Last night, I treated David to a birthday meal at Chez Panisse. If you haven’t been, Chez Panisse is Alice Waters’ famed restaurant. It is said that the local foods movement started with her and this place. We’ve been many times over the years, and have experienced the ups and downs of new chefs and style adaptations/clashes. We dined “downstairs,” in the fix prix dining room, which, I think is the best way to experience the place (even though you don’t get to have any of the pizzas, which are only served “upstairs” in the Café).
We hadn’t been in a while, so it was a little startling to see that all the staff had changed over. However, their professionalism and knowledge won us over, especially the sommelier, a woman in her 30’s, maybe?
When it came time to select something to drink, we realized that we really didn’t feel like drinking a whole bottle, so the sommelier suggested that we split glasses, and we went with her recommendations. They were all pretty amazing, and paired perfectly with the food.
With the leeks we had a 2007 Sancerre, Les Monts Damnés Chavignol, Thomas Labaille
With the sea bass it was a 2008 Morgon, Marcel Lapierre
And with the duck we had a 2007 Côtes du Rhône, Brézème, Emil Texier. It turned out that this was composed of only Grénâche grapes, but was amazingly complex and deep.
We passed on the dessert wine, unfortunately.
It turns out that we spent the hours before our appointment at home watching “chopped,” so we decided to be the “Chopped” critics at Chez Panisse.
An appetizer of house-cured picholine olives came first, lightly brined, with garlic, rosemary, a hint of nutmeg and a coating of local olive oil – yummy!
First course: NOT chopped. The fine mince of cornichon pickles and capers brought out the best of the vinaigrette dressing, and the perfectly hard-boiled egg and proscuitto were a good foil for the braised leeks. Does that woman EVER use mediocre ingredients?
Second course: Chopped. The sea bass, although perfectly pan sautéed with a crispy skin, seemed to lose the essence of being tea smoked, although the sautéed spinach and mushrooms were delectable.
Third course: NOT chopped. Slices of perfectly grilled duck breast, slight rare, were paired with a piece of duck confit, and a “deconstructed” cassoulet with at least a dozen types of beans, lardoons, and of course the cracklings and bread crumb gratin. Tied together with a yummy pan reduction sauce and that Côtes du Rhône made for a reason to use every last piece of bread to sop up the juices.
Dessert: NOT chopped. The quince apple tart was more like a strudel, but with this very rich pastry dough instead of filo dough. Add a wonderfully honey-tinged caramel sauce and the vanilla/calvados ice cream, well, we ate it all!
Although we passed on the Blue Bottle coffee (special Chez Panisse blend, of course) we didn’t pass up the candied orange rind dipped in chocolate and miniature macaroons. We also passed on the cheese course - just too stuffed!
All in all, it was a very good meal.