Berkeley, May 4, 2011—DROVE DOWN TO BERKELEY today to see an art exhibit and a play — one of these days I really have to trot over to The Eastside View and catch up on recent cultural reports — so why not stop in at the Café for an early supper?
Chez Panisse is continuing its fascinating survey of Influences over the past forty years, celebrating one or another chef, author, or other food authority each week, leading up to the August 28 Fortieth Birthday of the restaurant. This week it's Diana Kennedy, whose pioneering cookbooks had much to do with introducing the manifold glories and subtleties of the Mexican kitchen to the rest of the world.
We began with a simple salad: small tender and delicate leaves of rocket, laced with a chiffonade of celery-root, dressed with a creamy mustard vinaigrette. We followed this with Puerco en mole Chatino: shredded pork (and some cubes) in Kennedy's rich, deep mole sauce. (A mole, two syllables of course, accent on the first, is a compound produced by mashing or grinding with mortar and pestle: "mole" is etymologically related to "mill." Guacamole is one of the most familiar such compounds.)
I made this same mole some years ago, from Kennedy's book — the first one, I think. It was fairly easy to make, but time-consuming and tricky to shop for, as it calls for a number of ingredients. Among them, pumpkin seed, which forms the base of the sauce. The result is earthy, complex, profound, aromatic, and beautifully balanced. It has that solid, wholly natural quality that signals something particularly nutritive: the complexities do not involve chemicals or synthetics.
Chez P's execution of this dish seemed to jibe perfectly with my memory of that of so many years ago, and made me want to tackle it again, probably this summer as it's a perfect hot-weather dish. Dessert was Cinnamon ice cream, very delicately cinnamonned, with bittersweet chocolate sauce and candied pecans, oh my.
Tocai, Quattro Mani (Slovenia), 2008; Zinfandel, "Chez Panisse," Green and Red Vineyards (Napa Valley), 2009• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510.548.5525