Thursday, October 20, 2011

Farewell at Chez Panisse

Berkeley, October 19, 2011—
OUR LAST DINNER here from a chef we're very fond of, David Tanis, who leaves after a number of years as one of the two downstairs chefs, continuing his transition from remarkable chef to remarkable writer. A bittersweet occasion: but an absolutely wonderful dinner, très français:
Chilled beet soup with cucumber and horseradish cream
Petrale sole with chanterelles and thyme
Spit-roasted pork loin with flageolet beans and caramelized carrots
Warm buckwheat crêpe with roasted figs and wild fennel ice cream

As many know, I'm not fond of beets; they almost always taste like aluminum to me, some genetic flaw in my DNA, I'm sure. But the horseradish cream quite countered that tendency, and I found this version of borscht really delicious. Too, it put me in mind of Jeremiah Tower, who was fond of celebrating some vague Russian connection in his menus back in the early days of Chez Panisse.

Flat fish are my favorites, and this sole was in my favorite style, pan-fried in butter. Straus butter, in fact, which had been clarified, and leant a substantial flavor to a fish that can be bland.

The pork was from Ranch Llano Seco, up near Chico: remarkably consistent, even-grained meat, delicate in flavor, substantial in texture.
Chez Panisse, 1971

That dessert took me right back to Lindsey's years at the restaurant. In so many ways this meal personified years of history for us — culinary, social, familial; all the things Chez Panisse stands for to those of us (and we are thousands, I think) who are part of its long tradition. David has been at the center of this for so many years; from the late 'seventies, I think — as café chef in the 1980s; as downstairs chef for the last ten years. (The four Chez Panisse chefs work six months on, six months off, full time and then some, two in the café, two in the downstairs restaurant.)

For a number off years David's lived in Paris his off six months, sometimes offering a little pop-up restaurant. He has published two books, A Platter of Figs and Heart of the Artichoke, both with the Artisan division of Workman Publishing, both very beautiful and clearly written. In June he began a weekly column, City Kitchen, at the New York Times, and on leaving Chez Panisse at the end of this month he'll be settling in New York. I see, too, that he has an attractive and useful website.

Thanks for so much, David — your cooking, your experience and your experiences, your thoughtfulness, your intelligence. Don't be a stranger.
Savennières, Domaine des Baumard, 2008; Condrieu, Domaine Faury, 2007; Chardonnay, Lioco (Carneros), 2009 (in half bottle); Châteauneuf du Pape, Château de Beaucastel, 1990
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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