This Monday I had the pleasure of dining at one of the Bay Area’s most famed restaurant’s: Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. So famed, it’s in wikipedia. Alice Waters is known for sourcing produce and meats from local farms and using simple, fresh ingredients to showcase the food. The menu changes every night based on what she selects from the various farms she works with. Her preparation isn’t too fancy or scientific, but the presentation is always beautiful.
I actually ate at the Cafe, which is a more reasonably priced option and you are more easily able to make a reservation (I called last Saturday evening and got a 8:15 rez for this Monday). This being my first Chez Panisse dining experience, I had very high expectations – and they were exceeded.
My dinner date was a lovely lady (who will be known as Belle) that I met at a trade show in Florida last week, who happened to be doing some business in San Francisco and Berkeley this week. Since Belle is also in the business of selling wine, she was in charge of our adult beverages for the evening. At her suggestion we started with some bubbly – I opted for a Kir Royale with a twist of orange peel, which hit the spot!
For our meal, she selected half bottles of a white and a red, both French: the 2011 Chablis, Grand Vin de Bourgogne, Domaine Pinson Freres and the 2010 Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier (a mostly Syrah blend). The Chablis was nice, but we both decided it needed a little more acid. But at $24, it wasn’t too shabby. The Crozes-Hermitage, however was fantastic. An earthy nose with a full mouth and softened acidic notes. It paired wonderfully with our middle course, the Pizzetta with gypsy peppers and scallions – a slightly spicy pizza with fresh mozzarella and perfect crust.
We decided to share a few small plates and one big plate, so we could try more things and discuss the food with each other. In addition to our Pizzetta, we dined on three small plates (or “salads”) to start. The Heirloom tomato salad with creme fraiche and gremolata immediately stood out on the menu at first glance, so that was a definite. We also opted for the baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuce because we knew the greens would be simple and perfectly dressed (they were). Our last pick was a bit of a wild card, but we selected the Mialle tonnato: Magruder Ranch pork leg with Piedmontese tuna sauce, fried capers, and shaved fennel. This actually turned out to be my favorite dish of the night. The unusual combination of pork and tuna sauce was unexpectedly sensational, and the texture of the fried capers was a perfect juxtaposition to the creamy tuna sauce. And it was only $10! We also shared the wood-oven roasted quail with romano beans, frisee, figs, and liver toast. The red wine paired very well with the perfectly cooked quail, and I devoured every bite of the liver toast.
And what meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert? Since Belle is a self-proclaimed chocoholic we ordered the bittersweet chocolate mousse with creme Chantilly and chocolate wafer. And since I can’t resist anything with meringue, we ordered the strawberry ice cream with Lucero Farms strawberries and pistachio meringue. The chocolate mousse was yummy, but the strawberry ice cream was heavenly. And at Belle’s insistence, we split a small glass of Madeira – her favorite dessert wine.
All in all, it was probably one of the top five meals I have had in the Bay Area – and it was only the cafe! I can’t wait to go back and try the actual restaurant, if I’m so lucky (and wealthy). Here are some photos to wet your palate. And a special thanks to Belle for a wonderful evening with great food and great conversation!