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Jan 30, 2007 10:00 AM

Cassoulet at Chez Panisse

Last night a few fellow hounds and I had a near-religious experience at Chez Panisse. We made the reservation about 4 weeks ago, as soon as the January list of Monday menus came out and we saw the description:

Cassoulet toulousain
Classic southwestern French casserole of goose confit, garlic sausage,
and braised lamb with white beans and bread crumb crust

Who can pass up a good cassoulet on a cold winter evening? Also, it seemed a perfect fit for the Monday format at CP.

The meal began with a lovely salad of red and golden beets with orange and blood orange slices and escarole - a perfect, light way to whet our appetite. Then came the main event - big plates heaping with beans, each with its own sausage, goose leg confit and lamb. From the first bite of bean it was evident that this was a great cassoulet - each bean was cooked perfectly - tender but not at all mushy, overcome with the deep flavor of meat. The meat itself was all deeply satisfying, each piece with its own distinct flavor and texture. The overall effect was of rich, velvety luxuriousness, but magically not too rich, and never fatty or unctuous. We each devoured every last mosel and licked our plates clean.

13 years ago in Carcassonne I had a cassoulet that opened my eyes to the extraordinary potential of this seemingly simple dish. For 13 years I have craved a cassoulet as good, and eaten many decent ones, but none that rose to the full glory. Until last night.

We shamelseely asked our server if second helpings were available (despite having consumed an enormous quantity of meat-and-bean-goodness). He said that they would normally be pleased to offer us more, but were running low (he was actually a little embarrassed to admit that) and he offered to comp us a cheeses course instead, which we happily devoured.

The idea of eating dessert after all that sounded somewhat unnecessary, but then they brought out the prune-armagnac ice cream crepes with sauteed pink lady apples, and we proceeded to polish that off too.

Fellow 'hound JonesWineNo1 brought a couple of beeautiful bottles of mature wine that complemented our meal perfectly - a '95 Syrah from California and a '98 Chateauneuf du Pape. We also ordered a bottle of Cornas to go with our cheese.

All in all a spectacular, if slighlty gluttonous, evening. I just hope the cassoulet makes a reappearance next winter.

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  1. I have nothing to add other than my extreme jealousy. I'd love to hit CP on a night with an offering that resonates with me, but I have never been that lucky.

    1. Man, am I jealous. Your post leaves me thinking that Mondays are the best night to do downstairs at Chez, because you know what you'll be eating. Did you have any trouble scoring the res?

      1. We all came to the same conclusion - Monday is a wonderful night to go. And it is cheaper on top of everything else. No problem on the reservation - we did call almost 4 weeks in advance, and were lucky to get an 8:15 table. They mostly have early (6 / 6:30) or late (9+) seatings.

        1 Reply
        1. re: BernalFarmer

          Downstairs, Monday through Thursday the first seatings are 5:30 to 6, the second are 8:00 to 8:45. Friday and Saturday they're 6 to 6:30 and 8:30 to 9:30.

        2. Thanks for the report. That meal sounds AMAZING!! Count me in as another hound green w/ envy. Now I'm desperately craving cassoulet. Do you happen to know the exact white bean that was used?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Carb Lover

            I do not know. I know that Tarbe beans are used almost exclusively for authentic cassoulet in France, and would not be surprised if that is what CP used, buy cannot say for sure.

            Just 48 hours have passed and the meal already seems like a dream...

            1. re: BernalFarmer

              I'd been told this for years but after first a look in LaRousse and then a subsequent trip to France proved this not to be the case. There are even more obscure beans used and also more common ones. Depends on the cook and region, I guess.

              1. re: Earl Grey

                Very interesting. I clearly need to revisit the region and eat my way through all the cassoulet possibilities...a chowdown fieldtrip perhaps?

          2. When do they post the Monday night menus? I keep checking,but the website still lists January's menus.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Glencora

              February menu is posted now. (I've been checking as well as I have a reservation for Monday the 12th.) The 26th sounds even better to me though - choucroute!