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Rachel Hope | Dec 13, 199912:37 AM

The other night we tried to visit Chez Panisse Cafe, thinking it operated on a first-come-first-serve basis -- but apparently they started taking reservations a year and a half ago, and entering the restaurant at seven on a Friday evening we were told a table of four wouldn't open up until ten. So, heeding the advice of some knowledgeable friends, we headed over to Lalime's on Gilman Street (also in Berkeley). Although the restaurant was packed, the maitre'd told us to return in an hour and he would hold a table for us. We did just that and were rewarded with a really fabulous meal. The menu changes every evening, and their website ( -- great menu porn!) advertises their frequent special feasts (for example a five course mushroom and burgundy feast held on Nov.31 and Dec.1). I tried the three-course/three-wine prix fixe ($45.00). First course matched an excellent white to a prawn mousse wrapped in swiss chard with an orange-ginger sauce. It may sound complicated but it tasted incredibly simple, and truly wonderful. The mousse had the texture of the inside of a really great Chinese dumpling. Second course matched a disappointing 1995 Rioja with roast duck in a port-wine reduction, fresh cranberries and a wild rice pancake. It was, possibly, the best duck I have ever had -- and I order duck everywhere and anywhere (its my favorite restaurant food). The dessert matched a sweet white wine (also very good) with a wonderfully unsweet persimmon pudding (like Christmas pudding) and ice cream. Anyway, this restaurant is out of the way, you won't notice it unless you know its there, but I highly recommend it to all and am already thinking ahead to Valentine's Day. We didn't miss C.P.C. for one moment.

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