Dining at Le Pavillon is like attending a special exhibition of culinary art -- each dish is an event, a small rendition of kitchen artistry. The palette is lobster and caviar and truffles and foie gras. The canvas is a large white plate on which is created the likes of deep pink ravioli stuffed with beets on a pond of golden cream floating green chives. Or a rosette of scallop slices on a paper-thin pastry rounds in an eggplant cream. Or grilled foie gras on a wonderfully muted pur,ee of red bell peppers, turned into a miniature of liver and bacon by a topping of tiny lardons. A meal is not the American pattern of a small appetizer and large main course, but a parade of lovely little delicacies, the main dish being distinguished from the others only by its being meat -- venison or duck breast or tiny beef medallions, for instance -- while the others are seafooods, wild mushrooms and the like.
Exquisite describes the ingredients, the presentations and the preparation itself. And the dishes are enhanced by a dining room that is subtly, simply handsome, right down to the tiny ribbed silver demitasse spoons.
Service is formal, also restrained and certainly smooth. The menu lists two multicourse fixed-price menus, which can be reshuffled or ordered a la carte if you wish. And the price is very high, reflecting that you are paying for art rather than nourishment. To accompany that art is an impressive wine list, now priced well beyond the bargain levels at which Le Pavillon's wines were first offered.
That's not the only disappointing change this year. Previously there was more attention paid to balancing the menu, so for the first time I have found sauces repetitious, cream following cream, and a lack of salads to interject a crisp freshness.
Still, chef Yannick Cam's art grows bolder, freer and still more refined each year, and a dinner at Le Pavillon can compete with the best anywhere. Anyone intent on investigating the three- star restaurants of the world could not justify missing this one. 1050 Connecticut Ave. NW. 833- 3846. L $16.50-$18.50, D $22- $26. L daily ex Sat, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, C, CB, DC, MC, V. Res req. Full bar.