CHEZ PANISSE, 1999
(mid april. number 60.)
I had the idea, quite a long time ago, to do a Secret Restaurant event where we'd serve a meal which had happened sometime in history. I wanted there to be a printed menu, of which a facsimile could be created.
I even visited the Multnomah County Library, trying to find some menu in the rare ephemera collection; perhaps a meal given to some celebrated figure when visiting Portland. My luck was slim.
When Patricia Curtain's Menus for Chez Panisse book came out, the idea reignited for a bit, then faded into the background again.
This meal was a silent auction item for the school where I teach– a small group of families in my classroom approached me about the idea, Michael and Lylen Ferris offered to host in their beautiful Victorian home, and so I agreed whole heartedly. Happy the date was in April, a favorite month to cook, I still wasn't quite sure what direction the menu should take. I picked up Menus for Chez Panisse again, and the book practically fell open to this menu…It had everything I wanted to cook, everything I wanted to eat, and quite a bit of room for interpretation.
It goes without saying that Chez Panisse, Alice Waters, and David Tanis are major inspirations for me. The story of how Alice arrived at her approach to cooking, and of how Chez Panisse came about and was run during its early days, was majorly influential towards this project's evolution. When I started it, fresh out of college, at age 23, I didn't even know her name or anything about the restaurant. My friend found a poster from the Chez Panisse 3rd birthday party at thrift store, showed it to me excitedly, and was shocked that I only responded to how lovely the graphic design was. Ha! That poster now hangs framed in my kitchen, a spirit object.
A few guests on this night had had significant experiences at Chez Panisse. One guest told us of how her father was part of the crew that rebuilt the restaurant after the big fire of 1982, and how she was there, as a child, for the dinner thrown as a thank you to the crew. Another had a friend who worked there, when she was in law school, and would get to go in after hours and eat leftovers.
I've only eaten at Chez Panisse once, and I remember every second of it. A spoonful of cauliflower soup changed my cooking life forever. The next time I visited San Francisco was one week after the 2013 fire. My friends and I got a pizza at the Cheese Board, a bottle of wine from wherever, then ate and drank on the empty front steps of the restaurant, to pay homage.
25 April 1999
Shellfish and Fairview Gardens white asparagus salad
with mustard blossom vinaigrette
Oregon clams (or Portland-grown oyster mushrooms, for two keeping kosher) and Viridian Farms asparagus salad
with mustard blossom (S.G.) vinaigrette.
So happy that Viridian turned up to sell asparagus. They stopped farming this year, but hopefully will continue dolling out their perennials.
Also featuring salad burnet (S.G.), sunflower shoots, and pickled purple sprouting broccoli. With house-milled, wood fired bread from Tabor Bread, just down the street.
Artichoke and spring garlic soups
Cardoon (S.G.), wild ramps, and spring garlics, in a soup
Regardless of the weather this year, we still aren't in California- so no artichokes were to be had. What could we do? Cardoons from my garden, which Sofie meticulously treated as per Alice Waters and Deborah Madison's advice, with wild ramps, and a broth containing green garlic from 3 sources (including S.G.). Groundworks Organics, a great large organic farm, had made green garlic powder from the Bar Tartine cookbook we love so much, so of course we bought some and used it throughout the meal (and dusted the top of the soups with it). We later learned that Bar Tartine's chefs Cortney Barns and Nicholas Bala were actually IN PORTLAND on that same day, and were also shopping at the farmer's market!
Baked Northern halibut with
morel mushroom hachée sauce,
vegetable ragout and garden greens
Baked Northern halibut with
morel mushroom hachée sauce,
vegetable ragout and garden (S.G.) greens
Vegetable ragout: green garlic, leeks, spring onions, carrots, new potatoes, salad turnips, fava beans (all from the farmer's market).
The morel mushroom hachée sauce was mind bogglingly good. A gargantuan quantity of morels were cooked in butter with equal parts onions, added some red wine vinegar, then simmered in a lidded dutch oven for the better part of three hours.
The fish was baked on a bed of green garlic (S.G.) leaves, since we had them in excess.
The green salad was just entirely from S.G.- a mix of frisée, sorrel, lettuces, and herbs, served with a simple champagne vinaigrette.
Strawberry and orange sherbet bombe
Strawberry and orange sherbet "bombe," with rhubarb compote in the middle, topped with elderflower cat's tongue cookies and elderflowers.
We couldn't quite pull of the old school layered molds of sherbet to then slice into and serve to 17 before melting, so we chose to layer the two separate sherbets I made (improvising, quite successfully, I'd say!) in mason jars, divided by some great rhubarb compote I'd made and didn't have anything else to do with.
Sofie made these simple 'cat's tongue' cookies (a lot like madeleine's, without the expensive molds) with elderflower insides. We scattered each serving with more elderflowers.
Served with a Rwanda Kanya Bourbon coffee from Four Barrel, in San Francisco. This coffee was extra special in relation to this meal, not only because it comes from closer to Chez Panisse than any Portland coffee, but because Four Barrel owner Jodi Geren's family lived up here at the beginning of the school year. Her partner, Alex, and their son, Sully, were dear to me and the families involved in this night. We raised a coffee cup toast to them and fondly remembered Sully and his silken cape.
Just as dessert was about to be served, Michael busted out the Veuve Clicquot. He just happened to have it. "A gift from my realtor. Tryin' to butter me up, I guess." I absolutely adored watching him bust it open while talking to us, and how he poured me a water-glass portion of it.
A special thanks to the Secret Restaurant skeleton crew for making my hyper-specific vision come to life. Sofie Sherman-Burton and Kate and Peter Schweitzer– you guys are always amazing! Lucas was spring breaking (alas, not totally MTV style spring breaking) in Mexico, eating other awesome food.