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How I survived my 65th birthday: Dinner at Chez Panisse!

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Good grief! Who would ever have thought that I would make it all the way to age 65 without accumulating gray hair, arthritis, a walker or a plot in the cemetery. I'm all proud of myself. But just to make sure that this landmark birthday was tolerable and that I didn't slip into shock anyway, I splurged and treated myself to dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world -- Chez Panisse!

Me, my son Joe, his significant other Laura, their unborn Baby New Year and my youngest daughter Ashley all trooped off to the restaurant. Here's the menu:

Monday, July 2 $50

-- Little gems lettuces, golden beets, and house-cured pancetta with herb vinaigrette
-- Poulet à la broche: Soul Food Farm chicken stuffed with garlic and sage; with green beans, savory, and corn custard
-- Royal Blenheim apricot tart with noyau ice cream

My birthday was actually July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, but they were closed on that day so on July 2, we got all dressed up fancy (I was actually NOT wearing jeans), popped into Joe's car and drove across town. And what happened next was both magical and weird.

First off, it turns out that we knew the waitress. She had gone to school with my daughter Ashley and they had been in the same school play during sixth grade at Willard Middle School. Then we all gushed about the good old days for a while and how sad it had been when their drama teacher, the wonderful denise brown, had died suddenly. Then the waitress brought us shot glasses full of something white and creamy. "What is it?" I asked.


"Cucumber, yogurt, cumin, coriander and olive oil."

"But what's that crunchy taste?" Our waitress called over the salad chef to explain it to us. And he actually came to our freaking table!

"It's konjai -- black mustard seeds." Then we got the actual salad. And we gushed about that. Chez Panisse can make a WICKED salad and they are famous for them -- justly so.

"Hey, this stuff on top tastes like bacon bits," said Ashley. We asked the salad chef what it was.

"Pancetta."

"What's that?"

"Bacon bits." And the baby tomatoes were so actually tomato-ish that it brought back memories of the days when a tomato actually tasted like a tomato. The vinaigrette was excellent. The beets gave it a taste variety. Every salad needs a variety of textures and tastes.

"Hey," said Joe, "There's an aphid on my plate!" Then we all took a look at the aphid and sure enough there it was, happily crawling around on the edge of the plate. Joe got out his video camera and videotaped it. Ashley whipped out her cell phone and took its picture. Then we watched it do laps around the edge of the plate. It seemed to want to determinedly trudge on forever but by its third lap we got bored.

Do you think that we should tell the waitress?" I asked.

"No," replied Joe. "It just proves that the lettuce was organic."

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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)
 
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You were really good sports about the aphid. Let u... by Kathlyn Stone on Monday, Jul 16, 2007 at 7:53:54 AM
Bourdain would consider aphids a sign of freshness... by Bernard on Monday, Jul 16, 2007 at 4:06:48 PM
Thanks for a break in the Op Ed news.  Kind o... by davy on Tuesday, Jul 17, 2007 at 7:13:16 AM