In this slim volume, a journalist who made his name writing about ice climbing and storm kayaking (''Dangerous Games'') takes on one perfect, $500 meal at Taillevent in Paris. The effect is enchanting. Todhunter spent a few months in the famed eatery's kitchen, and the research shows. Between descriptions of escargots and perfect verbena ice cream, he serves up side dishes on the origins of the restaurant, the cultural history of salt, and tips on crafting a marquise au chocolat. Curiously, he's a bit weak when opining on food: Can we really trust a diner who hasn't eaten a burger in years, claims there is no such thing as too much lobster, and writes: ''I decided that I did not like deli sandwiches made by men''? Still, those are nits. When the final glasses of cognac arrive with the bill at 12:05 a.m., you'll feel as sated as Todhunter did on that cool summer night.