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Saturday dinner at Chez Panisse

Robert Lauriston Apr 20, 2008 09:59 AM

Had dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse last night (prix-fixe $85).

- amuse of brandade toasts & olives with an apéritif of sparkling wine and "cherry cognac" (?): brandade was perfect, drink wasn't my kind of thing (I prefer their vin d'orange and variations)

-2006 François Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire Clos du Breuil ($44), fruity, aromatic, off-dry, went better with the brandade than the apéritif did

- seared tuna with Sichuan pepper and lime-ginger vinaigrette and spring onion tempura: fish was nice and meaty and the sauce was just right, tempura was the best I've ever had

- 2005 Domaine les Pallieres Gigondas ($66), lovely but took a while to open up, should have decanted when we got the white

- wild mushroom ravioli in a squab brodo with fresh favas: subtle, earthy, delicious, light

- grilled loin and leg of Watson Ranch lamb with green garlic sauce (variation on salsa verde), peeled green asparagus, and salad with lots of herbs: this was great, asparagus the best I've had so far thsi year; one minor criticism, the lamb was plated in such a way that it wasn't immediately obvious that the fanned-out slices started with loin on the bottom and finished with leg on the top, which was the reverse of the way I wanted to eat them (leg had more fat and thus more flavor)

- 2004 Durban Beaumes de Venise ($48 750ml), delicious as always (been drinking this at Chez Panisse for at least 25 years; it's the wine they substitute for Sauternes in dessert recipes)

- individual passion fruit soufflés: very light, mousse-like texture, very intense and direct passion fruit flavor with nice egginess

- mint tisane ($5.50) with mignardises of amaretti and pieces of bitter chocolate with chopped hazelnuts: best amaretti ever, nice chocolate

Overall, food and service were as good as ever.

They don't update their online wine very often: judging by the vintages, the current version is over a year old.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

  1. m
    mchan02 Apr 21, 2008 10:09 AM

    I was at CP on Saturday as well. I thought the meal was wonderful. The tuna and the souffle were my favorite dishes- the best souffle i've ever had, but I can't say I've had a lot.

    The asparagus that came with the lamb was out of this world. I couldnt quite tell how they prepared it- steamed?

    The ravioli were very yummy but probably my least favorite bites of the night. That's not to say i didnt enjoy them. The fava beans in this dish were lovely. the mushrooms in the ravioli were very earthy and meaty- there was almost a sausage-y flavor to them.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mchan02
      Robert Lauriston Apr 21, 2008 10:25 AM

      I suspect the asparagus was cooked in the classic French manner, tied in bundles, and simmered upright with the bottoms in the water and the tops out, then finished in a pan with butter.

    2. Senor Popusa Apr 21, 2008 07:40 PM

      How does the experience upstairs compare to downstairs. I ask because I don't eat pork or shellfish, so ~50% of the time I wouldn't be able to eat some or all of the meal downstairs. I'd hate to get excited for weeks, then see the menu online and have to cancel the week of due to dietary restrictions. But I want to experience the best the restaurant has to offer. What's my best strategy?

      3 Replies
      1. re: Senor Popusa
        lexdevil Apr 21, 2008 08:05 PM

        You can still eat downstairs. They're always happy to sub something in for you. At the same time, upstairs is great. Take your pick.

        1. re: lexdevil
          mchan02 Apr 21, 2008 09:36 PM

          yes, they are very accommodating downstairs. One of my DCs isnt crazy about tuna so they gave her assorted tempura vegetables (looked like some sort of summer squash, but it seems to early for that). I've never been upstairs but am looking forward to trying it soon!

        2. re: Senor Popusa
          Robert Lauriston Apr 22, 2008 08:59 AM

          Just keep reserving and canceling until you get lucky. This week, you could go any night but Wednesday without having to ask for any substitutions. Or look at the menu and then see if you can get a reservation or on the waiting list.

          The style upstairs is similar but the dishes are often a bit simpler. E.g. the current sample upstairs menu (from last Friday night) has Dal Porto Ranch lamb shoulder braised with black olives, served with artichokes, spinach, and sunchokes; Thursday night's downstairs menu has grilled Watson Ranch lamb rack and loin with romesco sauce, couscous, and roasted spring vegetables.

          The upstairs is well worth a visit in its own right.

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