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Chez Panisse--How's the food, really?

Cheers SF Chowhounders. I've read so many wonderful things about the famous Chez Panisse. I'm a neophyte foodie in SD who will be in the SF area around Christmas and am very curious about Panisse. I consider myself a quasi-vegetarian (no beef or pork, rarely chicken, love fish and veggies), but not very adventurous with food. I'd love to get feedback on the food at Chez Panisse, and if it's worth the drive from SF to Berkeley to see what all the fanfare is about! For the most part I am just curious about this famous restaurant and cafe that seems to have started the local, sustainable food craze in CA (and now across the country). Thanks in advance for the feedback.

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  1. It depends on you.

    There are basically two groups with feelings about Chez Panisse. One group want innovation and cutting edge food. They usually hate Chez Panisse and don't get it. The other group that admires the skill of presenting the absolute top of the line meat, produce, fish, etc and letting the ingredients star.I'm a huge fan of Chez Panisse. Anyone who can make a tomato memorable to me five years later so that I can still almost taste it in my memory ... well, high marks in my book.

    It is NOT adventurous eating, but deceptivley simple.

    If you go to the cafe you don't need to make a major commitment like the downstairs restaurant. If you do choose downstairs, let them know what your preferences are at when you make a reservation (wont eat beef, pork or chicken). The upstairs is a la carte so you would have more control over your meal.

    http://www.chezpanisse.com/

    Anyway, having lived in the SD area (Vista), a trip over to the East Bay might be worth your while. Across the street from Chez is one of the best cheese shops on the west coast, the Cheeseboard.

    Also, the one thing I really, really mourned living in the SD area was not being near the Berkeley Bowl. The produce variety is amazing. Worth just walking through. Henry's and Jimbo's wasn't doing it for me ... not remotely close. I would get really annoyed by what those stores were selling. Currently the Bowl is selling maybe 25 different varieties of apples ... that is just one categorie ... 10 types of bananas, a dozen or more melons, etc.

    I hope you visit a farmers market when up here. That was something else I missed. The Saturday SF Ferry Plaza market is the one to go to, but Berkeley has some really good ones.

    If you like Chuao chocolate, you might be interested in a new place in Berkely called Chocolate Blue. The owner once worked at Charlie Trotters. I loved those Chuao passion fruit caramel candies, but Chocolate Blue makes one that is even better to me.

    There a lot of East Bay activities that would make your trip worthwhile. There are a few chocolate tours, a sake factory tour, vodka and spirits tasting at Hangar One ... so you could expand your drive to include other things.

    Hope you report back if you go about what you think.

    1. The restaurant is famous for a reason. The food is fantastic. I look for any excuse to drive there for a meal - and I live in Sacramento. So it's not hard to guess whether I think it's worth a drive across the Bay Bridge.

      The fact that you're "not very adventurous" shouldn't be much of a problem. The focus is on great ingredients; preparations tend to be fairly simple. Take a look at the menus online (www.chezpanisse.com ): we're not talking molecular gastronomy here.

      If you choose to eat in the cafe, there will be plenty of non-red-meat dishes to choose from. If you go to the restaurant, check the menu and let them know several days in advance if something runs afoul of your dietary restrictions; they'll graciously accommodate you.

      There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in San Francisco. There is no compelling need to drive across the bay for a meal. But the quality of the food and the iconic status of the establishment make it a trip that's well worth your while.

      1. I think especially as a quasi-vegetarian you would love the cafe -- try it!

        1. I would just go if you're curious. It's the only way to take care of it. I've heard of very few bad meals, if ever. Your rational seems like a worthy idea...to see what's it's all about, find the genesis of many modern food trends...and the food is excellent.

          I'll second what others have said...simple stuff absolutely shines. The two things I remember were amazingly simple but never had anything close before or since...pasta with truffles and a lobster tail roasted in grape leaves.

          If price or time is an issue, go for lunch at the cafe and/or make a half or third day trip out of it.

          1. Chez Panisse is good, no doubt about that. However, it won't blow you away. Yes, the ingredients are excellent, but if it's good cooking you're looking for, I don't find Panisse do be near the top. The downstairs, now at $95 for a four course meal on the weekend is a real rip-off. You almost just pay to say that you ate at Chez Panisse. If that's what you want, then fine, but I'd go to the cafe (still a little pricey for what it is...).

            However, if you're a vegetarian, there are two places in SF I'd recommend that are an easy match for Panisse (and better, as far as I'm concerned). If you're willing to drop dime, go to Coi. Daniel Patterson's food is unique, excellent, refined, and very vegetarian-friendly. If that place is a little too much ($120 for a nine-course set meal), go to Canteen. The vegetarian options there are excellent, and at similar prices as Panisse cafe, you're getting a better deal, from a much more interesting chef.

            As a favorite chef of mine once said: "Chez Panisse isn't a restaurant. It's a personal grocery shopper."

            19 Replies
            1. re: The Gourmet Pig

              The OP said they were not adventurous eaters, so COI would definately be out. This frequent Chowhound poster and blogger said that after spending $188 at COI he felt it was too much money for too little food.
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4243...

              Here's the link to his blog with his hilarious, to me, review with photos. The OP can decide if that is what she wants.
              http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/200...

              A small excerpt from the above blog "...the grand entrée, which was ... Beck Farms Pheasant. What I got were these two medallions of pheasant meat that were tasty but not very satisfying. I felt I was a giant eating a tiny meal. On the plate were these itsy bitsy pieces of roasted cauliflower florets (you could barely call them florets as much as they were cauliflower crumbs). "

              That being said, COI is high on my list to try. Canteen gets high marks. But there are a lot of good restaurants in SF. They come and go. There's always the chef and restaurant of the moment.

              However, 20 ... maybe even 10 years from now ... those names will be forgotten to be replaced by the hottest chef of the moment. While I believe Chez Panisse will always be a part of culinary history ... and I'd take bets they will still be in business.

              So to see what it is all about might be worth while.

              But then again, as I said in my other post, some people look for more innovation. If you look at that quote, your favorite chef is quoting Alice Waters or a dozen other people that quote is attributed to. If you search the boards there are lots of posts about who really said that.

              1. re: rworange

                Since the OP mentions "no beef or pork, rarely chicken, love fish and veggies" I think they should look at the Coi's menu. It is clearly the best restaurant in the city for getting a great meal without the usual gourmet protein suspects (beef, veal, lamb, duck). More than one poster here has called it the best vegetarian restaurant in the city.

                Coi has an undeserved reputation for the avant garde. Bauer was closer to the mark when he said, "Few chefs have such a meticulous focus on both product and technique.... two recent revisits to Coi have shown that his approach has continued to morph into a style that is not only highly individual, but could only happen in the Bay Area. I can't think of a single restaurant that has such a unique sense of place."

                The food at Coi has two major influences, first that of Alice Waters and the emphasis on local top-quality ingredients, and second, the post-modern school of Ferran Adria with it's texture transformations and intellectual playfulness. However, Coi is definitely Bay-Area and leans much more towards the ingredient side. Coi is the the restaurant that Chez Panisse would have become had it progressed any in the past 35 years.

                The menu can be found on the restaurant website, available from this link...

                -----
                Coi
                373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                1. re: Paul H

                  Yes, but it is that the post-modern school of Ferran Adria with it's texture transformations and intellectual playfulness. that might not appeal to someone not adventurous.

                  I seriously doubt Chez Panisse would have ever 'evolved' into COI. It is the anti-Chez Panisse ... not a bad thing, but CP doing anything but simply perfect seem inconceivable.

                  If anything it is Patterson who will be having the pressure to constantly re-invent his menu or be left in the beet dust. Had Chez Panisse changed it's style I would see it more like Ubuntu which still relies on absolute perfection in what is on the plate in terms of quality while taking some elements of each dish out of the norm in terms of execution.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Oh come on, now you are being silly. It's just as reasonable to suppose that Alice Waters is a cul-de-sac off of the roadway of fine dining as to assign that classification to Ferran Adria.

                    Despite what emerges from some posts around here, Alice Waters didn't invent restaurants or eating. The history of fine dining is long and features a lot of illustrious names: François Massialot, Brillat-Savarin, Georges Auguste Escoffier, Paul Bocuse, the publication of Larousse Gastronomique, Alice Waters, Ferran Adria, etc. These folks weren't following fads, they all were building on the past and creating the evolution of fine dining.

                    It's silly to think that Chez Panisse is the pinnacle of fine dining, that, in Berkeley in a pleasant arts-and-crafts bungalow, we have reached the "end of restaurant history." Everything needs to change and evolve or it will die.

                    Chez Panisse is now a museum. I like visiting museums, but don't think it is especially useful to create a religion of the past.

              2. re: The Gourmet Pig

                I totally agree with the Gourmet Pig, and want to add: if you have access to great ingredients and are a careful cook, CP is not at all impressive. However, if you want bragging rights, or to see for yourself what all the hype is about, then definitely go so you can add your voice to the mix.

                1. re: Claudette

                  "Not impressive" if you have "access to great ingredients and are a careful cook"

                  The great ingredients you dismissively speak of are not available to any one person, unless you are beyond obsessive. Stocks for example. You're going to butcher whole lamb, pork, fish to enable you to make Chez Panisse style stock? Roast the bones. Make fumet. Double stock, blond stock, brown stock? You're going to fly down south and buy some Chino vegetables? While you're at it rendevous in Bolinas with your mushroom forager. Those desserts are painfully simple. Perfectly ripe fruit is available at Andronicos? Rotisserie roasts with fruit wood are easy to simulate on the Weber. A pizza stone duplicates a wood oven. You have refrigerator space to cure pancetta, and a vinegar barrel too.

                  Chez Panisse is not so much a restaurant. It is a relationship. It's a web of paths formed over decades. Saying that it is dead, or that it leads, or that its hype misses the point. Go ahead and grouse if molecular food on a metal apparatus is more "current". Current and cutting edge at Chez Panisse happens every day when ingredients are accepted and rejected. It can't grow old because all it is is a daily snapshot.

                  1. re: keg

                    Please allow me to differ: I grew up in a poor immigrant family that had fruit trees and a veggie garden in our backyard, with stocks made from scratch, and animals butchered in the kitchen sink. My dinners at CP cost a lot of money for very underwhelming tastes of things that were easily eclipsed by my rememberances of things past, as well as numerous meals at other restos. Don't be so dismissive - everyone's entitled to his/her own opinions and assessments.

                    1. re: Claudette

                      Little can live up to a memory.

                      As a reality check, I shop at the best farmers markets, cheese shops, meat shops, etc in the area and think nothing of throwing big bucks at high quality food.

                      True I'm not a good cook, but that's why I buy top quality I let the ingrediants do the work for me.

                      However, Chez Panisse is getting the best of the best and I am often blown away by my meals at CP.

                      And even if I did have the top cooking skills I don't have the equiment or ovens they have.

                      What is a real shame is the OP, being out of the area doesn't have a perspective on the tastes of each poster. Even I don't have a clue what your preferences are restaurant-wise, Claudette.

                      And this isn't addressing any one person, but it is too bad that the OP has delegated Chez Panisse to 'eh' ... if I happen to be in the area status. Some of the reposnses were just what I said in the OP, Chez Panisse doesn't match their particular style of dining which tends to the more complex, cutting edge type of dishes.

                      1. re: rworange

                        rworange, as I stated above, I am still curious about CP and I do not dismiss it as "eh". However, because I have a limited time available to travel outside of SF and finances are tight, I find myself being extra careful about where I spend my time and money. Ostensibly CP has a great history and a prolific chef, Alice Waters.

                        1. re: ginael

                          I've been following this thread with some amusement. It's no brainer to me. CP is a terrific, sometimes extraordinary restaurant. It's famous, deservingly so, and should not be missed. While others may have their personal favorites, CP is highly respected, not only for its history, but for its continuing success at providing delicious food in a tradition that they invented. What more could you ask for?

                      2. re: Claudette

                        I grew up in a wealthy suburb. My Vermont grandparents were never well off financially, but gardened, pickled, and canned extensively. That is why I know what freshness and traditional food storage methods are about. I've never had more satisfying food than my grandmother's pork roast, dumplings, and kraut in any restaurant.

                        Chez Panisse is different. The equipment, the scale, the skill, the sources are what I'm trying to bring to your attention. I'm encouraging you to be less dismissive, or please open your own restaurant. Alice Waters is not getting rich from the margins at CP. They pay top dollar to many great purveyors who have found sustainability serving a community of restaurants.

                        1. re: keg

                          Why so defensive about my choice to possibly not spend my money at CP? There is a fine line between being "dismissive" and making up one's mind based on opinions. I thought the point of this board was to seek advice from others, and to use critical thinking based on these opinions as well as based on other information. No one said anything about Waters making a huge profit from the margins.

                          1. re: ginael

                            You'll notice in the upper left corner that I'm addressing Claudette's comment, not yours.

                            CP has a tendency to galvanize people. They are certainly not infallible, but they've made their reputation on foraging for the very best ingredients they can find, and then not screwing them up. It's not for everyone. I think there are a number of other choices, but personally I'm always happy paying the bill at CP.

                            I'm defensive about CP because I worked for Tower, Waters, and Bertolli, and I feel a lot of people take swings at it without really knowing that much about it..

                            Buon appetito!

                        2. re: Claudette

                          I too grew up with fruit trees and a vegetable garden out back, along with 150 chickens, half a dozen hutches full of rabbits, a flock of ducks, and a couple of geese. We bartered with the neighbors for milk and veal.

                          When you grow food, quality is distributed on a bell curve that ranges from terrible to sublime. Sometimes you get a pear or tomato or gallon of milk that's sublime, sometimes you get one that's terrible. If the food is raised carefully without an eye to transportation and retail sale, the average quality will be higher than what you find in a grocery store. But there's considerable variation nonetheless.

                          CP has a relationship with people who grow food that's special. The stuff that's average or below may go to a wholesaler. The good stuff may be sold at a farmer's market. The best stuff goes to restaurants that are willing to pay a premium for it. And of the best stuff, CP pays a premium for and receives the creme de la creme.

                          I still grow some of my own food and buy much of the rest at farmers' markets and from artisinal producers. And I can state for an absolute fact that the ingredients used at CP are significantly better than those available to the general public at any price.

                          Childhood memories are a beautiful thing. But you can't really expect reality - past or present - to measure up. Everybody is entitled to an opinion about a place, and some folks just don't enjoy the CP experience as much as others like me. But to claim that the ingredients used are comparable to run-of-the-mill stuff from a backyard garden is simply incorrect.

                      3. re: Claudette

                        With all due respect, Claudette, I have access to amazing ingredients living in Santa Cruz and consider myself to be a thoughtful and pretty good cook, yet Chez Panisse continues to impress me. My last meal was almost exactly two years ago for my birthday, and I still remember every morsel.

                        The chef that I work with used to work at CP and still talks about how ridiculously top-notch every ingredient was...they got the best of the best from local vendors that we will never see at the farmers market. It was a culinary artist's wonderland perhaps at the expense of maintaining food costs or maximizing profit margins. This was some time ago so things may have changed a bit, but I personally get that feeling of "wow" when I eat their food and take in the "style" that is Chez Panisse. A fig leaf under a ramekin of raspberry souffle...a petite bowl of olives...the earth-toned plates from Heath Ceramics. Touches that have evolved over decades that other new places try to emulate.

                        When I look at their cafe menu, I'm in awe at how reasonable the prices remain. With their name and reputation, they could jack up the prices and still fill up the place. I don't see it as a museum or temple at all; it's a cozy place to get a great meal. Gosh, I need to head back there soon...

                      4. re: The Gourmet Pig

                        Small correction: the $120 tasting menu at Coi is an eleven-course meal.

                        1. re: The Gourmet Pig

                          Thanks to all for these in depth, passionate remarks. I'd expect nothing less from Bay Area foodies! As for the COI rec, it sounds a bit pricey for me. I found the comments re: CP being more of a museum to pay respects to, quite interesting. Perhaps I want to go there for a very superficial reason, which is to experience an Alice Waters creation that has been chronicled in books, magazines, newspapers, etc. If I happen to be in the East Bay region, I'll definitely stop by CP's cafe, because it sounds like that is a bit cheaper with a la carte options, which is what a picky eater can hope for. Cheers.

                          1. re: ginael

                            I understand the museum thing. And I completely disagree with it.

                            Saying that CP is a museum is like saying that that the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley is a museum. It misses the point. Sure, you can go and look at the pretty pictures, but the real reason for being there is to see the beauty that inspired the artist in the first place.

                            Ansel Adams isn't the most innovative photographer to have ever lived. And Alice Waters isn't the most innovative chef. But CP isn't about the chef, it's about the ingredients. Artifice isn't the point. Quite to the contrary, the place built its reputation on framing the picture as well as possible and getting the hell out of the way.

                            You can't confine a mountain or a garden to a frame. The underlying beauty will be there long after the chef/artist is gone. But somebody who can show you that beauty is no less an artist for it.

                            1. re: ginael

                              If you happen to be in the neighborhood? Sound reasoning.

                          2. Given the OP's message - curious, neophyte, non-adventurious and flexible menu...CP Cafe sounds perfect. Add in the fact it will cost perhaps $30 p/person at most and you can do lunch, I say just go. With the added bonus of getting a sense of how California cuisine started, it's perfect. Surest way to kill some fine food fun is to spend a lot of dough on something that might be out of palette range.

                            1. In reply to a number of the responses that have been posted...

                              One of the things I like about CP is that the dishes served are things I could (and do) make at home. For me, that's an advantage, not a drawback. Because of its simplicity, there's the added bonus that this is food you could eat every single day.

                              Don't get me wrong, I enjoy eating at places that push the limits. A meal with an intellectual component to it can be interesting and satisfying, like listening to atonal music. But it's fatigueing in a way that CP isn't. No pretense. No fuss. No waiter's instructions to dab essential oils behind your ears before sniffing the appetizer from left to right. Just really, really good food.

                              The fact that a meal there is relatively expensive can't be denied. You're paying a premium for someone to prepare the food and serve it to you, and another possibly greater premium because the demand for seats at CP exceeds the supply. If you're looking for bargain eats, you're in the wrong place. But a "rip off"? Everybody has to decide that for themselves, but I disagree.

                              I also disagree with the notion that "progress" requires you to embrace every passing culinary fad. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Maybe I'm just old before my time, but I find constancy to be a virtue.

                              Not to say that innovation is necessarily a bad thing, but innovation for its own sake doesn't make the food taste any better. If you want to be able to brag that you've had a dish that only a handful of people in the world have tasted, then definitely go someplace else. You don't earn much in the way of bragging rights by having a perfect bowl of turnip soup. And if your palate is so jaded that you can't enjoy a perfectly cooked piece of fish for what it is, but need it to be "improved" with tangerine caviar and spruce foam, then CP is definitely not for you.

                              To the OP: if you decide to have a meal there, don't expect to be "blown away." That's not what they do. At least not on purpose. The focus is and always has been simple preparations of outstanding ingredients. This isn't food as theater, it's food as food.

                              If you're lucky, though, there may be a moment when you put something as simple as a perfectly-dressed piece of baby lettuce in your mouth and your eyes get big as you realize that you've never really, fully tasted lettuce before. That's a Chez Panisse moment.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                OT: After reading your several replies to this thread about Chez Panisse, AB, I'm now looking forward to this month's COTM, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the selection. Thank you for the incentive I needed.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I've had the push the edge, intellectual and big surprise meals and thought they were great and yet and I'd sill go to CP without a second tthough. The thing is, yes the dishes are "simple" but the ingredients are stellar and the prep hits their mark 98% of the time.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    "Chez Panisse is now a museum. I like visiting museums, but don't think it is especially useful to create a religion of the past".

                                    I agree, CP is a place I usually take vistors to pay respect. I give it props for what it represents, but it's definitely not innovative or cutting edge.

                                    1. re: BP71

                                      "it's definitely not innovative or cutting edge" ........ and that's exactly why some people go there and enjoy it. I like to taste what's new & exciting also but I'd be sad if excellent ingredients cooked just right - ever went out of " fashion".

                                      1. re: BP71

                                        I don't know...calling CP a museum is a bit much. Given the scope of Bay Area eats, from super cheap to TFL, and everything in between...I think there's plenty of room for CP. Oh well, whatever.

                                        1. re: ML8000

                                          Trust me, I'm still curious. I guess in this day and age of being hyper aware of where one spends her money, it makes sense to be extraordinarily picky.

                                          1. re: ginael

                                            I'd just go to the Cafe. You won't find a comparable meal for that price, all things considered. They're running a fixed price meal for $33 now. If you order a la carte, I'd figure on $40 per/person.

                                            You can spend much more elsewhere. There's a hundred places in the Bay Area that you'll spend more for and get much less in quality, prep and ingredients...and none of the context or connection to California and New American cuisine.

                                            From a culinary discovery POV, you could connect CP to many restaurants and chefs, not only in the Bay Area but also nationally. I think that's one reason why I'd want to go if I haven't already.

                                  2. Chez Panisse is EXCELLENT. The food indeed "is NOT adventurous eating, but deceptively simple," as rworange wrote above. But do not mistake "simple" for "basic." -- there is nothing "basic" about it.

                                    I usually say that I eat at Chez Panisse (which is right down the hill from my house), "once a year whether I need to or not." That is half in jest. The food is truly amazing, but think "zen" in that it is so pure, so fresh, so elegant, so focused -- it doesn't rely on heavy sauces, "magical" ingredients, or high-tech molecular cooking . . .

                                    OK, let me repeat something that has already been said, and comment:

                                    >>> There are basically two groups with feelings about Chez Panisse. One group want innovation and cutting edge food. They usually hate Chez Panisse and don't get it. The other group that admires the skill of presenting the absolute top of the line meat, produce, fish, etc and letting the ingredients star. <<<

                                    I think rworange is correct here, but I will say that I have a "foot" in both camps. I think Chez Panisse WAS cutting edge when it first opened. Others have passed it by in the Cutting Edge Dept., but Chez Panisse remains among the top restaurants in the US and for good reason . . . As a result, it is true -- those who look for "cutting edge" may be disappointed. But that's because, as noted above, they "don't get it." but if you enjoy the purity, the freshness, the skill . . . you are cetainly in for a very memorable meal.

                                    Regardless of which camp, if you have NEVER been, you NEED to go. It is well worth it, and I highly recommend it.

                                    1. There is a lot of bluster about Alice Waters as she is a pioneer in the food world and that is valid.
                                      There is a lot of bluster about Alice working the burners at Chez and that is not true, she has moved beyond working a station so that notion is not valid.
                                      I think, the real bluster surounding Alice is that she, and her restaurant and cafe, are big enough that they can attract some of the best farmers and cooks and waiters around despite her absence. This means they can still get great products and great soon-to-be chefs that can cook in a way that is conscientious and mindful and the servers care enough to present them as the gems that they are.
                                      Being in the business, I have gripes with how precious Chez holds itself to be but, overall, it has a leg to stand on. The ethic of the restaurant is strong which means that each individual cook has a high standard so that Alice does not have to be over his/her shoulder every minute (which could be not helpful at times)
                                      Like any restaurant, they surely have "off" nights but overall the quality is quite good especially compared to restaurants that try to perform at the level of Chez Panisse.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: The Gourmet Pig

                                        Again, Jonathan, I think we get YOUR point . . . You are the one who wrote, "I love cracks at Alice Waters."

                                        1. re: The Gourmet Pig

                                          Being in the business, I know that Chez Panisse doesn't make money, but it's not because they're spending it all on priceless ingredients. They just pay their staff a lot and have more staff than they need.

                                          What? This is a joke...stop with the generalizations about CP you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. Don't mean to belittle your opinion but it is off-base...like behind the bleachers in right field. As someone that has worked at CP on and off for 13 years in many capacities your comments are baseless.

                                          1. re: high mountain

                                            My boyfriend works at Chez and I have worked for Alice so it's not so right field as you think but I too respect your opinion.

                                        2. You should absolutely go. Chez Panisse is one of the best examples you can find of its particular style; while no longer revolutionary in the way it was back when the tenets of fine dining were being questioned and subverted, it is still relevant. And if you're a neophyte, you've probably never had a meal like you will there. They do what they do, and they do it very well.

                                          Go to the Cafe, which is a good deal, or make a Monday night reservation. But do go, it would be a shame to pass through the Bay Area and miss one of the more obvious restaurants you'd want to visit. When I was a poor student at Berkeley, I'd scrimp and save, eat rice and beans, Food Not Bombs, steal liquor and wine from frat and co-op and department parties, all so I could save up some money to go eat at the cafe on occasion. Never regretted it.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: tmso

                                            >>> . . . while no longer revolutionary in the way it was back when the tenets of fine dining were being questioned and subverted, it is still relevant. And if you're a neophyte, you've probably never had a meal like you will there. They do what they do, and they do it very well. <<<

                                            What an absolutely perfect description!

                                          2. My opinion is the food is pretty boring. I thought for the longest time that I was not sophisticated enough but after three meals there, it came to me that CP was
                                            just not my thing.

                                            1. Great food , try the cafe and worth the drive from SF .

                                              1. Hubby and I celebrated our anniversary at the Chez Panisse Cafe last night, so thought I'd tack on my report here.

                                                We had:

                                                cauliflower soup: it seems as though there is always one dish at a meal at CP (upstairs or down) that is sort of a 'wow' moment for me: as in 'wow, I wished it always tasted like that' or 'wow. so that is how it is supposed to taste'...and I ordered the cauliflower soup hoping it would be that sort of thing since I love cauliflower. No, sigh, it was only very good, and the cauliflower taste was somewhat lost in the spicing. (cumin, and some herbs in the creme fraiche garnish).

                                                mixed lettuces salad: hubby loved his salad, noting that the vinegar was very high quality and that made all the difference for him (and it was perfectly dressed).

                                                braised lamb shoulder with delicata squash, peppers and onions: this was delicious and comforting, though the lamb was surprisingly mild in flavor (I would have been happy with a bit more lamb-gamey taste). The squash pieces had been roasted or possibly pan fried and then roasted before going into the lamb broth, and were a highlight: slightly crispy exterior and sweet and perfectly cooked. I wish I could remember the source of the lamb, but sorry, I don't.

                                                Farro pasta with chanterelles: hubby loved this dish. I wasn't as thrilled, but then, it was all about the large, almost meaty chanterelle slices, and I am not a big chanterelle fan. The pasta was perfectly cooked.

                                                Stawberry sorbet with macerated strawberries: this is the wow moment for me: probably the best strawberry sorbet I've ever had, with a perfect balance of tartness and sweet.

                                                A bowl of Cannard Farm Black Mission figs and a Frog Hollow Warren pear: of course I kept thinking about the infamous Zuni nectarine, but truthfully, I was already feeling over full after two rich courses of soup and lamb, and I really just wanted fruit. But yes, it was $8 (actually I think it was $8.25) and yes, it was just fruit, which the server warned me, 'in fact, it isn't even cut', she said, and she actually looked a bit surprised when I ordered it. It was nicely presented in a silver bowl, with a few figs (also whole) and a knife. Nothing else, and actually, I sort of liked that: no fork, so clearly I was free to eat with my fingers (always my preference). Hubby was bemused at first, but after he had a bite his comment was: 'how do you look at what appears to be a perfectly ordinary pear and know that it will be that perfect?' It was perfect, the figs only slightly less so (they were somewhat small and not quite as ripe as I prefer, but then, I like figs to be slightly overripe.)

                                                Hubby wanted zin, so we had a bottle of the Turley Old Vines Zinfandel (2005); seemed like a better match with the pasta than with the lamb, but quite nice and very well priced at $52.

                                                Total for dinner with wine, tax and tip was $163, which I think is quite reasonable for the quality and atmosphere.

                                                My only complaint last night was about the service, which I usually find to be excellent at CP, but last night was fine, but a bit annoying. We arrived a few minutes early, gave our name, and were told it would be just a few minutes. No problem there, but when the host came back to seat us he said, 'now, WHAT did you say the name on the reservation was?' (emphasis on the 'what') Sort of odd phrasing, and not particularly welcoming, especially since at the time we were the only couple waiting . Ok, a very minor annoyance, but not what I expect from CP. However, I was more annoyed not to get a wine list when we sat down, and to have the host almost throw the menus down and run off before we could ask him for it, and then not to be able to get anyone's attention to get it so we'd have time to look at it: sure enough, it took a while for anyone to come take our order, and the first time the server came over she asked what we wanted to order for dinner (didn't ask about drinks at all) . I like to be asked for a drink/wine order first, and since we wanted to look at the wine list before ordering, that meant a further delay to order food. Once we finally did order, first courses came before the wine. Server apologized without our saying anything and immediately went to get the wine, but it was a mild annoyance.

                                                After all, it was our anniversary. First thing we wanted was a toast, not soup and salad! I was starting to wonder if we were being rushed, but from that point on the pacing was fine. We ended up spending two hours at dinner, which felt about right.

                                                However, something strange really did seem to be going on with the wine list. I noticed that the host didn't give any of the parties in the room we were in (the large back room) the list when he sat them. Moreover, we were the only ones that asked for it. Neighboring tables all ordered by the glass or bottle off of the bar list (the limited list on the back of the food menu). I couldn't help but wonder if some folks assumed that the bar list on the back of the menu IS the only wine list for the Cafe. Basically, I don't get it: I think the CP list is very nice, quite varied, with a particularly nice selection of half bottles, and not at all overpriced. Indeed, many of the prices are very reasonable. They should be showing it off more, and it surprised me that it wasn't offered to us or to any nearby tables. Is no one is buying wine in this recession? (they are certainly eating, both cafe and restaurant were busy all evening, and when we left the bar area had filled up with folks waiting for tables) Granted, it may be a minor thing to be annoyed about, but still...

                                                Bottom line, however: I always enjoy Chez Panisse and last night was no exception. The fact that it is famous only adds to the fun for a low key but important celebration....I hope OP tries it for herself.

                                                -----
                                                Chez Panisse
                                                1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: susancinsf

                                                  I agree that given the OP's parameters the Cafe wouldn't be a bad choice.

                                                  For us, we usually hit CP once or twice a year. We consider it a special occasion restaurant so we always eat downstairs. I love many types of foods and food interpretations, including molecular gastronomy. However, in maybe 15 years of eating at CP I nearly always eat *something* that's a relevation--something that makes me feel like I've never tasted that particularly ingredient or dish before. And it's not just their access to fine ingredients either--it's not just "shopping"--their chefs really are great at flavor combinations. No, their dishes are not cutting edge, but they're also not bland museum pieces either. They are, often, simply the best dishes of their kind.

                                                2. Always good, occasionally exquisite, Chez Panisse is for enjoying top drawer food as itself rather than as a created taste. You should go - good luck getting reservations!

                                                  Pick up one or two of the Chez Panisse cook books....you'll enjoy yourself and eat rather well. How many are in print now?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. My husband and I celebrated a birthday a few years ago at Chez Panisse and have been wanting to go back ever since. I am quasi-veg too and since the menu is set each night, I opted for a vegetarian version of the menu which was delish. If you are really picky this place might not be good for you since the menu is pretty much decided in advance and there aren't a lot of options.