I could start at the beginning, with Day One. And then, I could continue from there: Day Two, followed by Day Three, and a brief conclusion with, you guessed it, Day Four. But that would just be too predictable and boring and, well, once you've been to Chez Panisse, you kind of want to sing it from the rooftops and brag to all your foodie friends ASAP.
Except that I don't really have any foodie friends, and most people I'd tell wouldn't even know what Chez Panisse is, or who Alice Waters is, or what the big fuss is over California cuisine, anyway. And I can't really say I blame them, because I'm not one to gush over celebrity chefs or anything. I hate Rachael Ray just as much as the next person does, and I think Bobby Flay is kind of full of himself (though I follow him on Twitter, anyway).
The reason I'm starting with Chez Panisse, and the reason I'm so excited to have eaten there, is because I love Ruth Reichl's book, Comfort Me with Apples, in which Reichl lives in Berkeley and visits Chez Panisse when Alice Waters and the idea of fresh, local, simple-yet-delicious cuisine just started taking shape in a big way. I love reading about places, and reading about food, and then going to those places and eating that food. It's like getting a peek inside a completely different world, and then someone opens the door and you're there, and instead of just having to imagine the taste and feel and look and sound, you're actually living it. I reread the book on the plane to California, just to keep Reichl's descriptions fresh in my head.
And, OK, while I'm being honest and all, I'll tell you that I didn't actually eat at the restaurant Chez Panisse. More like Chez Panisse Cafe, which is upstairs from the restaurant, and is Alice Waters' less expensive introduction to her simple creations. The restaurant is for special occasions with a lover perhaps, wearing a little black dress and heels, and ideally, the lover would be wealthy enough to drop $200 on dinner, and that's not even including the bottle of wine, which is optional of course, but highly recommended. Having said that, the Cafe is nothing to scoff at. No, not at all.
To start, Michelle and I split the spring greens minestrone and salad with creme fraiche, basil, and tomatoes. The soup was fresh, clean, simple, soothing. The salad was like eating a fresh garden. Minestrone and a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes. Doesn't seem like anything special, but that's the beauty of it, and I realized after just the first course that Alice Waters and those crazy Californians really are on to something: The freshest, bestest ingredients prepared in the simplest way really do shine through in such lovely lights. Who knew?
We got french fries for Mira. Michelle and I had to restrain ourselves, after we had pigged out and almost lost our appetites on shoestring potatoes the night before at Zuni Cafe. I really like fries, but she really, really, really likes fries.
Speaking of my sister, here she is, drinking grape juice that tastes just like wine, because she's got another little one on the way. (Yay!)
For dinner, Michelle got the mushroom lasagna, which she described as a cream of mushroom soup in lasagna form. It sounds rich, but it was light and creamy and, here's that word again: simple. Are you sick of hearing that yet?
Matt got the lamb dish, and I can't remember exactly how it was prepared, but you can probably tell from the photo that it was hearty and comforting, the meat and vegetables tender, the broth light yet filling.
I got the yellowtail jack with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and a green olive sauce. Oh. Yes. And that's all I have to say about that.
Dessert was cheese and an apricot tart and, here goes, something I don't say very often about food or drink but this is the truth, people: the best tea I've ever had.
Yeah, that's right. Tea. I don't even like tea, and that's probably why this is the best I've ever had, but really, it's that good. Leaves in a pot -- how much more simple can it get? The mint and lemon leaves brought strong flavors that weren't overpowering, but rather calm and soothing and a perfect way to end the meal.
And now, because it's not a post about California without a picture of my niece, here's Mira, watching the Lion King while we dined on simplicity.
Thanks, Ate and Matt, for a lovely dinner. And for having such a cute kid.