appropriate wines by the glass from Biga's ample list.
Moving to the main dining room, we recently fell for foie gras, quickly seared and served with brioche, blackberries, mushrooms, and a cider jus. Sublime. Tempura Gulf shrimp were almost outdone by their accompanying chili lime noodles, melon, peanuts, and mint, but we won't complain. Neither will we cast aspersions on the superb and succulent, slow-braised lamb shank - whether it's served with risotto, polenta, or any of the galaxy of other accompaniments that can revolve around the main event, such as a spicy Torre Oria from Spain.
The Close-to-Bouillabaisse is refreshingly honest in its labeling: The bountiful bowl is full of much fancier fish and shellfish than would be used in the Mediterranean dish, and saffron is a dominant herbal note, but it's foolish to argue with such largesse. (You may want more of the classic rouille with toast that is slyly served in a martini glass, however).
Desserts by Kathrine Tuason are not to be missed, with the sticky toffee pudding being a signature item worthy of being writ large. One of the city's best cheese plates is another endgame option. At $29, the three-course, prix fixe early dinner menu (before 6:30 p.m.) is as much of a deal as the noodle bar. Take your pick. •