I appreciate the posts to Chow on Chez Panisse and thank you all. They helped me to prepare for my first visit to CP downstairs last Friday (11/30) which was quite nice and well executed. It was a great time. Having enjoyed lunch at French Laundry in November 2002, and being a student of food, I was eagerly awaiting my CP experience.
The first course was an attractively presented fish tartare with new olive oil, lime, and the young garden greens for which CP in renown. Flavors were “punched up” with finely diced onion (or scallions) and rock salt—which I found to be a pleasant attention-getting welcome to the restaurant. This was followed by ricotta gnocchi with spinach and wild mushrooms which provided a fine transition to the main course. The gnocchi effectively served as pillows to showcase the subtle herbs and oil with which they were covered. The mushrooms were characteristically full-flavored and quietly suggestive of what awaited all of us. I found the grilled squab to be a delightful pleasure—similar to duck in its smooth texture and nicely seasoned with a balsamic vinegar sauce. This humble pigeon amazed me! A host of autumnal accompaniments that included squash purée, roasted chestnuts, turnips, carrots, and parsnips as well as a surprise rustic paté on crostini were a wonderful compliment to the squab on this final November night. Dessert of poached pear with Riesling sabayon—a perfect whole fruit in an elegantly light custard--were flavorful together and provided a superb finish.
For all of the discussion on service, CP earned my high praise that night. We came as a party of six from Sacramento. One in our group was really clueless about CP and was constantly asking for variations. I was waiting for him to ask the kitchen for ketchup at anytime! The sommelier was unfailing patient and resourceful with our outspoken associate, while calmly concealing any shock he may have felt with the requests. Staff may have been a wee bit hasty in clearing the courses, yet often would ask us before clearing if in doubt. All were attentive and professional.
Notwithstanding significant distractions from one of my compatriots, my CP experience was excellent. Chez Panisse was and is an extraordinary restaurant. It was a privilege to enter the sanctuary and finally pay homage to the spirit of gustatory excellence for which we are so thankful.
Gold River, CA