When I moved to the Bay Area a decade ago, I was a recent college graduate and I lived in the Berkeley Hills just a few blocks from the famous Gourmet Ghetto. I used to get lunch at the Cheese Board Pizza, and my afternoon cafe con leche at the original Peet’s Coffee, but whenever I walked past the wood archway leading to Chez Panisse, I wondered what wonderful meals where being prepared inside. It may have well taken me 10 years to finally make a reservation for dinner at Chez Panisse, but last Saturday I enjoyed a meal there that I will remember for a long time.
Entering the restaurant felt like walking into a dining room at a friend’s home, in time for dinner, as the sun was just beginning to set, giving everything in the room a warm glow. Our table for two was small, but comfortable, with a great view of the kitchen. We were greeted with sparkling water, some bubbly and chicken liver toast. But more important than that, was the bread. A good bread is a sign of good things to come. When I asked the waiter, we were told that Acme Bread specially made the dinner rolls, just for them. Damn.
The menu changes nightly, so you never know what you are getting, but Saturday’s menu was a truly wonderful combination of flavors and ingredients. The salad course featured seasonal asparagus that was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The seared scallops over lentils were a great match of savory and citrusy. And what was left of the grilled quail with mushroom sauce was a plate piled with little bones. The bread, as I suspected, was an excellent accessory for mopping up the last of the sauce.
I can’t imagine why they thought we had room for dessert, especially since we usually share just one. But somehow we each managed to finish a chocolate espresso praline ice cream bombe. The extra cookies, however, we had to take to go. Leaving the restaurant, I thought back on the time a decade ago when I first heard of Alice Waters and her organic food movement. Now I know what she meant when she said that great tasting foods can be made from local and organic produce. Next time, I won’t wait 10 years to find out or to have some more of that bread.