Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Chez Panisse

When we decided to book our holiday to Cali a few months ago, I had lofty ambitions to get a table for dinner at the French Laundry. Having tried ringing a few times and spoken with a fellow gourmand friend who assured me that it is near impossible to secure a reservation at Thomas Keller's eatery, I then attempted to secure us a table for dinner at Alice Waters' famed restaurant, Chez Panisse. Luckily, I managed to ring a month in advance and got us in for an early sitting.

When the day finally arrived (August 7th), we had to navigate our way from downtown SF out to Berkeley via the BART (surburban train network). To be honest, I had not imagined Berkeley to be the way it was but its probably a little unfair for me to be judging the town on the basis of one street (lots of half empty Indian restaurants with the occasional student hangout, what Gourmet Ghetto??).  

The restaurant itself is very cosy and has more of a feel of someone's dining room; this and the open kitchen (which I was able to go into and have a goo around post-dinner) provided a very relaxed and enjoyable setting for dinner which was complimented by some lovely service. Chez Panisse operates quite differently to other restaurants by only offering a set 4-course meal, which changes daily using ingredients which are most in season (the price of dinner increases towards the end of the week but still very reasonable at 95 dollars).

Our dinner consisted of the following:

Melon and cucumber soup with lime and mint
I wasn't expecting to like this as the film of oil on the surface looked a little off-putting but deliciously refreshing and the perfect way to start the meal. 

Pan-seared King Salmon with Indian spices
Very good and delicately spiced - here, they really meant to incorporate spices into the dish unlike the many lame attempts of trying to give a dish an "exotic twist" that you see so often in Paris.    

Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail with tomato chutney and black eye peas
So yummy I could've eaten 2 birds!! Think the secret was the way the quail grilled on an open grill which gave it its distinctive barbecuey charcoal flavour. 

Rose geranium ice cream crepes with nectarines and mulberries
Everything tasted great but having worked in such close quarters with Ispahan at PH, I felt they could've given the ice cream a much stronger rose flavour, a little too timid for my liking. Also slightly disappointed with the slight lack of sophistication in the dessert (the chocolates and petits fours were forgettable) but clearly, I have high expectations :)

I think this was easily the best meal of our holiday; each dish was carefully crafted and all the flavours worked on the plate without jostling for position (smthg that I found much too often in Cali cuisine) topped off with a lovely relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant.  I also have to mention the grape juice that is served as an aperitif for non-alcoholic drinkers - Navarro Gerwurtztramminer, think non-alcoholic dessert wine, a must try! All in all, well worth the visit :)

Note. Am afraid that the pics are not my finest as I was trying to take them as quickly and unobtrusively as possible without flash.

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