Dining at Chez Panisse
In 1971, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse with a group of friends. I remember reading the history and how influential she was in David Kamp’s book, “The United States of Arugula.” Chefs are greatly influenced by her commitment to use locally sourced food. It has always been an idea to eat at Chez Panisse one day. But perhaps it wasn’t going to be the sole reason for a trip. Still, when Elliott asked me if I wanted to go, I immediately said yes.
When I first went to Berkeley, I was in college visiting a friend and though we appreciated good food, going to a high-end restaurant was just not in our pocketbooks. Even a decade ago, it seemed pricey. Now, years have passed and we were ready to tackle the 4-course tasting menu ($95). We had a glass of wine upstairs first and I somewhat regretted we weren’t eating at the more casual cafe as the menu sounded so great. But I reminded myself of our mission. We wanted to taste what started this food revolution of using locally sourced ingredients.
Note, the booze is apparently not bound by these rules as you could order wine from all over the world.
We were given little cheese puffs but we couldn’t stop eating the bread. The butter was incredibly fresh. Our tasting included an appertif as well.
The chicory salad with goose proscuitto was a brilliant way of displaying just how fresh the produce was. I loved everything about this salad but the goose proscuitto was the best part. Not only did it provide a bit of salt to the salad, it was also an usual flavor.
Next up was the Pacific cod with potato puree (mashed potatoes!) and black truffle butter. I wanted to like this dish but it just wasn’t very good. It was too salty, overcooked and if possible, too saucy.
People’s warnings to me how Chez Panisse was losing its edge and a reminder how they lost their Michelin star popped up in my head. But I tried to shrug it off with the memory of the recent salad.
But what do you know, Chez Panisse bounced back with a magnificent squab dish. We got an entire squab to nibble, gnaw and chew on. It was great and this little bird packed a powerful flavor punch. I later got to go to the kitchen and I observed how they grilled the pigeons.
I asked what bourbon was used for the bourbon ice cream and the answer was Maker’s Mark. The chocolate cake was extremely moist and a very well-made cake.
We had a great time and everyone we encountered was very friendly. They let us wander around the kitchen and we even had a chat back in pastry.
The next time I’m up in San Francisco, I wouldn’t mind taking another trip to Berkeley and I might even eat downstairs again but I know I’d like to explore what is going up upstairs. French is probably one of my favorite kinds of food and to have it made with local ingredients was really ideal. I think about all the wonderful meals I’ve had and often I find out the chefs have either worked at Chez Panisse or committed to the same locally-sourced theme.
Our server made a particular impression with us. She went to Cal and is from the Southern California area. She stayed in Berkeley after graduation and continued working at Chez Panisse. She is a baker and said there was no better place to be then where she was. We also look forward to seeing Howie, the sommelier come to Southern California. He was quitting soon and moving to L.A. to head up Bar Marmount’s revamp. Look for new menus in April or May.
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709-1598