Archive for November, 2011

November 24, 2011

Chez Panisse

Alice Water’s restaurant has been a fixture in the Bay Area since its opening in 1971.  Alice’s philosophy is that “cooking should be based on the finest and freshest ingredients that are produced locally and sustainable.”  Her philosophy has helped spawn the Slow Food Movement which promotes and celebrate local artisanal food traditions.  This global movement has continued to grow and now has over 100,000 members in 130 countries.

Through a stroke of luck, and the determination of my step-mother, we were able to get reservations for the Monday night rustic three-course fixed dinner.  The restaurant is broken up into two sections: the Cafe and the restaurant down-stairs.  The cafe serves similar fare to its more prestigious counterpart, however, at a more modest price.

Our meal started off with a Lobster Salad with belgian endives and Meyer Lemon.  The salad had originally  been advertised with local dungenesss crab, however due to the fisherman strike lobster was substituted for the dungeness crab.  The salad was amazingly fresh and the ingredients popped individually although I felt that the bitterness of the endive overpowered the delicate soft flavors of the other ingredients – especially the lobster.

Our second course was the Maiale arrosto con mostarda di cotogna: spit-roasted Llano Seco Ranch pork loin with polenta, roasted vegetables, and quince mostarda.  This dish was absolutely fantastic and really showcased the natural sweetness of the pork loin by simmering cherries and rasins into the sauce.  The pork was very juicy and fell apart in my mouth.  The polenta and the roasted vegetables provided a subtle backdrop to showcase the complexity of the pork loin and rib.  My mouth waters when thinking back on the meal.

The dessert consisted of a pear-pomegranate and orange sherbets with Prosecco gelee.  It provided a great finish to the meal as the trapped Prosecco bubbles in the gelee cleansed my palate.  The sherbet was delicious as well and its lightness was much appreciated as my stomach was getting close to its limit.

One area the Chez Panisse feel short, surprisingly, was in the communication of their mission to their guests.  I would have greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the food and why supporting the slow food movement is important.  Had we walked off the street knowing nothing of the restaurant we would have dined and left that way as well.  Even the freshly printed menu did not take advantage of the fact that it had the readers attention to plant the Slow Food Movements ideals.  The staff really missed an opportunity to expand our food IQ.  If Chez Panisse is not openly talking about their food philosophy than who is?

Overall my experience at Chez Panisee was great – from the beautiful kitchen to the friendly staff.  Everyone should eat at Chez Panisse at least once  – 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709 – as it truly does showcase local ingredients at their most delicious – whether you know the ingredients are local are not.

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November 23, 2011

Postino

Anatra - Pan Roasted Duck

Carr Jones designed this charming restaurant in Lafayette California.  Jones who died in 1965 was known throughout Northern and Southern California as one of the premier storybook builders.  Postino is a great example of his work as you dine in dimly lit rooms amongst beautiful fireplaces and slate floors.  The setting evokes images of traveling throughout Europe, discovering not only great food but inspiring architecture.  It is truly a special place – not to mention the food is brilliant. Stewart Beatty, Executive Chef and born and bred local, delivers some fantastic dishes that compete with the beautiful setting to overwhelm your senses.

Our meal started off with the Insalata Di Cavolleti, brown butter brussel sprouts with warm pears, toasted hazelnuts and shaved pecorino, which highlighted Chef Beatty’s use of fresh local ingredients.  Chef Beatty strives to use sustainable ingredients throughout his menu and this first dish hit it out of the park.  Along with the Insalata Di Cavolleti I ordered the Insalata Mela – seasonal mixed greens with shaved apples, celery, creamy gorgonzola dressing and candies walnuts.  This dish, although delicious, lacked the “stinky” cheese kick that I was hoping for.  Maybe its just me but when I see this veined Italian blue cheese I want it to be pungent.

Now for the main event – a pan roasted duck breast over herb spaetzle, garlic duck sausage and grilled scallions with a stone mustard duck glace.  As this dish was placed in front of me a huge smile crept onto my face as I realized the utter joy that I was about to experience.  The smells were intoxicating: the mustard glace enhanced the salty nutty flavor of the breast meat while the heady smell of the garlic duck sausage provided a formidable undertone for the entire dish.  The herb spaetzle was a nice neutral base and best described as a knopfle style spaetzle – little pellet sized morsels of fresh dough.  Other dishes that graced our table included: Melanzana Parmigiana, crisp eggplant parmesan with marinara, grilled zucchini, balsamic molassa and EVOO; Papardelle, ribbons of fresh pasta with pork sugo and reggiasno cheese and last but not least the Spada, pan roasted swordfish with smokehouse almonds, golden raisins and rosemary butter over garlic whipped potatoes.

I love restaurants that make an immediate impression leaving you wanting more.  I can not wait for another excuse to dine at this amazing culinary gem.  I can’t think of a better setting to enjoy friends and family east of the Caldecott Tunnel – 3565 Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549.

November 19, 2011

The Griddle Cafe – WOW!

I lived in LA for a little under five years while in college at USC and during that time the City of Angels provided me many excellent dining experiences.  My last trip to LA, for USC’s homecoming game, gave me a little taste/reminder of what my college years were like – late nights, binge drinking and The Griddle Cafe.

The Griddle Cafe is a popular hangout in West Hollywood that often has a line out the door and around the block – Monday at 11am provided us with a 20 minute wait.  As my stomach turned with thoughts of the previous two night’s escapades my taste buds surprisingly started salivating at the smell of pancakes wafting through the open front door.  I would have waited any amount of time to get a taste of what was creating that smell – and I did.  45 minutes later we were sitting down getting our first cup of freshly pressed coffee.

One of my finest memories of The Griddle Cafe in college was the greasy spoon “Chili My Soul” that they served up daily.  Chili My Soul is not an authentic Griddle dish as they import around 10 different chilis per day from Encino.  These chilis range from vegetarian to full on carnivore with a scale of spice that ranges from 1 to 10.  Chef Randy Hoffman, owner of Chili My Soul, was often seen at The Griddle Cafe hob-nobbing with the patrons and trying to convince them to take on the Demon – his spiciest chili made with 6 of the World’s hottest peppers.  I was distraught, to say the least, when I found out that in the past 8 years Chef Hoffman had passed away and in tribute to his life The Griddle Cafe was no longer selling chili – of any kind.  Rest in peace Chef Hoffman – your contributions to our palate will be greatly missed.

The Griddle Cafe did not skip a beat though and my mind started racing around the menu driven by my stomach’s desire to get something into it.  As I reviewed some of the classic pancakes like The Teacher’s Pet, three buttermilk pancakes with cinnamon apples baked in, or the Yellow Brick Road, butterscotch with walnuts and carmel, I decided to try something new – three lemon raspberry stuffed pancakes.  Examine the picture closely as words can not describe how delicious the experience was.  My friends and I also shared an egg dish called Chicago Charlie’s Scramble – delicious as well.  The Griddle Cafe definitely gives you bang for your buck.  All three of us ate off two dishes and could not get even close to finishing them.

As I stumbled out of the restaurant, stuffed to the brim, I realized how much I appreciated The Griddle Cafe staying strong and providing me access to a time machine every time I visit my alma mater.  If you are ever in West Hollywood stop by and give it a try – 7916 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90046 – you won’t regret it!  Now all I need to do is figure out how to stock plates big enough to serve these pancakes on le truc!