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Berkeley – A perfect lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe


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Berkeley – A perfect lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe

rworange | Nov 28, 2007 09:29 PM

I paid more attention to Chez Panisse than usual to determine if it really deserves its reputation. Was I just a mindless, unthinking CP ‘devotee’?

The meal was scrutinized with cool detachment. Usually I just go in and enjoy the food, which IMO is what CP is all about.

Everything ordered demonstrated Chez Panisse’s brilliance.

- Belgium endive salad with grapefruit, ginger and Dungeness crab
- Pizza with tomato sauce, eggplant, and ricotta salata
- 2006 Ribeira Sacra, Vina do Burato, D. Ventura, Spain
- Fresh ginger cake with poached pears and Chantilly cream
- 2005 Moscato D’Asti, Bricco Quaglia, La Spinetta, Rivetti, Italy
- Acme Levain with butter

The salad had julienned endive dressed with a light lemon dressing. Ginger was a background note and there were tiny, barely noticeable bits of grapefruit and delicate, sweet pieces of crab.

Like all dishes at CP, it was teamwork on a plate. No ingredient shouted and called attention to itself … and these are all ingredients which could easily overpower the crab. There was a play of sweet crab, bitter grapefruit accents for interest, endive for contrasting texture and the dressing and ginger uniting the dish.

Thanks to Robert Lauriston … wherever or whoever he might be these days … for his posts about CP pizza. The crust is so deftly made … beyond tender with smoky char notes. This is not a word to really use with crust because it doesn’t seem right … but there was some essence of creaminess about it. The toppings melted together and again were in perfect unity and balance.

The wine recommended by the server was a great pairing.

Another poster was disappointed with the pears in a dessert this week calling them similar in taste and texture to canned. It is a fair description. Poached pears are like that. There was no distinctive wonderfulness about the pears

However, like everything at CP it is about the whole. The texture of the pears with the light gingerbread cake and Chantilly cream was blissful.

The moscato DID call attention to itself … as well as perfectly complementing the dessert. It had wonderful effervescence and was pleasantly sweet, not cloying like some moscato. I’m going to have to buy a bottle of this … or a few.

What is brilliant to me is how the dishes pull together. Yes Chez Panisse uses stellar ingredients … so does every other top-notch restaurant in the area. IMO, none of them even come close to CP in producing such cohesive dishes.

Other restaurants dishes shout … taste me, taste me … aren’t I the perfect … whatever. Look at how clever I am.

That can be good. I consider myself a food barbarian … gravitating toward rustic, bold, in-your-face dishes. However meals at Chez Panisse tame my savage tastes and bring out everything noble in my palate.

For me the food at CP says this is the perfect … whatever. This is how it is supposed to be used.

Chez Panisse has never been a dazzler to me. However, I’m always impressed by its understated, thoughtful, intelligent approach to deliciousness.

You can buy an original painting or you can buy a print of that picture. However, the print misses the nuances and depth of the original. You can dine at Chez Panisse or the zillion other copies in the Bay Area. .

So that’s it for me and reporting about Chez Panisse. This is what I like about CP. I’m going back to just enjoying it.

To me Chez Panisse is a timeless classic.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

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