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Chez Panisse or Gary Danko---if you had one night, which would you choose?

Chez Panisse or Gary Danko---if you had one night, which would you choose?

Also what is the apporx cost?

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  1. They are entirely different. It depends on what you prefer: ingredient-driven cooking with minimum technique and saucing (CP), or ingredient-driven cooking with a bit more classic technique (GD). The type of service is also different, with GD being a bit more formal and "upscale."

    1 Reply
    1. re: Paul H

      What he said.

      Personally, I'd pick Chez Panisse, though.


    2. Chez Panisse. It's normally $50 Monday, $65 Tuesday to Thursday, and $85 Friday and Saturday.


      Gary Danko's prices are online:


      1. Danko food of a person. Technical perfection. Tighter presentation.

        CP food of a locale. Perfect ingredients. Elegant.

        Service comparably high but different styles.

        Personally I'd opt for CP. GD could be in any city. CP is synonymous with Northern California.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Karl Gerstenberger

          Exactly. All other things being equal, go with the place that's more unique and/or historically/culturally significant.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Gary Danko's certainly more like restaurants you might find in any other major city.

        2. agree, GD is like most fine high end food places, only not as interesting as Jean Georges or Charlie Trotter (or FLdry).
          Its a matter of style. Some people want the high end food thing foie gras and lobster. If thats your thing, GD, otherwise, Chez Panisse. (I prefer the cafe to the restaurant.)

          1. I'm in the minority I guess. I find CP overrated and pretentious, and hate the lack of choice on the menu.If you have just one meal, why spend it eating something you don't care for? I love GD.

            5 Replies
            1. re: goingoutagain

              I've never been served anything I didn't care for at Chez Panisse. Picky eaters would be better off going upstairs to order a la carte.

              Overrated? Chez Panisse is two of my five favorite restaurants. The only other place where I've eaten so consistently well year after year is Zuni Cafe.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                we have been going to Chez Panisse at least 2 or3 times a year (more upstairs in the cafe) since the early 80's and I have never had a bad meal - except the one time they had a special dinner and the dessert was some frozen anise (not my fav) souffle. I can't understand how anyone can be underwhelmed and consider the restaurant pretentious! It is the most unassuming of all 5 star restaurants around the bay area.

              2. re: goingoutagain

                pretentious is one word I can't imagine as being applicable to CP. I've never eaten at Gary Danko, so I can't really compare, but then, one reason I've never been enthused about going there is that it is my impression based on other reports that tables are crammed very close together (which seems to go with that 'bright lights big city feel' which I am not very fond of: yet one more reason besides my love for both the food and the service at CP that I would choose CP...)

                1. re: susancinsf

                  "Pretentious" was sloppy wording I guess. Overly precious is what I meant.

                2. re: goingoutagain

                  Agree. My husband and I have been decidely underwhelmed by this place. I can buy great local ingredients and prepare them simply at home for a lot less money. Especially since I don't get to the Bay Area as frequently as I once did, I wouldn't want to waste a dinner at CP.

                3. As people have mentioned, different places, different styles. If you want the "bright lights, big city, 3rd date feel, GD. If you want low-key, elegant, more intimate, 3rd anniversary feel, CP. FWIW, historically CP will have had the bigger impact over time.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ML8000

                    CP is elegant yet casually relaxed. I've never had the feeling (as I have in some "fancier" places) that the waiter is standing right behind my chair, waiting to pounce, er, be of service.
                    That's one of the reasons I like CP.

                    I like Oliveto even better, though, and have had more memorable meals there in the past 3 years. Zuni is also way up there.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      Exactly. I agree totally with the waiter behind your chair deal. It's annoying even if they're professional. If they're nutty, it's worse. I've been to another 4-star place (ranked at/near the top) and once had an annoying head waitstaffer, like it was theater. I kept thinking of the CP service model...smart, attentive, casual, confident, get out of the way.

                    2. re: ML8000

                      What a great post!

                      I hope Alice Waters sees it.

                    3. The food at CP may be simple, but every time I go (generally to the Cafe), there is at least one dish that amazes me and causes me to rethink a recipe or an ingredient. We had dinner there this past Saturday and both my husband and I were absolutely amazed by the honey ice cream (served with figs). While honey ice cream may sound simple -- even plain -- CP's version stared creamy yet light then exploded with rich honey flavor in the back of the mouth. Everything else we ordered was also perfect, but this ice cream was superstar. I agree with everyone else about the consistently wonderful, unobtrusive service. The staff seems to truly love the food and take great pleasure in sharing it with guests. This time, when I mentioned to one of the servers how much we enjoyed the ice cream, she told us the brand of honey CP uses (Marshall's) so that we could try to recreate it at home.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Jamie Rudman

                        Did she tell you specifically which Marshall's honey they use? That would be key, because Marshall's has literally dozens of honeys (from different hives feeding on different kinds of pollan), each with a different flavor profile.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          LOL. I'll never forget telling someone, a few weeks after dining at Le Castel, that I had had a truly magnificent bottle of Freemark Abbey's Cabernet Boche (this was the Fall of 1987, by the way). His question, which I could not answer, was "WHAT VINTAGE?" Oh, details, details.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Sorry! Should have known someone would want this information! She said that it was a wilflower honey from Marin. Looking at the Marshall's website, they have both a "Marin" wildflower and a "Marin Mix" wildflower. I may call for further clarification, but its more likely that I'll just get both and experiement.

                        2. I've been to both restaurants, and I love them both. I think that differing opinions are more a reflection of each hound's personal preferences than anything else. Both GD and CP do what they do extremely well, and the real question to ask yourself is which style you would rather experience.

                          GD is very much like other upscale, 3-4 star restaurants you would find all over the country and the world. They serve standard gourmet dishes such as lobster, foie gras, caviar, oysters, rack of lamb, beef tenderloin and chocolate soufflet. The ingredients are excuisite, the preparation is expert (although the sauces can be heavy handed) and the service is world class. There's nothing particularly unique or mind blowing, no experimentation with molecular gastronomy here, but the prices are quite reasonable for the caliber of restaurant. I think a three course tasting menu of foie gras, beef tenderloin and chocolate soufflet is an excellent value at $61 considering that most restaurants make you pay a supplement for each of those dishes. Four courses is $75 and 5 courses is $89. Although the food is priced well, the wine list is marked up a bit.

                          Chez Panisse is the epitome of California cuisine, a style of food that is best represented in the SF bay area. It is elegant but understated, with an emphasis on bringing out the best in each perfect ingredient. You wont find any heavy handed reductions or gastronomic expirementaion. However, you still may very well have a revelatory experience when you realize just how delicious a single ingredient can taste. I strongly disagree with the notion that most home cooks could do this at home. Although the expertise of the head chef is not thrust in your face as with some restaurants, it takes incredible skill to execute these seemingly simple dishes. Not to mention that most home chefs simply cannot source the ingredients that Chez Panisse uses as CP has developed relationships with farmers and ranchers over the decades and often gets first pick on the best of each crop and the finest cuts of meat.

                          The only real downside of Chez Panisse downstairs (the world famous restaurant is downstairs, a more casual though still excellent cafe is upstairs. For the full Chez Panisse experience, go downstairs) is the fixed menu. There is one menu of the evening, no options, they don't publish the menu until two weeks before dinner service and you have to make the reservation months in advance. They will make some substitutions from the cafe upstairs but then you are paying restaurant prices for cafe food. If a person in your party is a picky eater or has dietary restrictions you may not want to go to CP. But if you go into the restaurant with an open mind you are sure to have a great experience.

                          Overall, I'd say the CP is the more unique dining experience and if you are to only go to one restaurant in the Bay Area you should go to Chez Panisse. There are plenty of restaurants similar to, and even better than GD, but no one does California Cuisine better than Chez Panisse. I can see from your profile that you are doing a lot of international travelling and eating. I think that Chez will make for a more memorable meal and will give you a better understanding of the culinary scene in San Francisco.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            When do the menus come out? I thought it was at the end of the previous week.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              menus are usually posted at the end of the week - Sundays on the website and not 2 weeks prior. Reservations are taken 3 weeks ahead (we're going again with out of town guests this Thursday and the reservation was made a couple of weeks ago for a 6:30 seating) unless you want the weekend which is a little tougher to get into and all it is is one extra course - an apperitif.

                              I don't care for lamb and the last time we went they substituted with roasted chicken done to perfection.
                              Both restaurants are excellent but for the money and the dining experience, I still think Chez Panisse is better. Now, if you want to add the French Laundry into the mix - my vote is for the FL any day!

                              1. re: chewonthis

                                Friday and Saturday there's often an amuse and the desserts are usually more elaborate.

                                Reservations are taken one calendar month in advance.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I guess we got lucky when hubby called on 14Aug and got a reservation for the 31Aug - perhaps I should run and buy a lotto ticket!

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I think Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays get booked up faster.

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I was under the impression that if you call the restaurant two weeks before your reservation they will give you a preliminary menu, subject to ingredient availability.

                              2. For the first time this year I ate at both GD and CP (upstairs only).

                                GD is too over-serviced for my tastes. the food was good, especially the items i didn't order. typical. I wriggle with embarassment at that kind of service, I hate being handed a wine menu where everything is in excess of $100. too hoity toity for me.

                                chez panisse was far more comfortable, but i was upstairs. like GD the food was mostly good. not impressed by their pizza though.

                                1. how hard is it to get a CP reservation?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: pscurfield

                                    Depends on when you want to go. Special dinners such as Bastille Day typically book up the day they start taking reservations. Monday menus are out at the beginning of the month so may book up fast depending on the menu. Midweek, you might be able to get a reservation a few days ahead.

                                    They also have a waiting list. I've gotten in a couple of times.

                                    1. re: pscurfield

                                      Unless it's a special dinner, if you call one month to the day in advance when the phone open at 9am you should have no problem getting a reservation. After that, it's the luck of the draw.


                                    2. Many years ago, in a different incarnation, I think I wrote about the then-new CP as French and I recall Alice W saying I was the only person who "got" what she was trying to do.

                                      To my mind and from my experience, "California Cuisine" has far too much, often not mentioned, cream and butter lurking in dishes. More often than not, I feel slightly sickened after such meals. Not so at CP, though I don't get there often anymore. The last time I ate downstairs, I have to admit I was disappointed--I could have made the same meal with one hand behind my back, and it would not have been a "company " meal. Last time I ate upstairs, I found it a bit fussier than in olden times.

                                      I think it's the experience of both dining rooms I like most--I find them uniquely appealing, in different ways.

                                      The most impressive aspect of CP, which differentiates it from other restaurants, is its dedication to organic, sustainable ingredients--no small thing to some of us (or to the planet).

                                      That said, I may try the Monday dinner for my birthday.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Fine

                                        The last time I ate downstairs, we had:

                                        - olives; prosecco-citrus apéritif

                                        - grilled Cannard Farm leeks with egg and black truffles; 2003 René Muré pinot blanc "Tradition"

                                        - Bronze turkey and chanterelle mushroom ravioli in brodo; 2002 Guillemot Savigny les Beaune Serpentieres

                                        - Line-caught striped bass, sea scallops, and steelhead trout in red wine sauce with pancetta and glazed onions; black flat cabbage [i.e. tatsoi] and Yellow Finn potatoes; 1999 J.L. Chave St.-Joseph (estate)

                                        - Baba au rhum with Valencia oranges; 2003 Durban Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise

                                        I'd be very impressed to see anyone cook that meal alone, even with both hands.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I've never encountered a menu at CP this interesting. That said, I can get most of these ingedients locally, including heritage breed turkeys. Are people finding truffles in Berkeley these days? I doubt it. My quibble with CP is that they take good ingredients and produce blah food. I admire Alice's early radar on the local product front, but I've never had a meal at CP that I thought was worth the price. This is not meant as a slam on Robert, whose posts I genreally find informative.

                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                            I never find the food blah. That menu (which despite the date on the post was from January) is more French than sometimes, I think maybe they head that direction in midwinter.

                                            Here's this Saturday's menu, considerably more Italian-influenced:

                                            Amuse & apéritif tba
                                            Shellfish antipasto alla veneziana
                                            Ravioli verde in yellow tomato brodo
                                            Rack and loin of James Ranch lamb with cannellini beans, tomatoes, and peppers cooked in the coals
                                            Italian plum tart with frangipane

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I consider two dishes at Che P to be among the best I've had in my life:

                                              One (which I've described in a post a couple of years ago) was a large ravioli whose filling was a beautiful and delicious egg. On top of the egg was a large sage leaf and the whole thing had just a bit of a wonderful sauce I can't remember much about except that it was fabulous.

                                              The other dish was upstairs at the Cafe and it was a pasta dish with bitter greens and walnuts. The sauce was so good I tipped the plate and drank the last drops. My friends were none too pleased to be seen with me at that point.

                                              I agree that Chez P has ups and downs. I've had at least one bad meal upstairs and one mostly blah meal downstairs, but I've mostly had delicious food.

                                      2. I have dined at Chez Paniesse twice and found the service inadequate considering the service charge. Practially unprofessional. They need to bring their service up to speed, not what you would expect for such an expensive restaurant.

                                        The food is good though.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Parrot Fish

                                          Actually given the current prices ($50 on Mon, $65 T-Th and $85 for F & Sa), they're not that expensive. If you've ever spend $20 at a chain then CP is a bargain. CP is above moderate but check out the other 4-star places.

                                          1. re: ML8000

                                            Chez Panisse's relatively informal service is one of the things I like about it.

                                            The meal I posted about above was $85. The only comparable value I can think of among high-end places in the area is Acquerello's $110 five-course prix fixe including wine and refills.

                                          2. re: Parrot Fish

                                            The number of servers per diner does seem to be lower than many other places, and they are much more relaxed about things, not constantly tidying your napkin, etc. I personally found very few moments at which I would have wanted more attention, but the last time, my aperitif glass had a crack in it, which I noticed about halfway through drinking it. This could indicate a slightly too casual attitude somewhere in the back, and we certainly did mention it. I hope you mentioned any lapses in service, too, because if diners don't speak up, nothing will change... at any restaurant.