We had our Valentine’s Day dinner early this year.  February 10 through the 14 are booked solid at Alice Water’s famous Chez Panisse, so we took the 9th.  At 5:30.  I commented to Jonathan that we were the only people in the restaurant without grey hair. He explained it was the Early Bird Special.

We actually got to eat in the downstairs part of the restaurant, where it is considered a privilege to be told what you are going to eat instead of choosing your meal from a menu. That’s because what Chez Panisse is famous for is taking the best and freshest of local produce and serving up extraordinary, flavorful meals.  Tonight’s dinner began with warm artichoke, chanterelle mushroom and parsley salad with black truffles. It was followed by a root vegetable and chicory minestrone with a grating of Parmesan on top, then grilled lamb with caper tapenade and garlic-fried potatoes.  Dessert was a pistachio ice cream bombe (sort of like a jello mold) on top of crunchy nougat with a marmalade of Meyer lemons drizzled around the plate.

What Waters’ cuisine seems to do best, aside from the obvious use of local, freshest, etc., is to make flavors collide.  You really notice the chicory because of the butter beans.  You really taste the pistachio ice cream because of the Meyer lemons.   Best of all, you leave feeling full but not sick.  But then, I wondered, what does that say about other restaurants that I’m used to leaving them feeling sick?

I’d like to go back and try some more.  But we’re only here a month and I’ll bet they’re booked up.