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Chez Panisse Alternative?

Was so excited for the "experience" my one saturday night in SF, but of course they are closed for a private party that night. Made a reservation in the cafe, but not sure if it's worth the trip out to berkeley. So, what would a good plan B be, in a similar mold.

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    1. Michael Mina, Nopa, Quince, Gary Danko are all good options for fine dining in San Francisco. Although the cafe is really good.

      1. The cafe is great and has gotten many good reports, esp since you can choose your meal rather than have a preset one.

        1. The food at the Cafe is similar to and just as good as downstairs, only major differences are that the menu's a la carte and there often aren't quite as many items on the plate. We often go there for birthdays and anniversaries since on weeknights my wife doesn't get off work until after the last seating downstairs.

          Oliveto is also great. It's more Italian than Chez Panisse but similar as regards getting the absolute best ingredients available.

          In San Francisco, Zuni or Incanto.

          1. What about Acquerello in SF? It's been around for a while and is something of an underground high-end favorite and less expensive than some. Didn't it get a Michelin star, like Panisse? (Robert and I have different impressions of Panisse restaurant vs. Cafe: I just heard another account of a Cafe meal, the cooked dishes were all Grilled This and Wood-Oven That, whereas further cooking methods are used downstairs -- a kitchen used also (only) as prep area for upstairs, per separate thread.)

            Saturday may be part of the problem. One famous book said "Never Eat Out on a Saturday Night" because Saturday is so popular and busy in US restaurants.

            5 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              While I agree with the Acquerello reccomendation (just looked at their menu this morning, it's very tempting), the cafe at Chez Panisse is worth a trip across the Bay.
              They make good use of the wood-fired oven and also offer a variety of preparations of meat, fish and poultry.
              The atmosphere upstairs is very convivial. If you want something more intimate, ask to sit on the porch. Assuming you are a smaller party, this will afford you some privacy, it's my favorite place to sit upstairs.

              1. re: eatzalot

                Acquerello's good and a great high-end value but not in the same league as Chez Panisse.

                Upstairs or downstairs, as you can see from the menus, most of the entrees at Chez Panisse come off the wood grill or out of the wood oven. This week's downstairs menus have four grilled entrees, one quail (most likely roasted in the wood oven), and a tagine, so four or five out of six; the current sample Cafe menu (from 5/11) has one wood-oven entree, one grilled, one braised, and one pan-fried, so two out of four (later in the week they'd usually have more entrees).

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Hi Robert, yes, you mentioned the current menus before, in support of your view of the restaurant-Cafe relationship. My point is only that there are other views. The two restaurants are under independent operation and direction and always have been, overlapping consistently only in ingredient sources. The downstairs fireplace serves for grilling and rotisserie. Cafe upstairs has a wood grill and a wood-fired pizza oven sometimes used for other things too. I enjoy the Cafe a lot -- some people prefer the experience to the restaurant.

                  Also for what it's worth, the Michelin Guide finds Acquerello and Panisse (downstairs) in the same league.

                2. re: eatzalot

                  I just ate at Acquerello tonight and it was delish. It isn't like chez in that the atmosphere is very refined and quiet. but the food was excellent, they were very accomdating to my 11 and 7 yr old. cousins who eat everything, and the service was outstanding...however, we brought the median age down about 15 years.

                3. Well worth the trip. The cafe has a different feel and style and many people actually prefer it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Judith

                    i would add universal cafe and bar tartine to the list. haven't had the opportunity yet to eat at "the" chez panisse, but i would choose either of these places over the cafe. don't get me wrong -- i have had excellent meals at the cafe, and i certainly agree that it's worth the trip, but i've found the menus at universal and bar tartine more interesting, and i prefer their atmospheres. menus at all three, i would say, are similarly haute, local, and seasonal.

                    i had a little bit of a weird experience last time i ate at tartine, which i admit was partly my fault. we sent back an obviously corked bottle of wine, ordered another bottle of the same wine, which if i recall was a tight bordeaux, and just couldn't shake the memory of the corked taste, so we sent that back too and ordered two glasses of a big, dumb pinot. (for the record, i'm not that kind of guy at all -- the decision to send back the second bottle was an existential struggle, especially since i don't really know enough about wine to be confident in such a move.) anyway, this episode understandably threw our waitress for a bit of a loop -- plates came out at weird times, she skipped a course, and was a little snappy when she explained why. bottom line, i'm slightly reluctant to return for fear of having to face her again, but i'm hoping this confession will help me to get over it because i love the place.