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:
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.