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Luscious food is Spire's high point

It was a big week for naughty breasts. But Justin Timberlake is hardly needed to expose the roasted duck breast at the revamped Spire, on the second floor of Nine Zero hotel, for the decadent event it is. Surrounded by soft red cabbage and a shockingly good piece of parsnip pithivier, that duck sets off as many fireworks as any halftime show, and it's more tasteful. The only apology you'll need to make is to your personal trainer, and even then you'd be overreacting.

Everything else on this menu is made with the same blend of wit, spunk, and maturity. It's enthralling enough to turn an indifferent eater into a zealot. Of course, if you're a slave to knockout dinners or a devotee of, say, Food & Wine, which ballyhooed Spire as one of the "top 50 hotel restaurants in America," we're not really talking to you. We're talking to the folks who remain skeptical about plunking down close to $30 for a pork chop. After all, that kind of parsimonious stuff is so old New Economy.

Trust us, this menu is a good excuse to get nostalgic: the lobster enveloped in luscious carrot soup; the almost flaky king salmon and the pureed spinach splashed nearby; and the sheep's milk yogurt that steals the show from the rest of the pineapple "right side up" cake. Oh, for the serious vegetarians: When the waiter says, "We'll throw something together for you," the robust and colorful garden he comes back with miraculously exceeds the lawn we were expecting. It's as good as the meat offerings.

Some of your fellow Spire diners might seem old Old Economy (pleats, pinstripes, suspenders, Scotch). More than one underage lady was spotted draping a fur stole around her slender neck once the bill was paid. But don't be fooled: Spire's crisp lines, its sleek, gleaming surfaces, and its couture furniture and flatware -- all extensions of its luxury hotel environs -- keep it a fashionable place to spend Daddy's dough. You'll also be pleased to see the svelte hipster, clad in Etro and Duckie Brown, eating with a man old enough and plain enough to be his broker.

And so we hesitate to mention the unflattering funky lighting happening along the perimeter of the main dining room's ceiling. It takes us right back to school cafeteria lunches, which is not the nostalgia we had in mind.

Off to the left of the dining room hangs a large curtain. And some time in the middle of your succulent dinner, you could feel compelled to wander over to it. See, it hangs over a window that looks onto the kitchen, and so intoxicating will your meal be that you might have to whip the drape back and get a load of the wizard responsible for leaving you strung out on the oxtail in his gnocchi. His name is Gabriel Frasca, and according to the host, he used to do the same spellbinding at Radius.

Some evening, as things are beginning to wind down in the kitchen, he might come from behind the curtain, as he did one of the nights we were there. He chatted with the diners at a table in front of us. The conversation was polite, a lot of grateful thank yous and good lucks; this Frasca is up to his neck in well-wishers. The man needs groupies.

Spire Restaurant & Bar 90 Tremont St. 617-772-0202.

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