Monday, August 29, 2011

Chez Panisse at Forty: two of three

Berkeley, August 29, 2011—
SATURDAY NIGHT WAS the Big Night for the Chez Panisse Fortieth celebrations. I don't know how many dinners had been scheduled in the Bay Area: in Berkeley, in San Francisco, on the peninsula, up in the wine country.

menu.jpgAnd, of course, in the restaurant itself, where special tables had been sold to benefit the Edible Schoolyard Foundation. Lindsey and I were fortunate to be invited guests at one of these tables, along the back wall of the café, where I found myself seated with old friends of Alice's, old friends also of ours; and there we feasted on what seemed to me a café adaptation of a downstairs menu, served beautifully in the café style:
Hors d'oeuvre variés
Soupe à pistou
Encornets farcis
Côtelette et saucisse d'agneau sur la braise
Salade mesclun
Tarte aux prunes et glace aux mures
fruits et mignardises

I'm not sure why the menu was printed up in French: in general, that practice was abolished years ago. Perhaps because the chef, David Tanis, has been living in Paris for the last few years during his six-month off-cycle from Chez Panisse.
In any case, it was a magnificent meal. The encornets, right, were whole little squid — ”flying squid,“ which look to me like little cuttlefish — stuffed and roasted in the pizza oven, served as you see with a good quantity of brightly flavored aïoli, roasted peppers, and greens.

The lamb — chop and sausage — was beautifully done, the chop and sausage grilled over vine cuttings and added to the slow braise surrounding a potato-tomato-garlic gratin. France meets California.

Prunes — how I love them, and how stupidly they are scorned. Lindsey grew up in Sonoma county on a ”prune ranch,“ silly term (it always makes me see cowboys rounding up wrinkled fruit), and we think of the French prune, whether fresh or carefully dried, as a noble fruit. In this case, the tarte was filled with evenly cut segments of fresh French prunes, the pastry perfectly baked, the glaze just the right consistency, and the blackberry ice cream a nicely calculated counterpoise.

What else. Well, lots of table talk, of course; lots of old friends to sign the menu, lots of memories. We didn't get to bed until three o'clock in the morning.
Cassis, Clos Ste. Magdeleine, 2009; Bandol, Domaine Tempier, 2008 (marvelous)
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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