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Dec 27, 2001 12:32 PM

Report on Chez Panisse

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Went to Chez Panisse for dinner on Sat night. We ate at the cafe upstairs. We were seated at a cozy booth right in front of the kitchen that is part of the dining room.

Our host was extremely friendly. I mentioned to him that we wanted to experience a variety of different things rather than order off the menu individually. He enthusiastically obliged. Although most of the food was off the menu (bar one dessert), we got a feeling of being treated especially well.

The bottle of white wine was a Sauvignon Blanc that was light and crisp with a great bouquet but without a complex flavor.

A trio of salads followed - two warm and one cold. First was a simple salad of fresh (and I mean fresh) greens with a lemon, vinegar dressing with ground anchovies. Anchovies and great flavor do not go together in my mind, but my tongue was dancing to a different tune. Second was a warm prochutto salad with lentils another great combination of texture and flavor. But the third one was the real kicker - whole endives marinated in a dessert wine (sauterenes??) to counter the bitter taste and then grilled, topped with herbs. Fantastic!

Two entrees arrived - some kind of braised chicken that seemed to have been cooking for some time - the meat just fell off the bone. It was really tender and flavorfull. The side of crutons and veggies complemented this warm and soothing dish. The second was a fillet of bass that had been cooked with fish oil - giving it a fishy, oily taste - quite good if you are into that sort of thing. My wife did not like it and I thought the fish could have been a little fresher. The only mediocre dish of the night.

We had them pick a dessert wine for us - a Sauternes. Our host brought us a plate of fresh clamentines and fresh dates with good parmesan cheese slices to have with the wine. What a perfect accompaniment to the wine. The tartness of the cheese and the clamentine cut the sweet wine perfectly. And the dates were among the best I have had (granted I have not had fresh dates too many times). Two desserts followed - ginger creme brulee with ginger snaps (another eye opener in terms of flavor) and carmalized vanilla ice cream with fruit and wafer etc.

We left the place contended and really happy. We live near NYC and have gotten quite sick of French inspired meals that are nice but not moving in any way. Have been having a lot of good Japanese lately (see report on Nobu on NYC board) and report on Kyo-Ya from this trip. Chez Panisse introduced us to different flavors using local ingredients that worked really well. I can't wait to go back another time (Read: Can we get a Chez Panisse on the east coast, please please!) Thanx for the recommendation, fellow chowhounds.

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  1. How nice to read a post from a New Yorker who "got" Chez Panisse (after so many "what's the big deal" messages from people expecting ultra-sophisticated "composed" food). Chez Panisse is, as you said, about using top-quality ultra-fresh ingredients and letting the flavors shine, so that you experience them in a new and heightened way.

    Unfortunately, I think this would be very hard to do on the East Coast. It simply isn't possible in that climate to have a menu based on a variety of fresh, locally produced ingredients year-round. I'm not dissing NY region food-stuffs: at a family reunion in the Adirondacks a couple of years ago a cousin who is an organic foods inspector showed up with bushels of great produce and some lovely artisan cheeses from suppliers he knew. But that was mid-summer, not the dead of winter. Trucking, or even flying, stuff in from more temperate climes just isn't the same. Alice Waters and her staff don't just go to the market and buy food, they cultivate personal relationships with their suppliers, many of whom grow things specifically for them and others of whom are likely just to show up with small amounts of something special they know CP will want to use. I think some stuff is still being grown in friends' gardens. That personal connection with the food from its inception is crucial, I think, to what makes CP special.

    1. Next time, you'll want to make a reservation for downstairs. I liked my meal at the restaurant even better than the cafe. And it's always fun seeing what the (one and only) menu du jour will be!