On an adventure to San Francisco, I was treated to lunch at the Chez Panisse Cafe. It seems to be advertised as the lesser of the two experiences – versus the dinner restaurant downstairs – but I cannot imagine how that can be. This meal sits towards the top of my lists of things I’ve consumed.
I continue to be amazed at that ability to turn out fantastic dishes without the overpowering use of gravies, butters, cheeses and creams that dotted my experiences in San Francisco. Being from the South, you’re just used to having something “play the heavy” on a dish – no matter where you are, even in salads.
I started the day off with a garden salad where lettuce, if you can even comment on lettuce, actually tasted like lettuce! Gasp! I know. Who writes about leaves? I do. The entire salad actually tasted as if it’d been picked by someone and run up those beautiful mission-style stairs and placed on the plate as quickly as it could be.
I had this beautiful dish of fresh beans and onion with grilled squid. I’m still trying to figure out what that was. My friends know me as the one who always tries to recreate the dish later. That broth was amazing, there’s just no doing it over. It’s not me giving up, it’s allowing perfection to be held by the chef. The squid was grilled and charred marks were perfection. Chewy in a good way, not like a garden hose on a plate. It had a pairing with an aioli that allowed the buttery-ness to project the salt of the sea in the seafood, but not provide an ocean of grease to swim in.
Now, as if I couldn’t dedicate more emotion to a plate, I ordered apple tart. Which should really just simply say “elation” on the dessert menu and leave no room for description. Apple tart simply dresses down this dish. There is some beauty in “tart” when it’s made of puff pastry so light and airy, filled with simple slices of apple and dressed with a simple syrup of apple and blackberry. The hint given here is that a few blackberries dot the dish. But the need for sugar is nil, the fruit holds court against the light crust and when it comes to finishing a meal, this couldn’t have done better.
Chez Panisse – www.chezpanisse.com – (510) 548-5525 – Reservations are a must. Do not try otherwise.
Rating: spoon, fork & knife + champagne flute – a memory to behold.