Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chez Panisse – Organic Magic in the Making

Dan and I are currently on the West Coast, and I must say, there’s no shortage of delicious food. Every corner of San Francisco, where we’re currently staying boasts an interesting array of food options, including gourmet food trucks and stands, bakeries, organic salad & sandwich shops, farmers markets, and the like. However, even though there’s plenty of greatness to choose from right in San Fran, we couldn’t resist taking a short train ride over to Berkeley to visit Chez Panisse.

For those of you not familiar with this Bay Area staple, Chez Panisse is the mastermind of food visionary, Alice Waters, who practically invented the farm-to-table movement. Every foodie who’s worth her salt has been, and I just had to see what it’s all about.

Located on the pretty Shattuck Avenue in Downtown Berkeley, Chez Panisse is situated in an area the locals call the “gourmet ghetto.” Seeing its quaint exterior, I knew I’d love this place, as it was decked with a raw heads of garlic—a nice foreshadowing of what was to come during our meal.

As soon as we stepped inside, I was even more glad we came. The interior was beautiful and inviting, with cherrywood paneling on the walls, warm lighting and the most amazing smell that emanated throughout the dining room. Since we ate in the café area, we headed upstairs and were welcomed by a friendly maitre-d who sat us at a temporary table while we waited. This turned out to be a big highlight of our experience, as the table next to us hosted some major talent such as Sir Ian McKellen (yes…that would be Gandolfe the Grey), Patrick Stewart and Billy Crudup.

Since we chose the café as our first Chez Panisse experience, we were able to order a la carte, instead of from the elaborate tasting menu that’s offered downstairs in the more formal setting. I loved this approach, as it allowed us to be flexible and share an appetizer and dessert, which was the perfect amount of food.

Endive Salad – We couldn’t dine at Chez Panisse without getting a taste of their famous salads – simple, yet expertly composed veggie plates that Alice Waters is known for. Choosing the endive salad with chopped scallions, smoky bacon and crumbled farm fresh eggs was a perfect way to start, as each ingredient had delicate flavor and was thoughtfully composed into an earthy medley.

Steak with Shoestring Potatoes – Spotting this Monday night special on the menu, we both decided to go for it and weren’t sorry. The portion was modest, but ended up being just enough, as the grass-fed steak produced a melt-in-your-mouth bite and the herb butter on top melted into each delicious crevice. Devouring the shoestrings, they were super crunchy, almost reminding me of gourmet potato stix that were nice to pair with the peppery leafy greens.

Plum Galette – Dessert was an absolute must, and once again we went with an earthy, rustic option, which was this beautiful plum galette. I loved that it wasn’t overly sweet and the crust was the perfect amount of crumbly and buttery. The pretty pink scoop of ice cream you see was raspberry in flavor, which added a nice touch of tartness to this otherwise mild dessert.

Service and Cost:
Besides the food, the service is a big highlight here, as all the waiters are experienced and bring a touch of old world charm to the entire experience. I love that they have an opinion about what’s good, and it was refreshing to see that some of the waiters are closely acquainted with the patrons.

Costs are very fair and quite surprising for the quality of the overall experience you get. I really appreciate that Chez Panisse takes exceptional care of its customers and that they don’t exploit their popularity, as some restaurants of their caliber do. The entire meal set us back about $95, which included drinks, tax and tip.

3 locally grown Mmmms

Chez Panisse - 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley CA 94709
BART to Downtown Berkeley

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