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Restaurants & Bars 6

Cafe Panisse, La Folie, Farallon (long!)

Mike Czyzewski | Aug 11, 200202:52 PM

Hey. THis is just gonna be chez panisse and la folie. Haven't had tiem to get farallon up yet.

Cafe Panisse
First off, parking in Berkeley is horrid. I would suggest that if you do go to visit, make sure you plan for it. We did, so we arrived 10 minutes early for our 11:30 lunch reservation. We sat in the wooden benches and watched the crowd gather. The doors opened on time, and we walked up the stairs to the cafe. We were seated at the far end of the cafe overlooking Shattuck street. There was a gently breeze to cool off the torrid heat, and we admired the restaurant. Lots of wood, not exactly fancy, but rustic. It's definitely in line with the cooking being done.

Cherry tomato soup with creme fraiche ($6.75)
Orangish red color, dollop of creme fraiche in the center of bowl. Great soup. I wished the soup could've been cold, as it would've been really refreshing considering the heat. It was very tomatoey, but i think a little more could've been done to accentuate the sweetness of the tomatoes. IT was also a little too creamy for my taste.

Albacore tuna and tomato salad with paprika, capers, and marjoram ($9.75)
My girlfriend ordered this. Man, was it amazing. To me, this dish, along with the fresh peach dessert really defined Cafe Panisse. Deceptively simple and all the flavors sang out. The tuna was cooked confit style and little shreds of it was mixed with the chopped, assorted tomatoes. Astounding. The whole thing was dressed with a Tuscan olive oil. Little bits of capers were tossed in along with a hint of paprika. Girlfriend said that it got a little too spicy for her after the whole plate, but we still smeared the bread (sourdough) and soaked up all the remaining oil. Probably the greatest dish I ate on my trip.

Eastern skate with romano beans, beets and chive mayonnaise ($18.50)
This was my first encounter with skate. It's kinda hard to describe. It's not the firmest fleshed fish I've ever eaten, but it's not soft and mushy either. I believe it was half a skate wing. It was coated with lightly seasoned flour, and then pan fried. Beets were roasted, then cut into slices. These were sooooo delicious especially considering I roasted my first batch of beets a few days earlier and I could really appreciate how perfectly they were done. Beans were fresh, and I think i tasted a hint of lemon juice. Skate was garnished with the chive mayonnaise. They served too much of the mayonnaise with the skate. Maybe some people don't like to taste the flavor of the fish, but I do. I used it sparingly and found they really matched well. Very tasty. The ingredients were prepared simply and I think that was the right choice.

Crostata di Perrella with goat cheese, mozzarella, prosciutto, garlic, and herbs. ($17.00)
Think pizza with a lid. I didn't have too much of this, but what I did have I found a little salty because of the goat cheese. THe crust was really good tho.

A Dry Creek Farm white peach and Bob's raspberries. ($6.50)
The peach was stunning. Perfect. It literally just gushed juice when I put it into my mouth. Nothing more to say. Raspberries were very disappointing. They had no flavor. I thought it was just me, but my girlfriend said the same. They tasted like nothing. I was really confused considering the reputation Chez Panisse had for getting perfect produce. The peach was sure good tho. It was served on a copper pedestal, with a leaf under the fruits.

Rio Oso Gem peach and mulberry tart with vanilla ice cream ($8.50)
Didn't have too much, I was too busy savoring my peach.

Service was very friendly. Very low key, easy going. All my questions were answered satisfactorily. When i asked what kind of olive oil was used to finish the tuna, a young man brought out the bottle, explained, and told me where to find it in berkeley. I don't remember exactly what it was, didn't take notes, but i could recognize the bottle if I had to. We didn't drink much, just a couple glasses of 2001 Navarro Gewurtztraminer grape juice ($4.25 a glass). Thick, syrupy, I think i tasted a bit of tropical fruit. Coulda just been my wacky taste buds. I also had a glass of 200 Sancerre, Domaine des Vieux Pruniers ($8.25). Can't really say too much. I'm not much of an oneophile. Sorry. :-( Kitchen was even nice enough to make me chocolate milk! And for free! That's about it. Any questions?
Have to add, I have trouble saying that this might've been my favorite meal considering it was the least expensive, but the two of us agreed that this was our favorite. Oh, and prices include tip.

We went for a Friday night birthday celebration dinner. We arrived early for our 8:15 reservation and were promptly seated. For those who don't know, La Folie is a family run restaurant on Polk Street. Roland Passot is the head chef, Georges is the sommelier, and Roland's wife is the hostess. The room was packed and I mean packed. Tables are close together, and the noise level was distracting at time. We started with two glasses of Laurent Perrier Brut champagne while we looked over the menu. I was already familar with most of it because I had been having the restaurant send a few copies to my house over the course of the summer. La Folie has a deal where you can order a four course, or a five course meal for a set price. The four course consists of soup, appetizer, a fish or a meat course, and dessert for $75.00. The five course is the same with the difference being that you get fish and a meat course. The most difficult decision I had was in choosing my appetizer. So many things to pick from. I should say that I was determined to try some different foie gras preparations at this meal so that influenced my decisions.

Duck and Oxtail Consomme with a Foie Gras Flan and Seasonal Vegetables ($12.50) I've included a la carte prices for those who might be interested.
The bowl was brought to my table with a little ceramic lid. The lid was removed to reveal some baby carrots, beans, baby turnips (I think), slices of oxtail, and the foie gras flan. The broth was poured over the solid items. The consomme was nice and clear with a pronounced duck flavor. Vegetables were not cooked to my liking. Too crunchy. I think raw vegetables should be crunchy, and cooked vegetables should be a little soft. This was a problem throughout the evening. Foie gras flan was interesting. When I first placed it into my mouth, I just noticed the spongy texture. It wasn't until after I swallowed that I noticed the flavor of the liver. Nice dish. I like starting out with soup. My girlfriend got the Parsley and Garlic soup with a Ragout of Snails and Shiitake Mushrooms ($12.50) I really liked the garlic flavor but it was a bit too creamy. Nice presentation tho.

Foie Gras Terrine, Housecured Duck Ham, Tomato Raisin Chutney, Sauternes Vanilla Reduction ($21.50)
For me, this, along with dessert, was the dish that made the evening. There was a slice of the terrine of the left side of the rectangular plate, a drizzle of the reduction in the middle, a dollop of the chutney, and on the right side was 5 little slices of the duck with a tiny bit of micro greens on top. It was served with toast. The duck wasn't too great. I found it kind of irrelevant. The terrine smeared on the toast with the chutney was sooooo delicious. Bright red tomatoes with golden raisins. The vanilla reduction was good too. Pale off white, with flecks of vanilla bean. Really great. My girlfriend got the duo of lobster and albacore, citrus lobster salad with shaved fresh hearts of palm and micro greens, albacore tartare on a fennel apple salad ($24.00) It was really two appetizers in one. On the left was the tartare, the right was the small salad. She really liked it. Other appetizers I considered were the roast quail stuffed with foie gras with hazelnut vinaigrette salad, wild mushrooms and garlic jus for $23.50, and the seared hudson valley foie gras with figs and szechuan peppercorn in an aged balsamic vinegar sauce ($22.00).

Sauteed "Loup de Mer" Mediterranean Sea Bass with Summer Truffle Gnocchi, Chanterelles & Fava Beans, Jus de Poulet ($40.50)
The jus was far too salty. The bass was nicely cooked, crispy skin. Gnocchi were soo delicious. Just slightly crispy on the outside. Fava beans were mealy and unappetizing. There were morels along with the chanterelles. All in all, an okay dish. Not particularly interesting. I love fish, so it was okay tho. My girlfriend got the "Spiced Butter" Poached Lobster on Confit Tomatoes, Peas and Fava Beans, Citrus Beurre Fondue ($43.50). THe lobster was delicious, vegetables were undercooked. Annoying. I didn't have too much so I'm not going to comment.

Trio of Rabbit (Loin, Rack and Braised Leg) roasted with Spring Vegetables, Roast Garlic Natural Jus ($36.50) I really liked the loin and leg components of this dish. THe loin was made into a sausage like item. Rabbit skin encased a cylinder of loin and vegetables and garlic. Leg was also well done. It was stuffed with morel mushrooms. Rack was soo annoying to eat. They left the rack whole. There was so little meat to eat. I wish I could've picked up the rack and started sucking the meat off the bones, but not in the formal setting of a restaurant. Undercooked vegetables. MY girlfriend went with a cheese plate. Five different french cheeses, garnished with fig bread, honey, walnuts glazed with anise, grapes, and apples. Really fun to mix and match cheeses. I regret that I do not remember the names of teh cheeses, but there was a brie, blue cheese, a goat/cow milk cheese, a sheeps milk cheese with herbs and some funky really smelly cheese. This was available for a five dollar supplement.

Desserts were fun. I got coconut tapioca with passion fruit sorbet, coconut tuille and basil infusion. Mind boggingly good. The basil really worked well. The girlfriend got a mixed berry terrine with balsamic soaked strawberries and mascarpone cream. I swear to god they used jello to hold the terrine together.

Okay, what else. Umm, they served tomato consomme with goat cheese for the amuse. I could've swore there was some smoked meat product flavoring the liquid. For a palate cleanser before dessert, they served mint and lime granite. I think there was also a liberal helping of basil in there too. They also gave us petit fours, blueberry scones, chocolate hazelnut cookies and some cherry square. It was like a square of fruit essence. Kinda jelly like. My favorite tho. I should mention there was a truffle option. For 25 dollars an ounce, the chef would shave truffles over a dish. They brought a giant basket of truffles to the table to show us and to let us smell. Pacing was slow. This was good to let us rest our stomachs between courses. There was a lot of food to be eaten. Didn't really like our waiter too much. He always seemed to want to be somewhere other than helping us out. I liked the busser Jorge tho. He was a nice guy. I don't know what else to tell. Any questions? Farallon up later....

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