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Going "budget" at Chez Panisse

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My girlfriend and I are serious food-obsessives, and in a couple months will begin a year of living abroad.

We've been in the east bay for the past three years and have not managed to try Chez Panisse downstairs (we have been to the cafe), and both of us feel like we should really have at least one meal there before we move away.

However, as we're both about to quit our jobs (at non-profits which didn't pay all that much anyway), we're in serious budget mode, and feel that we can only really afford a Chez Panisse meal if it's a Monday night and we stick to drinking water.

So here's my question, which is a bit silly, but nevertheless: will we feel uncomfortable or awkward not ordering any wine, or any drinks at all other than water at a Chez Panisse downstairs dinner? Is drinking wine enough an "expected" part of a meal of that caliber that we will feel like we're doing something wrong?

I assume, given the level of service at Chez Panisse, that the answer is no, but I want to see what other folks have to say about that.

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  1. You should be perfectly comfortable. They get their share of nondrinkers.

    1. Never been to Chez Pannise, but always order plain old tap water with the tasting menus we have had. I don't drink alcohol and really don't like anything else with my food but water. Yes - sometimes service is a bit snobby when I order just tap water, but they get over it. French Laundry for instance seemed to be a bit taken off guard that I didn't want wine, but just tap water, but it worked out just splendidly. I always figure it is not my problem but theirs if they are annoyed by it - so just go and enjoy the experience.

      That being said - when I was about to burst with my first child, my husband whisked me away for a dinner in Napa. We were dirt poor and so we couldn't be extravagant even if we wanted to, but we did want a nice restaurant. Anyway, the waiter was so nice about not drinking alcohol because I was obviously pregnant, and even praised my husband for abstaining and having water too (so as not to drink in front of his poor pregnant wife). So if all else fails have your girlfriend stick a pillow under her shirt j/k : )

      1. I only ate at Chez Panisse once, and I thought the service was very professional. I think you are right to assume the answer is no.

        1. Been there, done that. I can guarantee an eyebrow will not be raised. The wait staff is very gracious & professional.

          1. You would also be most welcome to bring a bottle of your own. The staff is very warm and if you engage in conversation about your upcoming trip may very well comp the corkage fee. Not sure how you feel about this option, just don't bring Two-Buck Chuck.

            2 Replies
            1. re: rabaja

              It would be nice if CP comped the corkage but I wouldn't count on it simply because those things usually get stuck when you can least afford it.

              Once brought a $35-ish bottle to CP...the corkage make it basically the same price as they served something very similar. Seems corkage really only make sense if the wine is in the special, rare or expensive category.

              If you want wine w dinner, you might try splitting or drinking out of the same glass. As mentioned, they wouldn't bat an eye. It might add $8-10 bucks to the bill.

              1. re: rabaja

                Corkage is $25. There are half bottles on the list for less than that, and a full bottle of nice rosé for $28.

                I've had the corkage ($25) comped often, but typically we buy at least two bottles from the list for each one be bring in. If you don't buy any wine, you're much less likely to get comped.