I had to go to a meeting in Austin on Cheyenne's birthday (a monday in December) so I suggested that we go out somewhere fancy on the weekend before. We eat out often (daily actually) but rarely go to "fancy" places (anywhere with white table cloths, more than one fork, or stemmed water glasses). This was before we discovered chowhound so we didn't do much research--just tossed around ideas for a few days before deciding on Chez Panisse. At the time we didn't really realize that it would be so hard to get reservations. We called 2 weeks in advance but it turned out we couldn't get reservations until after Christmas. We probably would have just let it drop there, but Cheyenne mentioned it to her mom who became very excited and sent a gift certificate. Now, of course, we had to go.
We were shooting for a Saturday. They take reservations exactly a month in advance but when we called (roughly and hour after they open) they were already full. We did manage to get a place for the early seating on Friday. When the week arrived and we could look over the menu online Cheyenne was crushed to discover lamb on our menu. (I understand that they will do substitutions but that seems to defeat the whole idea) We canceled and rescheduled for a Thursday 2 weeks later.
Pork loin. I love pork loin.
I think we were seated at the same table as Burke and Wells (seated 90 degrees from each other instead of directly across). Having been sensitized to this by the raging discussion following Burke and Wells post I briefly considered asking for a different table. I decided against it though because this would have meant a more central location. I prefer to be on the edges so I can observe. Another advantage was that we were both turned toward the main dining area and could share our observations. Also, the place is pretty noisy so we were glad to be able to converse in a normal tone.
Squids & Chicory: I didn't really know what chicory was and had to ask our waitress if it was related to the stuff they put in coffee. She had to ask the chef. It turns out that the root is roasted and used to cut coffee and the leaves are sold to yuppies. It was somewhat bitter (pleasantly so). Cheyenne seems to be unable to taste bitter.
Swordfish and saffron noodles: mmmm. The currants where notable.
Pork Loin with spinach and Cardoon sformato: Where can I buy Cardoon? It looks like celery but tastes like artichoke. This was one of the highlights because it is so rare to discover something I've never heard of that tastes this good.
Upside down apple pie with creme fraiche: This was my first experience with creme fraiche but I plan to make some for our next apple pie (even if it comes frozen).
We decided to have wine by the glass for a couple of reasons. First of all I wasn't sure I wanted to drive back to San Mateo after splitting a whole bottle and second the glasses allowed us to try both white and red. We probably ended up drinking the equivalent of a whole bottle after all but the second argument prevailed. I forget what the white was called but it was very good. The red was Ateo sangiovese with %10 merlot. Also very good. Cheyenne was impressed by the glasses -- cut and polished rim. I'm afraid we will be buying some wine glasses soon (Reidel?).
The whole experience was great. The fixed menu was a relief. I enjoyed being able to relax and not have to make any decisions. To me this is the ultimate luxury. We both felt very young even though there was a least one other table of people our age (28-30). As I mentioned before we don't frequent expensive restaurants so we're probably easy to impress. Even discounting the gift certificate this is still the most expensive mean we've ever paid for. The only previous experience I have to compare it to was the famous "Salt Chicken" incident.
I was in Denmark working as a deck hand getting the boat ready to cross the Atlantic. The owner said he was taking the Stephenson's out to eat at ____ (I don't remember where exactly, near helsingor). He asked if I wanted to come and I said sure. I was thinking it would be some family style place and I'd get a chance to eat some traditional Danish food or something, otherwise why would he invite me?
I was shocked when I got my menu. I knew I didn't have to pay but I just couldn't fathom such prices for food. After much agonizing I decided I'd order the salt chicken which was among the cheaper items on the menu (around $25, I think). I was saved from massive embarrassment by the owner who suggested that we all order the special 5 course meal...
The first course was my salt chicken... It was some kind of pate thing. About 2" in diameter and 1/4 inch thick. Clearly not a meal. I can only imagine the waiter trying to explain to me why I couldn't order it as my meal. The food was good but I was too nervy to enjoy it.