HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Chez Panisse Cafe disappointment

  • o

I felt very fortunate picking up a last minute 7:15 reservation at the Cafe last night, as we hadn't been in some time. Admittedly, I was after the crab and the appetizer was wonderful. But then came my crostada. Granted it isn't cutting edge- and I've ordered them before, but this was the most insipid, saltless version I've ever had. I complained to the waiter who appeared aghast that anyone would complain about the food at Chez Panisse (but did remove it from the check). It's not the first time this kind of thing has happened. We stop going for a while, give it another chance, eat something completely devoid of flavor etc etc etc. Am I missing something or do others find the same to be true. The emperor occasionally forgets a his clothing?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've been to Chez Panisse Cafe three times in the past year or so and have been disappointed each time. I really do not understand what all the fuss is about. I have been told by people whose opinion I really trust that they have had spectacular meals there (which is why I kept going back). But I consistently leave there thinking that I would have had a better meal if I'd stopped off at Monterey Market, bought some fresh ingredients, and cooked them myself at home. Maybe Chez Panisse Cafe was more exciting when it was harder to get good fresh ingredients than it is today? To me, their cooking is just simple home cooking, not all that well executed. I'd agree that the emperor does not always dress for dinner.

    1 Reply
    1. re: berkeleybob

      You have pointed out an observation that seems to get me in trouble. I too am quite disappointed at places friends rave about. We must realize that people's tastes differ, and if the evaluator is a good cook, the evaluation is skewed. Rarely do my wife and I feel that we dined better than we can eat at home...yet we like to dine out. Its a compromise.

    2. We have very occasionally had less than great meals at CP Cafe--we had one such last week, w/ a turnip soup that didn't quite make it (the creme fraiche cooled off the soup, and the taste was a little muddy), and a persimmon pudding that was good but, well, not as good as the one I make (smile). That said, my husband loved his crab appetizer (I'm not a crab fan), and the pizza we shared--cheese and salami w/ fresh Italian parsley sprinkled on the cooked pie-was quite nice, the parsley a simple but lovely taste/texture against the rest. And the service was fine. Another time this fall, the food was great, but the service off--and they comped us (without our complaining) an additional glass of wine while we waited and some olives, leaving us pretty mellow. We eat there a fair bit, and most of the time,I'd say more consistently than at any other place in the Bay Area, we're delighted with the food, the service, the whole experience. I guess like any place, there are off days. And off dishes--some of it's in the ordering, maybe. There are several places in the Bay Area that don't merit their reputation. I don't feel that way about Chez Panisse.

      1. i love this board, but it has to be the only place where chez panisse and places such as the french laundry just aren't quite good enough.

        1. I'm trying to remember when I had this experience. Was it '78? But the buttered radishes were exquisite. So fresh.

          1. I think it's fair to say it's possible to have a mediocre meal there. I made a trip to dinner at the cafe with a friend last year right after Christmas.

            My salad was fine but unexceptional. But I was totally surprised the short ribs I ordered were so blah - the rich flavor I associate with great short ribs was absent and why else do you order short ribs? And the root veggies on the side had no texture or taste. My friend thought his dinner was fine but no huge raves.

            However the ginger creme brulee was the very best dessert I have ever, ever eaten in my life. They could have fed me anything before, and it would still be an incredible dining experience just for that creme brulee.

            Next time - maybe just dessert!

            7 Replies
            1. re: ks

              I have had many a disappointing meal at C.P. More often downstairs...overcooked chicken, so-so white bean/lamb. etc..always better at my house. Sometimes it has been good though. The real claim to fame in my family is that Alice Waters catered my brothers bar mitzvah in the restaurant for $5/head. Circa 1972. I spit out the tarragon chicken pastry...I was young...

              1. re: rebonga

                Umm...this thread was almost eight years old.

                1. re: lexdevil

                  yeah it is. but it is a topic that gets a good bit of talk still...i think oldunc has a good point. chefs change all the time over there...so if you hit the right day of the right year you might be lucky or unlucky..depending. i just think when roast chicken is anything but fantastic in a place like that..it is pretty much a sign of not being on top of the kitchen...

                  1. re: rebonga

                    Not saying you shouldn't have posted. I would simply have chosen a more recent thread. A better choice might have been http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/725723

                    1. re: lexdevil

                      I dunno, bumping a thread from 2003 reduces the likelihood of yet another rehash of the "CP has gone downhill" discussion.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I guess it is old hat to many, the 'downhill' trend...the funny thing is, perhaps outside of chowhound, people KEEP talking about, mostly, how great CP is, and I always feel unaligned...and it's NOT because they have simple food that is not interesting...I love simple food.

                          I do want to start a thread about some other newer spots on the scene to see what people think..upcoming..

              2. I understand Chez Panisse no longer gets any stars from Michelin- probably the constant changing of key personnel has caught up to them.

                7 Replies
                1. re: oldunc

                  We went a few weeks ago for my daughter's 12th birthday. Not only did they treat her like a queen, with a tour of the kitchen and the gift of a Cafe Fanny cookbook but she loved every bite she took. In fact, we all loved our food and we're a tough crowd. I'd go back in a heartbeat!

                  Cafe Fanny
                  1603 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                  1. re: kellylee

                    One of the few uphill reports of CP - I'm more than curious.

                    Did you eat upstairs or downstairs - and what other restaurants do you think are doing well in the east bay these days? Who is CP's competition, in your eyes?

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      We ate upstairs. I feel like Pizzaiolo is CPC's competition foodwise. The vibe at Pizzaiolo is livelier and the food is excellent. In Berkeley, maybe Rivoli or Gather??

                      5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                      Rivoli Restaurant
                      1539 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Have had wonderful simple meals upstairs but an indifferent uninteresting meal downstairs. The Summer butter tastes like scrubb grass smells. Not a favorite though everyone else was raving about it.I asked for it to be replaced with something from better than the local scrubb.grass/

                        The Blunose with myer lemon concasse was perfect, Very good as long as long as Alice isn't cookin,I hear. Our chefs and owners loved the food in '93 upstairs..

                    2. re: oldunc

                      I've been going to CP both upstairs and downstairs for decades, and both have seemed consistent to me, though there now a number of other places that do similar food just as well or maybe better.

                      Gather is good but not on the same level. Rivoli is great but I think the food is more complicated. The food at Pizzaiolo is similar in style to upstairs at CP.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I must admit, it threw me to see this very old thread of mine resurface.
                        I don't see the point of bring a thread of this age to the fore.
                        That said, I haven't returned to Chez Panisse Cafe since my inital thread in 2003.

                        Chez Panisse
                        1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "though there now a number of other places that do similar food just as well or maybe better."
                          Robert, you hit the nail on the head. CP hasn't gone downhill, the others have simply caught up and, in some cases, surpassed it.

                      2. Still, I think that many people have rather elevated expectations of CP, even today, which are extremely difficult for a normal "mortal" restaurant to overcome. The historic significance of CP is certainly worth keeping in mind.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Tripeler

                          I had lunch there today. I've eaten downstairs more than upstairs - I can recall 3 upstairs lunches, and 1 upstairs dinner. One lunch and the dinner were fantastic. One was very good. One was good. (That was today). I don't have elevated expectations and it isn't a "destination" restaurant for me. However, I do expect it to be at least very good. Today's lunch won't dissuade me from returning. I can see that if someone had "meal of a lifetime" expectations after eating in a lot of great restaurants that it can never live up to that.

                        2. Earlier this year, my wife and I ate at the Cafe at Chez Panisse and a week later, ate at Range. We are longtime fans of the Cafe, but there was no wow factor in anything we ordered and felt that while the service was good, there was a definite attitude such that I could understand Oakland Barb's observation that the waiter was aghast about a complaint. We left the Cafe saying, "Well, that wasn't special." Maybe it's a factor of the rest of the world catching up a bit. When we went to Range, it was fantastic. We had the same feeling we used have at the Cafe. Maybe Range is the new Cafe for us. I will drag guests to Range. Can't say the same for the Cafe.

                          Chez Panisse
                          1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Frazimoto

                            I think the rest of the world has caught up. That said, I had a great meal there last summer as a walk-in, no res. One thing that i found CP to do better then most places is seafood and fish. They source excellent stuff and they know how to handle it. I always order seafood or fish there.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              I agree with the seafood and believe me, out of loyalty, I will never abandon CP. There have been too many extraordinary meals and moments to abandon such a special place.