Before you can fully appreciate Arturo Gismondi’s new French restaurant downtown, you have to pay homage to the old one that used to be across the street for 31 years. La Vieux Maison, which closed in 2006, was arguably the best French restaurant this side of Miami, and an icon in Boca Raton. It was in what was once known as the Giles House (he was one of Mizner’s engineers who built it in 1927), then the Por la Mar Apartments, then a real estate office, and then Leonce Picot’s landmark fine dining institution (where only the gentlemen were given menus with prices.)

Today, La Vieux Maison is just a fond memory—even the grand old house was torn down—but maybe Gismondi’s new venture, La Nouvelle Maison, may take the sting off a little. Adjacent to Trattoria Romana, Gismondi’s fabulous Italian bistro, La Nouvelle (455 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton, 561/338-3003) is next generation elegant, with a three different dining rooms, perhaps reminiscent of La Vieux’s different rooms. One is a serene dove gray minimalist alcove, another has exuberant French murals, another is a sun-dappled terrace. There is a soft art nouveau vibe to the furnishings, and a handsome bar front and center—always a good thing.

I was just there for a chef’s tasting, which was a series of passed hors d’oeuvres like langoustine mac and cheese (I was slayed), a clever little scallop in a bed of lentils topped with a bright disc of fennel, a potato puff filled with gruyere—tiny teases of what is to come on Nouvelle’s formidable menu. You can count on liver pate and foie gras, steak tartare, three kinds of caviar, a battery of salads and entrees that include fish (turbot, cod) rock shrimp, duckling, veal, steak, you name it. The difference in this new kid on the block is that every item is faithfully sourced, from Hudson Valley duck to organic Loch Duart salmon. The restaurant is expensive (entrees range form $29 to $49) but the cuisine looks to be first-rate.

The ambiance is chic, and we know Gismondi knows what he’s doing; look to this place as a significant addition to downtown Boca Raton.