Friday, February 12, 2010

Chez Panisse

I spent about half an hour in Whole Foods tonight. Exhausted, wandering around aimlessly and trying to decide what I wanted for dinner. I walked out with a blood orange a baby baguette. I devoured the orange. I'm craving citrus lately. Not sure if it's because it's in season or because I'm getting sick and my body is steering me toward some vitamin C. Let's hope it's the former and not the latter; there's no time for sick right now.

The blood orange reminded me I've yet to post anything from Chez Panisse though. That dinner was pretty much the pinnacle and point of the whole recent trip to San Francisco, so I feel kind of silly for detailing some of the other culinary highlights and neglecting what was actually the peak of the weekend. The night as whole was a momentous occasion. It was not a holiday. Not a birthday, a celebration, or an anniversary. We had nothing in particular to toast to. Other than being removed from the day to day stuff that equals reality and instead tucked away in a cozy corner table with nothing to do but eat, drink and enjoy.

And enjoy we did. The dining room was full but felt open. We ordered well, with our waiter's help, and our dishes were flawless. The wine was wonderful, and the service was subtle perfection. When we sat, our waiter let us know we could and should sit back and take our time with choices and courses, because the table was ours for the rest of the night. He made himself sparse but appeared at just the right times, and we didn't wait for a thing. The timing was perfect. He gave thoughtful, spot on pairing suggestions and sounded genuinely happy to be making recommendations that I doubt were unique but felt as much. For instance, with these guys, he suggested a Lillet blonde:

Perfect. And things only got better. We worked our way through the menu, following the oysters with a salad and Pizzetta with wild nettles and garlic sausage before taking on the must-try Sea Bass and the braised pork.

Blood orange, chervil and avocado salad

Pan-fried sea bass with parsnips, little potatoes and romesco sauce

Maiale al latte: Becker Lane Farm pork braised in milk with lemon, sage, carrots and spinach

The sea bass sounds simple but didn't taste it. The fish was cooked perfectly (not that I expected anything less), the potatoes and parsnips were tender and the romesco was crispy. Which surprised me but pretty much made it. Stand out dish of the night and the trip.

Despite our waiter commenting on our "impressive effort," we got an unnecessary but delicious dessert too ("How often can we eat dessert from Chez Panisse," I think were my exact words). A Sierra Beauty apple tart with wildflower honey-citrus cream. We lingered over it and a round of bubbles for about half an hour before snapping back to reality and remembering we took the BART into Berkeley and were about to miss the last train.

Our hustle out of there was comical. And even funnier was jogging through what I later learned is called the "gourmet ghetto" to the train station in a dress, in the rain, while laughing, after a six course meal. Looking back, that part was up there with the sea bass for me.

Happy Friday.

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