Recently I was invited by a good friend to join him for a celebratory dinner. He chose Prima Trattoria e Negozio de Vini (1522 North Main Street, Walnut Creek, tel: 925-935·7780). I have been to Prima at least a dozen times over the years, experiencing some spectacular meals and never a complaint.
The service that evening was excellent as usual. We sat in the covered patio along Main Street because experience has taught that the decibels can be excessive inside the restaurant.
On previous occasions I have always snapped up the lamb shanks or some other rich dish, but given the warm evening we both were inclined to do something lighter. We each settled for heirloom tomatoes with pecorino toscano as a starter ($7). My host opted for the gnocchi with mussels and sausage. I chose the tagliatelle with rabbit ragu (each about $12). Since we were celebrating my friend's real estate closing, a good wine was in order. At my suggestion, he ordered the Merry Edwards 2001 Russian River Valley pinot noir ($67).
Being an expatriate for many years, there are two culinary matters that were a disappointment when I returned to the US: tomatoes and chickens. Happily, on this coast both seem to be making a great comeback. The heirloom tomatoes at Prima were outstanding: big chunks from different varieties, all firm -- no mush -- and with the right balance of sweet and acid. My host and I were having an intense discussion about the fine points of Texas jurisprudence, but silence was quickly imposed as we savored each bite with the Merry Edwards pinot noir.
The entrees followed seamlessly and were equally impressive. My host commented that he had ordered the gnocchi because it seemed so odd to combined them with mussels and sausage. Nonetheless he could not stop extolling the dish's virtues. In my case the tagliatelle were served al dente with more rabbit ragu than would probably be served in the old country, but I wasn't complaining. Again, the pinot noir was the right foil.
Feeling sated, we skipped dessert and had a couple of espressos, picking up our discussion where we left off. After so many years, I am still impressed by Prima's culinary focus and dependable high standards. The only other restaurant that has been equally reliable (in my experience) is Baywolf. Just my opinion; I'm sure other chowhounds have their favorites.
As I walked back to my car, I spotted a new place which apparently opened up in that last two months: Le Bistro at 1606 North Main Street (tel: 925-407-8000). Their streetside menu caught my eye, especially the cassoulet of lamb. It's next on my list.