Recipe for Romance

Fine food and drink on board can help any sailor's suit.

One of the great lines of American music was written by Dorothy Fields for Fred Astaire to croon to Ginger Rogers in the movie Swing Time. It goes like this:

A fine romance, with no quarrels/With no insults, and all the morals./You're just as hard to land as the Ile de France./I never get the chance./This is a fine romance.

Yet romance is one of the high hopes on the high seas-wind in your hair, brilliant sunsets and a large bed on board a lavish yacht work wonders for the receptive soul. Of course, fine food and drink can help such aspirations along enormously. As the poet Byron once observed, "Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.

Leaving apples aside, let's dispense the necessary smidgen of science to satisfy the empiricists. I will allow there's probably not a grain of truth to the idea of foods as aphrodisiacs, with the possible exception of chocolate, which does seem to contain chemicals that lift people's moods, especially women. Therefore, you might want to order a box of bonbons from Aphrodite Handmade Chocolates (www.chocolates-n-coffee.4t.com).

Love is obviously a matter of soul and psychology, and what really works are those luxurious, irresistible foods that have accrued so many romantic associations that they seem a sure shot. By this I mean caviar, eaten naked (not you, the caviar, unadorned by onions or capers, but scooped right from the tin with a mother-of-pearl spoon, perhaps set on buttered buckwheat blinis). The best caviar is beluga, of course, either Russian or Iranian, from the Caspian Sea. But since the decline of beluga sturgeon in these waters, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has banned imports and will ban even the sale of beluga in 2007, making it outrageously expensive. Osetra and sevruga are not banned. As for American roe, I wouldn't serve it for a serious romance (maybe for a casual second date) but it's an environmentally sound choice since it comes from sustainable fisheries in California and Missouri.

Beluga may have the edge in hype, but the osetra and sevruga are superb in their own right. I've found the most consistent product is brought in by Petrossian, readily available in gourmet stores, or by mail-order (www.petrossian.com), where you can also order those other romantic luxuries, smoked salmon and truffled foie gras.

What to drink with caviar? The answer is always the same, and plays right into your romantic intentions: vodka or champagne. Of the former, I recommend either a classic Russian vodka like Stolichnaya, which runs only about $22 a bottle. I recently did a blind tasting of 33 vodkas and was surprised-and delighted-that good old American Smirnoff came in first, which was backed up in a recent tasting in The New York Times.

Champagne is another matter. Although, like caviar, personal preference should carry more weight than mere label or expense, I am nevertheless partial to Taittinger and Bollinger. I also will admit a weakness for Dom Pérignon; the 1998 vintage has just come out and it is magnificent, quite wonderful with caviar.

If the simple service of caviar and vodka or champagne doesn't bring down the curtain early, or if a longer stay above deck is desired, I still would keep a second course quite simple. There is nothing more sumptuous, or simpler to prepare, than true Dover Sole á la Meuniére, cooked with tons of butter. Dover sole is not a species, but merely refers to a tradition that the Dover markets always got the best, fattest, sweetest, best-textured sole from the cold waters of the North Sea. Usually these are only shipped to the U.S. on Mondays, and if you're not paying something like $15 to $20 a pound for it, it's not the best. (Lemon sole, gray sole, petrale sole and rex sole are not sole at all, but American names for species of flounder.)

It's a perfect setup: The food inspires flights of romance, while around you a persimmon sky conspires with a mirror-like bay and the lights of a distant city flicker in the distance. The rest is up to you.

Buckwheat Blini: 13/4 cups milk 2 tsp. sugar 1 pkg. active dry yeast 3/4 cup buckwheat flour 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp. salt 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted 2 Tbs. vegetable oil, plus additional for frying 3 large egg yolks 2 large egg whites

In a small saucepan, heat milk to luke-warm. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast. Stir and let stand until foamy, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in both flours, salt, remaining teaspoon sugar, butter, oil and egg yolks, and beat until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel; set in a warm place and let rise until doubled.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks have formed. Fold into the batter. Heat a nonstick skillet until hot, brush with oil and drop batter by tablespoons into skillet, about 1 inch apart. Cook until golden, about 1 minute; flip them over and cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a warm plate; keep the cooked blinis covered with foil and warm in a 200-degree oven.

Dover Sole á la Meuniére: 2 skinned Dover sole 1/2 cup flour Salt and pepper 8 Tbs. butter (preferably clarified) 1 Tbs. peanut oil Juice of 1 lemon

Dredge sole in flour that has been seasoned to taste. Melt 4 tablespoons butter and peanut oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add sole; cook until golden, about 6 to 7 minutes on each side. Remove sole from pan and set on a heated plate. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in pan with the juice of the lemon and pour over the sole.