Narsai David's "Alexis Bespaloff" chicken dish
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On Sun, 19 Nov 2006 16:58:32 -0800, "Max Hauser" wrote:
Narsai David was an influential restaurateur around
Berkeley, California from the 1970s.
He was on tv a lot in the '70s and '80s. So how's ol' Narsai doing
these days? Is he retired? Did any of his kids go into the business?
He has broadcast brief spots on food and cooking, a couple new ones each
week, for years on KCBS radio.
Narsai was associated with other Berkeley restaurants before the 1971
opening of Narsai's (in Kensington just north of Berkeley). Reminiscences
of the earlier restaurant scene there appear sometimes on online food-wine
fora. Narsai's coincided with Alice Waters's Chez Panisse in Berkeley
although the two restaurants had different formats. (Panisse's dining room
was simple, after the modest local French restaurants that Waters has
described as inspiration; menu changed steadily with local ingredient
sources. Narsai's created a more formal interior and service with elements
typical of US high-end dining then: tableside carving, flaming, etc.) Both
helped establish a destination restaurant scene in Berkeley by about 1980.
Wines were a particular strength of Narsai's. It was the gathering place
and cellar site for the Berkeley Wine and Food Society, "about as
sophisticated and knowledgeable group of wine fanatics as existed anywhere
in the world at the time (1960s-1970s -- see Hugh Johnson's memoirs and his
comments about `the doctors')," wine writer Claude Kolm wrote recently --
also the genesis of other tasting groups in the region. The 1978 menu card
I saved is a heavy cardpaper printer's sheet 45 x 60 cm (18 x 24 inches)
folded in half, menu printed on the front face, and the inside crowded with
fine-print wine listings with four-digit bin numbers. Sections for France,
Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Australia, and California. Examples: No.
1057, 1972 Roumier Bonnes Mares, USD $19. No. 1241, 1955 Inglenook
California Cabernet, $55, amazing in retrospect.*
Regarding family, several years ago there was local publicity about a son
starting a business to supply very fresh, caviar-like domestic fish eggs --
very lightly salted if I remember. I don't know any more about that.
Interesting to see some of the other memories here.
Cheers -- Max
* For anyone who does not know the history of Inglenook _before_ a large
corporation acquired it and used the label for 1970s dating-bar "Chablis,"**
it was one of the great wineries in California history that established
California wines internationally. By 1982, the '55 Inglenook Cabernet had
sold at auction at $1000 a bottle, unheard-of in those days. A friend and
wine guru of mine who'd bought California wines thoughtfully in the 1950s
and 60s, at a few dollars a bottle, had a dozen or two of that 1955
Inglenook, and used it and other 1950s-1960s California wines in a 1982
tasting showing some of us just how good California wines could be. (Wine
was also a signature element at the earlier restaurants Narsai was connected
with, and topic of local anecdotes therefrom.)
** Which "smelled like a cheap German wine and tasted like a Popsicle"
(Matt Kramer, Oregon, late 1970s.)