FOR TWENTY YEARS now Chez Panisse has hosted Niloufer Ichaporia King as guest chef on Parsi New Year's Day — a very special night in the restaurant's year. We've been fortunate to attend most of these dinners, and at each one I find myself thinking tonight's is even better than before. You can read about this remarkable woman, and reconstruct her cooking, from her fine My Bombay Kitchen : Parsis fled Persia centuries ago to take refuge in Bombay (now Mumbai), and their cuisine evolved to merge Indian sensibilities with their own.
You see on the right what we were given on this splendid evening. (You also see evidence that I do indeed occasionally take notes; and you see two and a half tindola, little cucurbits, almost cucumbers, the size of half your little finger.) What to say, course by course? The succession of flavors, colors, textures was constantly engaging — not surprising; we know Niloufer's work too well to be surprised by it: but continuously delightful.
Brains, I always think, are not a favorite of mine; too mushy. And, of course, too close to cannibalism, no matter the source. (Though I did overhear someone at a nearby table wondering if they were off limits to a vegetarian!) But this fritter was crisp and cleanly piquant, combining the chutney with the filling and the accompanying fennel-kumquat salad (wonderful combination!) effectively to neutralize my almost instinctive distaste.
Or the ritual dal, which appears on every one of these occasions (after all, it is a ritual), richly flavored and colored, truly a painting with its green swirl in the cente, and surprising with a crunch of crisply fried somethings-that-I've-always-forgotten-to-ask-about.
The ceviche, smooth and textured, combined with tiny dice of pickle, offset by crisp-fried curry leaves and thin deep-fried slices of plantain; the substantial portion of braised spring kid with its rich pilaf and greens; the beautiful orange ice topped with a single promising blossom.
I've concealed some of the desserts listed on the menu with those little tindola: they included a small date pastry, nankhatai, candied grapefruit peel, jardalu and chocolate truffle, apple-mulberry pâte de fruit and jalebis, and of course falooda, as much a ritual on these menus as the dal, mily, sweet and with just the right amount of tapioca.
|The chefs: Amy Dencler; Niloufer Ichaporia King|
Gewurztraminer, Albert Mann (Alsace), 2014
Bourgogne blanc, vieilles vignes, Jean-Pierre Fichet, 2014
Riesling, Alsace Grand Cru, Altenberg de Berglind, Domaine Roland Schmitt, 2013
Zinfandel, "Les Enfants Terribles", Dashe (Mendocino County), 2015
Jurançon, "La Magendia de Lapeyre", Clos Lapeyre
•Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525