Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Eastside Road, March 5, 2013—
TODAY WE FAST; yesterday we feasted. Well. We dined very well, but moderately.

We'd made yet another round trip to Oakland and Berkeley performing various errands, and met friends for a drink and a nibble in mid-afternoon, in lieu of lunch. There I had a plate of delicious jamón with a glass or two of fino, warming up for a looming trip to Iberia. Spanish ham and Spanish sherry: now there's an example of elective affinities.

• César, 1515 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.883.0222
A DRINK AND A NIBBLE do not constitute dinner, though, so we moved next door, joining a granddaughter and her other grandparents. Here I was happy to see chicories with anchovy dressing and a soft-cooked egg, a fine take on the classic Caesar salad; many other restaurants would simply call it that, probably.

From there I went to saltimbocca, a favorite of mine and one of the Hundred Plates, I hereby declare (reminding myself it's high time to update that list). But here I had indeed met a revisionist: this was chicken saltimbocca, as the menu had promised: a flattened breast of chicken, layered with a veil of prosciutto, flavored with sage, and grilled, finished I would bet in a pan.

I'd been thinking about Roman saltimbocca, of course; veal with prosciutto and sage, rolled up, sliced into bites, and quickly sautéed. To me what arrived was closer to what I have always called chicken valdostana, except that that dish involves a thin layer of cheese as well as the prosciutto. (Hmmm: have to dust that recipe off one of these days…)

In any case, a fine main course, arriving with sautéed broccoli di ciccio and a purée involving root vegetables, chthonic and grounded.

I ordered a glass of Arneis, one of my favorite wines, a white one from Piemonte. The waiter asked if he might bring me a taste of it to see if I really wanted it. Interesting. On tasting it I saw his reason: very uncharacteristic. Rather nice, but not at all what I expected. I made do with the bottle of rosé the rest of the table were having; then had a glass of the Arneis after all, with the saltimbocca.

The sommelier pointed out that Arneis, like any grape, grows in a number of soils, is finished in a number of ways. This one was from Piemonte, all right, in the Roero, between Bra and Asti; but finished in a rather richer, thicker style than the grape has traditionally been given. On reflection it seems closer to a white Rhone than to a white Savoie. It makes me stretch my expectations. I'm glad it's here; I like it very much — but I hope the Arneis I'm used to continues to be made as well.

Rosé, "Ameztoi," Getariako Txakolina (Spain), 2011 (light and pleasant though not really "amazing"); Arneis, Cascina Val de Prete (Roero), 2010 (see above)
• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525

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