R turned forty on the 5th, and, true to tradition, we celebrated by taking him and E to Chez Panisse. This was truly an exceptional dinner.
I’m starting with the official “dinner shot”, though it was the third course. It was probably the best part of the dinner, though competition was fierce. Here’s the menu:
Fall vegetable salad with green olive vinaigrette
Petit ragoût of ling cod with leeks and wild mushrooms
Grilled BN Ranch beef tenderloin with herb butter, grosses frites, and mesclun salad
Bittersweet chocolate ice cream profiteroles with hazelnut praline
The beef tenderloin was cooked perfectly (they do not ask how you want it, they just do it perfectly). The “herb butter” was actually marrow butter with parsley in it. The server told us this. An impressive thing about Chez P is how well versed the staff is in what the dinner is about. The butter was spectacular with the beef. Everything on this plate went perfectly with everything else. The frites were almost paper thin, and cooked to perfection, and were delicious alone, or with the beef in the same bite. The salad was simple lettuces, perfectly dressed, and was, to repeat, delicious with the beef or all alone. How many versions of “perfect” are in this paragraph? Deserved.
When we arrived, we were given an “amuse” – a pork terrine, and some little pickles that were sort of a cross between sweet and dill somehow. Very enjoyable. E wanted bread to put the terrine on, but it was excellent by itself. The bread was brought when the terrine plates were removed. There was a bread that looked like two balloons, pulled lengthwise and tied together at both ends (white) and also a good chunk of Pain au Levain – these are Acme breads, of course, Acme having been originally spawned by Chez Panisse, and still making the best “store-botten” bread in Berkeley, or most anywhere else. The levain was exceptionally good. Do they have a special restaurant version of this bread?
The first course won the beauty contest: it was a very strikingly pretty salad, with multiple kinds of perfectly cooked beans (there’s that word again), some halved cherry tomatoes, quartered baby turnips and artichoke hearts, all of which were scrumptious. The tiny spray of chervil on top was especially lovely. The dressing was described as “olive vinaigrette,” which seemed to mean there were teensy choppings of olives in it. Most excellent.
For the second course, I was expecting the “ragout” to be a blended set of the described ingredients somehow, but they were separate, and sitting in a fantastic sauce. The green spots are leek layers, the brown, chanterelles, In the middle a soft and slithery chunk of fish topped with what look like chives, though I don’t recall a strong chivey taste. All together, this was an excellent dish, and we used up quantities of bread being sure we mopped up every bit of sauce from the plate. The only complaint of the night was that the wait for this course was way too long. Very hard not to drink up all the wine that was supposed to go with it!
Then came the main course. Amazing how sophisticated a collection of tastes can be that are “merely” beef, potatoes, and a salad. Whew!
Dessert was very yummy, as always, though I never find desserts the high point at Chez P. These are profiteroles stuffed with “bittersweet chocolate ice cream”, and they were terrific. The decaf Blue Bottle cappucino arrived with – not before – dessert, as requested. Of course.
As we waited for the check to make its usual trips back and forth, a little closer arrived.
The maitre d’ anwered my questions about it: the dates were Barhi, and the citrus (speculated to be bergamot by R&E) was actually candied grapefruit peel. Note that even the maitre d’ could answer these questions immediately.
We had two interesting wines with this. Neither was one of those “to die for” experiences one occasionally (very rarely) (at least at our income level ;)) has with wine, but both were very good, and good with the meal. The Napa Valley white that we had with the salad and (what we could manage not to drink while waiting for…) the fish course was tokay, friulani, something else, and chardonnay – from D’s memory. The menu called it “Annia, Massican Winery”.
R and D chose a rioja to go with the beef course. D, asked for words for it today (the 6th), says it was “something else again”. “It was different.” That doesn’t help much. It was very good, but, as with the white, not one of the breathtakingly perfect wines we have had on occasion at Chez P. From the menu: “Rioja, Crianza, Vina Cubillo, R. Lopez Heredia” (importer: Winewise Oakland).