WHEN I WAS A KID, I played a game I called "Lost Child," which involved skulking outside my family's fishbowl-style house, watching as they went about their business inside. Lost Child was an abandoned little satellite; her hunger, emotional and physical, unnoticed. Eventually, of course, I would grow bored, give up on the rescue search-party, and re-enter the world of central heating and human contact -- a re-entry that was always anti-climactic after the several minutes of intense pity and fawned-over fantasy I envisioned.

I was reminded of this when, sloshing up Pine Street one evening, I noticed Bistro Lautrec. Its two big picture windows glowed soft and warm against the pissiness that passes for spring. Inside, patrons sipped wine and gestured, succulent bits of meat on their forks. I watched, half hidden behind a post, and hunger fisted up inside my gut. Who were these people smothered in service, these lucky guests? Each time I walked past the restaurant, I'd catch myself wondering what it would be like to sit at one of the few mismatched tables, the heat of the open kitchen flaring at my back.

Then one day I crossed over to become one of the diners I had envied -- merely by bursting in, with the wind and cold air blustering around me, my gentleman friend, and our six-month-old baby. We wheeled in our giant pram, complete with howling baby, casting about for a discreet spot to hide the buggy, and perhaps the baby as well. This was when I realized how very intimate Bistro Lautrec is. I braced myself for haughty service, French-style, and general disdain for our breederishness, fashionlessness, and the awkward accompaniment of a Volvo-sized carriage. I was ready to hate the privilege of the restaurant. But the waitress approached, threw up her arms, and laughed. She immediately took over, moved furniture around gracefully, situated the stroller next to our table so she could keep an eye on Ruby -- the aforementioned howling baby, now sedated by the ceiling fans, spinning like giant crib mobiles from a ceiling so high it seemed to disappear into darkness. We were parked front and center of the kitchen, delightfully close to the pastry chef as he put the final touches on some incredible-looking profiteroles. Jazz thrummed from somewhere. I gripped my menu in utter disbelief -- comfortable, at ease.

As we pondered the two daily seafood specials, pasta, and the small but large-hearted meat-loving menu, I already knew I would return to Bistro Lautrec. Beyond our being accommodated and even celebrated, our waitress, Christine, kept our glasses full from the short but solid wine list. The food we ordered appeared and disappeared rapidly, beginning with a bistro salad with pear and stilton ($5.50), moving on to moist, dense crab cakes in an herb chardonnay sauce ($13). Crab cakes, as my fellow diner put it, for real. No fluff or filler. Bread replenished itself discreetly.

When our entrées came, we were already tipsy on wine and a delightfulness of flavor that parallels amour. I was not surprised when Christine picked up my baby and began dancing around the restaurant with her. As the first bite of filet mignon ($25) spread throughout my body, I forgot I had a daughter. Meanwhile, Michael, my gentleman friend, waxed orgasmic about his salmon in puff pastry ($16). Mistakenly, we had worried about the skinny French and their slender portions, and ordered Poulet Montrachet ($14), an incredible chèvre-stuffed chicken breast with Marsala flambé mushroom reduction.

Christine balanced Ruby on her hip as she served us French-press coffee as strong as lovemaking standing up, and profiteroles ($5.25) descended from heaven. There is really no way to describe this dessert, except to say I have already returned for more, and have to keep myself in check regarding Bistro Lautrec profiteroles consumption. It doesn't help that the chef is always there, preparing them right before my eyes.

At the end of our relaxed meal, our baby was returned; the chefs and server bid us good evening and thanked us for coming. We walked home, completely warmed in the afterglow of red meat. Bistro Lautrec creates food and atmosphere that is a long, full-body embrace -- and like a truly great dance partner, it swept me around in such a way that I forgot I didn't know the steps.

Bistro Lautrec

315 E Pine St (between Bellevue and Melrose), 748-0627. Tues-Sat 5-10 pm, closed Sun & Mon. Beer and wine. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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