Perbacco: Passover Dinner

Joyce Goldstein is a culinary icon in California. After reading Goldstein’s newest book Inside the California Food Revolution, I gained a newfound appreciation for “California cuisine” and learned the specifications of liberally used phrases such as farm-to-table, organic, and locally produced. This Passover I got to taste some of the talented Goldstein’s famous cooking at Perbacco, one of San Francisco’s best Italian eateries that celebrates the bounty of California’s produce. While the dishes typify that found in the Piedmonte region of Northern Italy, the cuisine of Perbacco embodies the best of California cuisine because the food is prepared in such a way that the ingredients shine.

As a Jewish woman chef who specializes in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, Goldstein was the perfect guest to serve as co-head chef in the kitchen this Passover.

Observant Jews (which I was just for this 3 hour dinner) do not eat leavened bread on Passover. Instead, a flat cracker-like bread called matza is eaten. This matza was served with a date-based Haroset, which comes from the Sephardic Jewish tradition. This contrasts to the Ashkenazi Jewish preparation of Haroset which comprises of chopped up tart apples, sweet wine, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar.

Next on the prix-fix menu was the antipasta. The waiter set down the large platter in the center of the table so it could be served family style. I never enjoyed tasting chopped duck liver until this evening. Despite being the detoxifying organ in the body, liver from organically raised animals is a very nutrient dense food, packed with iron, protein, essential amino acids, and vitamin A. We then tasted Jewish style artichokes. Based on Roman Jewish culinary tradition, these artichokes were fried until they are crispy and golden brown. The other vegetables dishes served included roasted zucchini with mint and vinegar, peppers stuffed with eggplant, braised and marinated celery root, and Zuckerman’s Farm Asparagus. Finally, to finish off this thorough antipasta course we had Venetian sweet and sour mackerel with onion, pine nuts, and raisins. Raisins are the perfect accompaniment to a vast number of Jewish dishes.

Passover soup with chicken dumplings and eggs

Passover soup with chicken dumplings and eggs

Leek soup with wild mushrooms and potatoes

Leek soup with wild mushrooms and potatoes

To accompany the main dish, we had a beautiful display of braised and puréed vegetables.

Escarole braised with Garlic and Olive Oil, Olive Oil Potato Purée, and Braised Fennel Jewish style

Escarole braised with Garlic and Olive Oil, Olive Oil Potato Purée, and Braised Fennel Jewish style

For the meaty mains, there were four options to choose from. Here are three of them:

Sea bass with rhubarb sauce

Sea bass with rhubarb sauce

Lamb stew with green garlic

Lamb stew with green garlic

Albacore tuna with string peas

Albacore tuna with string peas

I anticipated a chocolate dessert, but instead found these sweet and light confections on a single plate, served family style. :

Caramelized strawberries with zabaglione, Passover hazelnut sponge cake, walnut cake, and lemon marzipan

Caramelized strawberries with zabaglione, Passover hazelnut sponge cake, walnut cake, and lemon marzipan

Passover at Perbacco might have to become a new tradition of mine.