i’m welcoming you to my overview of a foodie night in paradise with a gorgeous bowl of root vegetables, just as chez panisse welcomes you into their restaurant. yes, i went to chez panisse last night with some friends, and i think i can die happy now. the whole evening was a joyful blur of old friend reunions, bottles and bottles of wine, warm and friendly people, a kitchen tour (!), and of course, incredible food made from the purest of ingredients. the pile of knobby, hairy, obviously farm-fresh root vegetables placed next to a bowl of citrus fruits and beautiful loaves of bread tells you exactly that as you walk in – this is a restaurant dedicated to sourcing, cooking, and serving the best ingredients possible with the utmost love and respect. it’s basically a gastronomic temple of food worship, and i happily bow at their altar after last night’s meal. it wasn’t that any dish was particularly holy-shit-this-is-so-delicious-it’s-blowing-my-mind amazing, but the whole experience – the attentive, carefully choreographed service, the welcoming and happy-to-show-you-around kitchen staff, the beautifully printed menus, the little touches like freshly made caramels with the bill – made the evening truly amazing. and of course, the stellar company…
to introduce you to my fellow diners, i’ve got a great photo of us on the way to the restaurant. lest you assume too much from this photo though, let me preface this entire story with a statement – this is not how i usually roll. bottles of champagne in a limo…recession what? (i have a post drafted about making an all organic vegetarian dinner with leftovers for lunch for less than $10, which is an amusing contrast to this post). but the photo gives an excellent introduction the wonderfully enjoyably hedonistic nature of the evening. you know the night’s going to be good when it starts off like this:
sup boys? yes, i am quite possibly the luckiest girl in the world. my three lovely dining companions – mj, beau, and kwame – are all friends from college and we are pretty fucking psyched about dinner, as you can tell by this photo:
in case you’re curious to see what it looks like inside, here’s the warm, simple, cozy yet sophisticated downstairs dining room with a view into the open kitchen:
and now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the food porn. here it comes.
course one: grilled wild gulf shrimp with herb and lemon salsa. mmmmmm.
course one, version two: a gorgeously colored dish of prosciutto and artichoke hearts, made especially for kwame, who doesn’t like most shellfish (you don’t know what you’re missing, buddy).
course two: hand-cut bucatini carbonara with farm egg, guanciale, and parmesan. bucatini is like a thick spaghetti with a hole through the center (i don’t know how the hell you make it) and guanciale is pig cheeks. they are also known by the debatably more or less gross description of hog jowls. yummy.
course three: braised mary’s chicken with carrots, green peas, spinach, asparagus, fava beans, and new onions. this picture doesn’t really do justice to the deliciousness of this dish, (photos of chicken under flash are not particularly appetizing) but i love the intensity of the vegetable colors. kwame said something along the lines of how it’s bold to serve chicken as a main course when you are only serving one fixed price menu, and i have friends who almost never order chicken in restaurants because it’s so often dry and flavorless, but this dish exemplified what chicken is supposed to taste like – moist, juicy, flavorful and superbly chickeny. i don’t know who mary is, but she makes delicious fucking chickens, and the inclusion of her name on the menu was an important indication that it matters where the chicken is from and how it was raised to be eaten. as they say on the menu, ‘our produce, meat, poultry, and fish come from farms, ranches, and fiseries guided by principles of sustainability.’ right fucking on.
after a moment’s deliberation, we decided to get the artisan cheese selection before dessert (yeah, yeah i know. why do i even pretend to consider NOT ordering cheese?). this was 5 bottles of wine deep, so i don’t remember what the cheeses were beyond blue, brie, and hard, only that they were all french and all delicious.
at this point in the evening, thanks to the latest possible 8:45pm reservation, we were the only people left in the restaurant. to my sheer delight (i’m not sure exactly how it occurred but i think kwame made the magic happen), we found ourselves invited to tour the kitchen with robert, our incredibly warm and patient server. kitchen tour? at chez panisse? yes, i just died and went to heaven. we got to see their huge open fireplace oven, hanging cured meats, a simmering pot of stock the size of a garbage can, a monster rack of spices, and a chalkboard detailing some complicated method for keeping track of meals. we met some other really nice people who explained various practices of the kitchen and how they use the ginormous amount of stock for a number of different dishes in the upstairs cafe, and a bit about how they cure their meats and fascinating other details. i wish i had more pictures, but unfortunately the blurriness of the photos is in direct proportion to my level of drunkenness at the time. luckily, i somehow managed to stand still long enough to get photos of my favorite part, the super sweet pastry/dessert chef whose name is unfortunately lodged in the wine-soaked recesses of my memory-impaired brain.
she gave us a sample of candied blood oranges, made from these gorgeous pieces of fruit:
aren’t they unbelievable? i am in the middle of a blood orange obsession. such beautiful colors! it was great to see the whole dessert setup and then finally sit back down to this phenomenal dish:
course five: citrus soup with coconut and mandarin orange sherbets and candied fruits. cold, crisp, fruity, and delicious.
i’ll finish this post the way chez panisse finished the meal – an selection of decadent and adorably tiny candies:
thank you chez panisse for an incredible dining experience. and thank you kwame, beau, and mj – after another 2 bottles of champagne and i’m just remembering a 3am glass of really good scotch – for sharing the evening of a lifetime. if that was my last meal on earth, i’ll take it.