Friday, March 18, 2016

Chez Panisse

Berkeley, March 16, 2016—
IN BERKELEY for the day on various items of business, and rewarded by an exceptional dinner, even by the standards of this restaurant. (Of course, I may be biased: see here and here.) Here is what we had:

Amuse-bouche: Green olive tapenade on toast with watermelon radish

Prosecco, white wine and vermouth apéritif
Deep-fried asparagus and leeks with mousseline sauce and rocket blossoms
Sancerre, Chavignol, 2014, "Les Monts Damnés"
A welcome to spring: fat white asparagus spears, igthly battered and then deep-fried, with shredded leek also deep-fried, in a soft mousseline — hollandaise lightened with just a bit of cream. What a study of colors and textures! The Sancerre was quiet, unobtrusive, yet present enough to drink with asparagus, often a difficult match…

Razor clam and nettle risotto with crisp pancetta

Táganan, Vinos Atlánticos, blanco, 2013 (Canary Islands)
A reminder to me: get a bottle of clam juice; keep it on hand for risotto. Chicken stock isn't the only vehicle in the world. This was a nice, dense risotto, with just enough tiny shreds of crisped pancetta to complement the tender, fresh clams.

The wine was a real eye-opener, a beautiful light golden color in the glass with plenty of glycerine. The first whiff said "flor": you'd almost expect a good Fino. In the mouth, though, it made me think of Condrieu, even of Château Grillet. A fine choice for this dish.


Grilled breast and braised leg of duck with roasted artichokes, new potatoes, and sautéed spinach

Pinot noir, Westrey, Abbey Ridge Vineyard, Dundee Hills (Oregon), 2013
It's not often you get duck cooked so exactly au point, to just the right degree of doneness. I like the contrast of grilled and braised flesh, particularly when the meats are tied together by an herbal component as subtle and rich as this: thyme on the first flavor, but then — wait — what exactly is involved in this complex, deep, delicious preparation? After dessert, a trip into the kitchen revealed the secret: just the right amount of coriander and fennel seed. Something to add to my favorite pork chops my way.

The Pinot noir was a good flavor match, but ultimately seemed perhaps too light-bodied for the duck.

1  1 Blood orange and grapefruit sorbetti with tangerine granita
Moscato d'Asti
Another study in colors and textures, referring back to the leeks and asparagus of the first course. I love it when a menu describes a trajectory like this, suggesting a narrative, like a Chekhov play. The ices were refreshing after the rich duck, the little candied kumquat slices added depth to the dish; the Moscato was, like the earlier Pinot noir, lighter-bodied than you'd think and welcome for that. Truly this was a memorable evening.

•Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525

RESTAURANTS VISITED, with information and rating:  2016   2015

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