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Rich? Oui. Sublime? Oui! Oui!

You haven’t lived if you’ve never eaten great French food made from ingredients grown in France and served in France. I don’t care if you’ve been a guest of the Imperial family in Japan or dined under a Tuscan sun with an Italian movie star. Nothing tastes as rich, as magnificent, as expressly made for the delight of the human palate as French food. Imagine my delight to find that Le Lafayette is serving authentic French food in Naples. 

My best friend, Leslie, and I stood in the foyer, waiting to be served, inhaling the swirling mix of aromas: Someone was making crusty rolls, sautéing garlic in butter and speaking directly to my heart. 

“I’m so glad you invited me to lunch,” Leslie said as we were seated by Chef Sebastien Maillard’s sister Astrid, Le Lafayette’s sommelier. 

A server brought us menus filled with salads, sandwiches and omelets, and we promptly ordered enough food for the French Foreign Legion. I sipped a delectable Pouilly Fuisse (white wine from Burgundy, $15 per glass) and savored the aforementioned crusty rolls with butter while Leslie nursed some sparkling water.

Once the food arrived, I speared one after another of the inordinately tender, sizzling appetizer of a dozen escargots in a wonderful garlic butter sauce ($15.95), while Leslie pretended not to notice the sauce dribbling down my chin.

Leslie is a size zero. I am not. 

I continued with the seafood salad with shrimp, scallops and smoked salmon ($16.80)—a delicately constructed feast on a bed of vibrant greens—while Leslie daintily sampled her Mediterranean Salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, peppers, olive and basil ($11.50). I told the server I wanted to taste just a bit of the warm goat cheese advertised in the salad of the same name ($11.50), and he obliged me with a plate and crackers. 

My main course might as well have been called the “Have Some More Cholesterol with your Cholesterol” special. Le Lafayette calls it the goose liver omelet, a mélange of sautéed liver and egg so rich I blushed at my own audacity with every single bite—and then moaned in ecstasy ($19.95). Meanwhile, Leslie averted her eyes and pretended not to notice my orgiastic responses as she nibbled around the edges of her plain omelet ($8.70), a dish that had been goosed with tomatoes and onions. (I resolved to try the $25 black truffle omelet next time, unless next time was for dinner: We perused the dinner menu, which offered caviar selections—ranging from $65 to $140 an ounce—and some spectacular-looking meat and fish dishes involving cognac and truffles.)

The white and dark chocolate mousse in a bed of raspberry ($8.95) provoked the same sort of ardent vocalizations from me, while the apple tarte tatin ($12.95) became an instant favorite. I would love to say that Leslie pounced on these delicacies while I (finally) showed a bit of restraint, but journalistic integrity forbids me to lie.

Miraculously, there was enough for leftovers, and, despite having asked for a box 15 minutes earlier, I had to go hunting for someone—anyone—to wrap it. I found Astrid sitting alone at a table by the window, gazing out at 13th Street. She seemed surprised to see me standing by the kitchen. 

So, here’s the thing about great French food: It does not always come with great service. If you don’t mind a, say, leisurely dining experience, you’ll be just fine.      

“Do you think this restaurant reviewing gig is why I’m having such a hard time losing the baby weight?” I asked Leslie as we tripped lightly (OK, heavily) back down the steps to our car. The baby in question just turned two. 

“No way,” she said. And that is why Leslie will always be my BFF.

Le Lafayette 
375 13th St. S., Naples;
403-7861, www.lelafayette.com. Lunch
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner 5:30 p.m. to closing. Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations strongly recommended. Valet and free parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.

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