Jan and I have been wanting to eat at Chez Panisse for about fifteen years. We’ve eaten at the upstairs cafe many times and each occasion has been especially memorable in one way or another, but we have never eaten at the restaurant — until now!
The cafe has always done us proud – not completely consistent in terms of food, but consistent in terms of experience. The first meal we ate there — well over ten years ago — was one of the best meals we have ever eaten. All I really remember are the veal shank and polenta and the rich, rich deep brown sauce. Then later meals included the first time our oldest daughter wrote something – on the menu, of course — it was the word ‘mama’. The next time we went was three years later and it too was the first time our younger daughter ever wrote something – also on the menu – also the word ‘mama’. We kept the menus, of course. Other meals were not quite as memorable but I suppose there have been about six in all.
In the past when I have tried for reservations at the restaurant I have always waited until too late and they have had none. This time I called a little earlier and was a little less fussy. I got a table for last Monday for our 15th anniversary. We had a HUGE fight after I had made the reservation and Jan didn’t want to go but on hearing it was Chez Panisse she relented and by the time we went things were much better and we had a wonderful time.
I’m not going to do pictures. We were greeted with olives and bread and consulted with our waiter on half a bottle of wine. Jan and I are neither of us big drinkers any more. We settled on a Graves from 1999 that turned out to be absolutely perfect. The appetizer was grilled mackerel with bagna cauda on a bed of green chicory flecked with red. Beautiful and absolutely delicious. It was a perfect combination and perfectly cooked.
The main course I already suspected would be less stellar. It was a pork loin scallopine with salsa verde and roasted root vegetables and cavolo nero with wild chanterelles. I would gladly have eaten a plate of the kale and mushrooms and skipped the rest. They weren’t bad – it is just that breaded, fried, pounded pork isn’t top of my list. The pork was excellent – soft and moist. The salsa verde was excellent. But all in all it was a bit plain apart from the kale and mushrooms that somehow were more than the sum of their parts.
The wine went beautifully with both courses by the way.
Dessert was back to the sublime. Buttermilk panna cotta with wild huckleberry sauce doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was light, fluffy, creamy, rich, smooth, gently sweet with a little bite of buttermilk. The slightly sour huckleberry sauce was a perfect contrast. We also got a cookie thing – one of those italian light and chewy almond cookies that had been formed in the shape of a snake.
We had a wonderful conversation and restored much order to our lives.