We've heard a lot about Willi's Wine Bar from fellow participants in the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group and other American friends, and when a quick check revealed that it was located within a pleasant stroll from our hotel, it made sense to check it out for our last dinner in Paris before heading for home tomorrow.

Showing up a little early (just before 8 p.m.) by Paris standards on a week night, we had no problem claiming a nice table next to an open window at the back, although the place was jammed by about a half-hour after that.

As we had been told, this is a pleasant place, casually stylish, with a really interesting and fairly priced wine-by-the-bottle list, virtually all French, with bottles ranging from well under 100 francs (about $15) to a few older items as high as FF600 or so. A degustation list (by the glass or carafe) featured about a dozen good reds and whites and assorted aperitifs, bubblies, dessert wines and eau de vie. The a la carte menu, which changes daily, offers a good selection of mildly creative and well prepared French standards (FF65/$9 for starters, FF95/$14 for main courses). Service was friendly and helpful, and the servers all speak fluent English. This led to the only serious downside about Willi's: Frankly, it's so easy for Americans to dine here that it seems - at least on this night - to attrack the kind of loud, boisterous American parties who don't exactly create the best image of our country overseas. We spent most of the evening sitting quietly in the back and thinking about pretending to be Canadian ...

The food and wine were worth it, though. During the course of the evening we worked our way through starters and desserts and a total of six glasses:

With crême d'asperges glacé aux fèves & estragon and salade d'artichauts poivrade aux herbes et mousse d'avocat:

Domaine des Aubuisières 1997 "Marigny" Vouvray Sec (FF23/$3.25 a glass) - Pale gold, with a light honeydew melon scent; crisp and full, tart and long.

Domaine de Félines Jourdan 1993 Picpoul de Pinet (FF16/$2.25 a glass) - Clear straw color, with a light scent of almonds and kiwi fruit; tart, acidic, with a clean minty quality in the finish.

With agneau de Lozèere à la fleur de sel, thym et fèves and fricassée de volaille "pattes noirs" aux asperges et shïtake:

Domaine de la Tour de Bon 1997 Bandol (FF32/$4.50 a glass) - Very dark garnet, with earthy, "tree-bark" aromas characteristic of Mourvèdre. Peppery red-fruit flavors, herbal and fresh, structured by lemon-squirt acidity.

Dom Saint Andrew 1996 "La Seranne" Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux (FF32/$4.50 a glass) - Inky blackish-purple. Barnyard and "horsey" aromas over ripe black fruit. Fruit and leathery flavors on the palate, tart but balanced. Definitely on the bretty side, but enjoyable and very well matched with the lamb.

Filled to the gills and deciding to shun caffeine in light of tomorrow's long travel day home, we passed on desserts and coffee but lingered over glasses of ...

Emilio Lustau East India Solera Sherry (FF38/$5.50 a glass) - Clear, very dark amber, with a rich aroma of walnuts and prunes. Deep and full, smooth and very sweet, with a good acidic grip to keep the sweetness from cloying. A dessert in a glass.

Etienne Brana Marc de Irouleguy (FF38/$5.50 a glass) - Contrary to the stereotype of marc (which, like grappa, is a distillate made from the grape skins and seeds left over after wine is pressed), this clear, potent liquid bore little resemblance to the fabled paint thinner. Clear as water, with a strong grapey aroma, it was hot and harsh to be sure, but the grapey fire was a cleansing one, leaving us feeling strangely refreshed and ready to waddle back to the hotel.

The complete dinner and wines totaled FF508 (under $75) for two, a tab that seemed more than reasonable by the standards of similar eateries in the U.S.

Restaurant info: Willi's Wine Bar, 13, rue des Petits-Champs, 1st arondissement (fairly near the Louvre and the Paris Opéra; Metro stop Pyramides) +33 (0)1 42 61 05 09.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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