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halibut at Chez Panisse Cafe

Windy | Apr 1, 200509:16 AM

Had a delicious celebration dinner at Chez Panisse cafe last night. We happened to walk by the North Berkeley farmers market on the way, and after buying a container of organic tofu fa, were dazzled by the asparagus and artichokes.

We shared asparagus with prosciutto and mustard sauce and baked sea scallops in olive oil. It's hard to say which was better, even at $2 a spear. The sea scallops were plump and tasty, but the olive oil, saturated with the essence of the scallops was so good I lapped up a few spoons of it after running out of bread.

For entrees we chose the roast chicken with fava beans and artichokes and a lightly fried halibut with Meyer lemon zest and snap peas and orange beets. The halibut was the best I've ever tasted, including in Alaska where the halibut is exceptional. It's the start of the season, and flakiness combined with the lemon was heavenly. Go order it while it's still on the menu. The snap peas were just as perfect--bright green, plump, a faint trace of butter or oil. Chicken was nothing special, although the vegetables and sauce nearly made up for it. We lusted for the pizza with black trumpet mushrooms and the pork tenderloin at the next table.

Dessert was an apple tart with bits of orange peel and muscat ice cream and Meyer lemon sherbet with gingersnaps. Both delicious, although I'd give the edge to the sherbet, which left a sweet and tart finish to the whole meal and was topped with bits of crystalized peel.

One day maybe I'll eat downstairs and let them choose for me, but the cafe continues to be one of my favorite splurges. There's always at least one definitive dish like the halibut and snow peas or the asparagus. Total with tip and 4 glasses of wine came to $160; would have been less if I hadn't insisted on the most expensive items in each category. (They do offer a $25 prix fixe, which tonight was a huge plate of mixed greens, vegetarian pasta, and the Meyer lemon sherbet.) Warm, relaxed service.

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