Sunday, May 18, 2014

Oh, that café!

Berkeley, May 14, 2014 (but written May 18)—
I MUST ADMIT to an ambivalent attitude toward rabbit. (As a comestible, I mean: my feelings about the rodents in the garden are quite decided.) Much of this is purely sentimental: we raised rabbits when I was a kid, and I always hated them — dirty, fragile, ill-tempered, and needy when living; tough and bony when dead on the plate; thoroughly unpleasant in the brief violent transition between the two states.

It didn't help when I read somewhere, during my stormy adolescence I think, that when cooked they resembled (human) babies. When roasted whole, I suppose. So over the years we've generally avoided them when cooking at home, and in the usual course of things they don't turn up all that often on restaurant menus.

(There's one exception to our home cooking of rabbit, and that's in Ada Boni's estimable book Italian Regional Cooking, one of the great cookbooks of all time (and still to be found quite cheap on the Internet): here she gives a Coniglio in porchetta, I think — I'm too lazy to look for it just now — which involves mincing the rabbit's heart, liver, and so forth, and binding the result along with chopped garlic and basil, and stuffing the carcass with this, sewing it shut, then roasting it: a delicious meal.)

Well, this day we were in Berkeley, en route to seeing another play, and stopped in at the Café — you'll have guessed by now which — and there was prosciutto-wrapped rabbit on the menu, along with roasted fennel and lovely fat fresh green asparagus, a perfect springtime menu. It took no time at all to overcome my lingering prejudices against eating rodents (though in truth I think rabbits have been reclassified out of that order and are now Lagomorphs; but they'll always be rodents to me.)

The meat was boned, of course, and carefully wrapped in just the right amount of prosciutto, and reminded me of Ada Boni's recipe. And the entire meal, which I'd preceded with a garden lettuce salad, was succulent and memorable.


And then dessert: this absolutely gorgeous plate of fruit, and a delicous apricot tarte, with ice cream on the side… wonderful…

Chablis, Gilbert Picq, 2012: light, engaging, refreshing
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525

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