Yet twice I endured bouts with the watery, too salty, once dreadfully overcooked "Bouillabaisse de Marseille" ($28.95), which contains a broth so pallid it tastes like stone soup and arrives with an acrid, ice-cold rouille that engenders bitterness wherever it alights. Also: Why the vast, shallow bowls that ensure the stuff reaches room temperature before a quarter of it can be sampled? Twice too I had unfortunate run-ins with the despised oven-baked duck with olives ($18.95), an anise-accented, overcooked, dense, greasy insult to avians. Steak and potatoes--or rather, ribeye Niçoise with garlic pomme purée ($24.95)--was fine.

Phew! I've been waiting to put that unpleasantness behind us and move on into the conflict-free world of La Fougasse's enchanting desserts. Chocolate-mousse aficionados will be happy to learn that La Fougasse has one of the very best mousses in town. The stuff is served inside a teardrop-shaped chocolate cup, the chocolate container topped with whipped cream, the plate bathed in a subtle, pearly orange sauce, the whole jewel box of it topped with a pair of white-and-dark spiral-patterned chocolate batons--sigh. Fanciful and elegant, this mousse ($5.95) united potent chocolate with buoyant orange sauce and had forks flying in from every quarter. The lemon tart ($5.25) is as pure, buttery, and lemony as could be. A peach and chèvre tart ($5.95) was unusual and delicious--a buttery tart shell filled with peach quarters, surrounded by a sweetened chèvre custard. The whole thing was broiled until it got a bubbled, blackened top, creating an overall effect that was a little bit sweet, a little bit sharp, a little bit roasty--all very nice. But when paired with a vanilla-lavender ice cream, an ice cream so strong with vanilla it almost tasted alcoholic, the combined effect was nothing short of striking.

I found myself liking La Fougasse most during dessert, the restaurant's strongest suit. I grew to appreciate the dining rooms, which struck me as a sort of French take on Alice in Wonderland. The childish touch seems particularly appropriate when you consider the service, which seems most like a valiant effort in the face of full employment. The servers I had were all very, very young, and while they seemed to be well trained in certain niceties--such as removing and replacing silverware between courses--they didn't really seem to have any kind of deep familiarity with the ritual. Those I had tended to disappear for 30 minutes at a stretch, and one night the server's assistants and I embarked together on an improvisational comedy: Abandoned by my server and wanting to track down a forgotten dessert or return a plate, I'd catch a busboy's eye and raise my eyebrows. He'd catch my eye, smile winningly, and saunter past beguilingly. I'd catch another busboy's eye and make that universal hand-at-shoulder-height gesture for 'Help!' He'd catch my eye, wink, and wave back. In retrospect, I'm glad they didn't call the Bloomington police and have me arrested for attempting to corrupt minors.

If they had, I think I'd have used my time in the hoosegow to figure out the one thing about La Fougasse that still troubles me: Indeed, I know what a fougasse is, but who is La Fougasse for? Hotel guests, of course; Breedin' Prairie residents who don't like to drive (now if that isn't an oxymoron...). But if La Fougasse is one of the best restaurants in that quadrant of the suburbs--better than Kincaid's, as good as Ciao Bella (but not as young and buzz-y)--and it's not as good as a dozen restaurants north of Lake Street, does it make any sound if it falls in the forest? I told you there would be a quiz.

TABLEHOPPING:

MATZO-LESS, TAKE 2: Avid Tablehopping fans will remember last week's high drama, when Matzo-less in Minneapolis, a recent transplant to these Twin Towns, couldn't find a bowl of matzo-ball soup to meet his expectations.

Now, teach a man to fish and he will have fish for a lifetime, but ask a food critic a question and she'll stare dissolutely out the window, wishing the chickadees would run and fetch a turkey sandwich from Buon Giorno. Keeping that well-worn old saw in mind, Matzo-less asked not what I could do for him, but went out and did a thorough investigative study of local matzo balls, finally alighting on the Crossroads Delicatessen & Bake Shop, in Minnetonka, about which he reported, "OH GOD!!!!" And later: "I would have to say that next to my Bubbie's, Crossroads' MBS [matzo-ball soup] was about the best I've enjoyed."

Funnily enough, four exclamation points and a favorable comparison to Grandma was exactly the thing to keep me from further hectoring the wildlife about their unwillingness to pitch in around the house, and I set off to the Crossroads. What soup! Broth full of real bits of chicken, carrots, celery, a big old matzo ball as tender and fluffy as could be; this is a chicken soup for the ages. A big bowl of soup with one matzo ball runs $4.29. There's an even bigger one, which must serve an entire dance troupe, that holds two matzo balls, for $7.29. I also tried the cabbage borscht ($4.29/$7.29) a thick sweet-and-sour version that reminded me of certain Eastern European old-fashioned cabbage rolls. I'm not sure I like the place as a deli, per se--both the potato latkes ($5.99) and a pastrami sandwich ($8.99) I tried were nothing special. But I'll be back to try more one-pot comfort foods like sweet-and-sour short ribs ($14.59) and chicken in a pot ($12.99). Matzo-less: I thank you, and the wildlife thanks you. Crossroads Delicatessen & Bake Shop; 2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka; (952) 546-6595. Hours: 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m. Sunday.

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