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This Week: The Pleasure Principle

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Testimonials don't come any better: “It was indescribably amazing,” a young woman exults as she and a companion finish a leisurely three-course lunch at Amour Wine Bistro in Carytown. It's the sort of reaction owner Paul Heitz hopes for, and one he's methodically cultivated through one of the most extended soft openings in memory.

The business at 3129 W. Cary St. has been running for several months, but Heitz waited to go public here until every detail was executed to his liking. Now, he says, early customers are becoming regulars and his formula appears to be finding its audience.

“This is a simple marriage of perfectly cooked fresh ingredients paired with wines that enhance their flavors,” he says of the fixed-price concept. The menu by chef Blair Bowles (La Petite France, Buckhead's), changes each week and features a signature ingredient — grapes, beans, apples and pears are this month's choices. Wines spotlight a different region each month. For September, it's Loire. “The hits on our website increase every Tuesday when we put up the menu,” Heitz says, “and this encourages people to come back and taste something new.”

Diners find the white-tablecloth setup an intimate affair, with space for two dozen diners and another handful by the bar. Fresh flowers, candles and an unobtrusive staff dressed in all black offer a quiet counterpoint to the bistro's friendly across-the-street neighbor, Can Can. At Amour, “I want people to take their time,” Heitz says. “That's the ‘life' part of the pairing,” reflecting the business motto: pairing wine, food and life.

Customers select from two- or three-course meals and choose wines at one of two prices (with an ultimate level planned for fall). Luncheon pricing with wines is $25 or $33; wine-paired dinners on weekdays are $39 or $65, and on Friday and Saturday nights $49 or $79 with added tasting surprises from the kitchen. Brunch in three paired courses is $39 or $65 and includes a sparkling wine or Champagne.

Bar sitters can pick from a weekly small-plates menu and sample wine flights or by-the-glass options. Cheese plates and charcuterie, risotto and tartelette flambAce, pissaladiA"re and smoked trout are among recent bar food choices. “At any level I want people to enjoy the experience,” the Alsatian-born Heitz says. “Changing the menu each week keeps us awake and focused on the flavors. We have so much passion for food and wine and seeing customers happy. It's all about pleasure.”

Amour Wine Bistro serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday. 353-4020. amourwb.com.

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