Berkeley, March 19, 2009
EVERY YEAR CHEZ PANISSE celebrates the coming of Spring with a dinner honoring Parsi New Year, with a menu conceived and executed by Niloufer Ichaporia King, who was born in Bombay to a Parsi family. There have been
And, you might say, even the fifth sense, hearing: most obviously in the snap of the
We began with little dishes of cashews, lightly seasoned to match the pappadum, and pickled tiny carrots and radish slices, with a nice twist on Kir royale: a glass of cava flavored with pomegranate juice.
Then came Bombay potato balls — deep fried mashed potatoes, I'd say — with fried curry leaves and steamed semolina bread, with an avocado chutney on the side, a delicious Parsi version of guacamole, perhaps, all prettily laid out on a banana leaf. Those curry leaves! crisp, pungent, deep…
Then a bowl of Niloufer's traditional "Auspicious dal," to confirm the promise of the New Year, with its Zen-like circle of spices further delineating the significance. With these two courses we had a fine Pinot blanc from Domaine Weinbach (Alsace), 2006.
Three oysters on the half shell came next, an Arcimboldo version of a fleur-de-lis, on a bed of rock salt, with a mignonette sauce lifted judiciously with lime and chili: perfect with a little glass of Crémant pink with the skins of its pinot noir.
Plat principal: and the photo does not do it justice. Grilled and braised rabbit in pistachio cream; springtime pulao (pilaf) with peas; a deep green note of nettles and chard, reminding us that Spring issues from the dark depths of Winter; and chicory salad with tamarind and slices of kumquats. The rabbit was succulent, meaty yet delicate, the cream sauce complex but light with its pistachio and turmeric. With this, a cuirous an very good "Vassal de Puech" Languedoc 2006, earthy and fertile.
Rhubarb Ice, faluda, and sweets:
the faluda recalling the feel (though not the flavor!) of the pistacho cream, the little date pastry visually recalling the Bombay potato… what an intelligent, artful, good-humored dinner this was. And, as always, a delightfully printed menu decorated by David King (who also pounce-stencils the ritual blessings on the steps to the restaurant), and fabulous floral displays… too bad it comes but once a year. At other times we make do with Niloufer's fine book, My Bombay Kitchen, and look forward to next March.