How far will I travel, to what lengths will I go for the perfect meal? You and I both, I think, know the answer to that question. Now and again, though, I take a look at myself making some ridiculous pilgrimage in the name of food, and I think: "woman! get a hold of yourself."
Last week I took a cab, a plane, a train, and then another cab to make it to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA in time for my 9:15 pm reservation. Well, I wasn't on time, but I did make it. My heart racing, my gastric juices churning, my imagination running wild, I showed up and breathlessly handed to the hostess my overnight bag, and my dress for that weekend's wedding.
First we ate bread. Really really good bread, and excellent butter. And olives. Oooh, I loved those olives.
Then began the set meal for the evening:
Green bean salad with farm egg and pancetta. Which doesn't even mention the teeny, explosively delicious cherry tomatoes. And doesn't even begin to suggest that the pancetta was in thin little delicate strips, salty and crispy. or that the egg was soft boiled with a yolk the color of sunshine.
Salt cod ravioli with yellow tomato coulis and basil oil. If you've ever had salt cod, you know it's a bold choice. I liked it, despite its intense fishiness. And the tomato sauce was basically hot, pureed golden tomatoes, with chiffonaded basil. Excellent.
Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail, with figs, corn, wild mushrooms, onion rings, and stone ground polenta. A moist, succulent little bird plopped on top of all kinds of good things. The figs were especially delightful, as were the thin thin thin red onion rings on top. A surprising touch.
Then we did the unthinkable--ordered the optional cheese course. In an effort to eat ourselves to death, apparently. The cheeses were good, but not transcendant, and I wish I'd taken a pass on them.
Dessert was amazingly, unbelievably good, even though there wasn't a lick of chocolate in sight (well, unless you count those truffles they brought at the end of it all). Roasted Red Cal peach with raspberry granita. Which doesn't even mention the creme anglaise. Or the whole raspberries. Or the sinfully good almond tuile-type cookie that accompanied it. WOW!
This is excellent cooking, but simple, so simple. But one is struck by the basic truth behind a place like this--if the ingredients are excellent, and if they are each chosen for being at their absolute peak at this moment in time, your meal will reflect that. It will be wonderful. And it was.