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Chez Panisse Cafe - RANT

Since we couldn't secure a reservation at Chez Panisse, we opted for the Cafe instead for our rare East Bay adventure. I know there are a lot of supporters out there for the restaurant. However, perhaps it was an off night for the restaurant, I was definitely underwhlemed the entire meal. The goat cheese with salad was average to start. Quail for main was disappointing. The bird was not cleaned properly, I could vividly taste the blood and ruptured organs. Moreover, skin was soggy by the time it reached our table. The night ended with chocolate pave with rum cream. Again, average tasting and overpriced.

Another note about the restaurant, I walked by the open kitchen couple of times and all kitchen staffs look like they can't wait to get out of there. Seems like I would've had a better night at Gregoire on cedar street instead.

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Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

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  1. I had a similar experience three weeks ago. My Little Gem and golden beets salad with Green Goddess dressing, Chicken al Mattone and Hazelnut ice cream were good, but hardly stellar. The beets were especially sweet and the first bites of ice cream dreamy. I had better ice cream the next day at Ici (pink peppercorn).

    Every other time, I have been to the Cafe, there has been one or two really exceptional dishes. However, this one lackluster experience certainly won't keep me from returning. No kitchen can please you every time.

    1. I had a very good to great (if not exceptional) meal there in late May. Walked in off the street with no reservation at lunch on a Sat (it was a zoo in the ghetto...long ass line at Cheeseboard and Gregoire) and was seated in 10 mins due to a no show. Had halibut with bread crumbs and some kind of beans. Maybe part of the deal was walking in w/o a res but everything was as good as ever (fish perfectly prepared) and the staff polite and happy. Even at a higher price CP Cafe absolutely rocked in comparison to the other choices.

      11 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        My dining partners and I all praised on the tuna appetizer and yellowtail jack entree (the 2 I didn't feel like having last nite, ouch). Perhaps I should focus more on seafood next time at CP Cafe.

        1. re: oohlala

          Actually that wouldn't be a bad idea. I've never had bad seafood at CP. They handle fresh and delicate items very well. One of the best meals l have ever remembered (from anywhere) was a lobster tail wrapped in fig leaves and cooked in their wood-burning oven. It was so simple but awesome.

          1. re: ML8000

            I agree. Best halibut I ever ate was at CP Cafe.

            1. re: susancinsf

              do they often have halibut on the menu?

              1. re: vulber

                Not really in a position to know, since I don't dine there that often. However, I'd suspect they only have it when it is locally in season here in California, so I doubt it.

              2. re: susancinsf

                Best salmon I ever had was at Boulevard. Good sourcing is good sourcing.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  no, it wasn't just the sourcing. It was also prepared and cooked perfectly, and that is something many restaurants don't do with seafood, in my experience. (particularly halibut, which IMO is unforgiving when overcooked, in contrast to salmon).

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    where was it from?

                    not that this is the case with boulevard, but, sourcing high-quality products isn't always the same as sourcing sustainable products

                    1. re: vulber

                      CP sources seafood through Monterey Fish Market on Gilman. I also once had a memorable meal with small cornmeal pizza topped with clams and goat cheese and halibut as an entree.

                2. re: ML8000

                  just wanted to throw in words of agreement, though i'd only eaten once downstairs... my meal was seafood focused and delicious though potentially over salted by a touch. from the fish, to the scallops (which were prepared better than at TFL a few days before), the seafood broth.... stunning flavours and great texture.

                3. re: oohlala

                  I was thinking the same thing about seafood after my lunch. I should have ordered the oven roasted clams. One of the best dishes I have ever had there was a sanddab appetizer.

              3. What a wretched experience. I haven't had the experience of dining at the cafe, but I do hope that you sent back the improperly cleaned quail. Especially given the prices, I would have sent it back in a heartbeat.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jdinsf

                  OP: " I could vividly taste the blood and ruptured organs."

                  Reply "I would have sent it back in a heartbeat."

                  Nice, I am sure there was not pun intended.

                2. What did you do? The quail sounds nauseating.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                    Ahhh, the aroma and taste of ruptured organs.......Do ruptured organs all taste the same, or are they discernible?

                  2. I'm sorry about your experience. I had a good meal here a couple weeks ago. Definitely not as good as some in the past, but definitely nothing offensive either. The fried chicken leg was outstanding! The cherry tomatoes in my salad weren't as sweet as those usually served at CP, and the fruits in the stuffed-baked nectarine and plum tart in particular were very tart. Then again, I haven't found any good fruit this cold summer. I think it was a mistake putting them on the menu.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: kimchee411

                      I strongly prefer the restaurant over the cafe. Having said that, I've never had a truly bad experience in the cafe (and I have had consistently excellent food in the restaurant).

                      1. re: kimchee411

                        I found gloriously ripe nectarines at the farmer's market last week, so Chez Panisse Inc. shouldn't be serving unripe fruit. They have access to the best suppliers--no excuse.

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                        Chez Panisse
                        1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                        1. re: SteveG

                          I had a beautiful, gorgeous, in fact, perfect, nectarine this week also, at Locanda da Eva, but Kimchee said his/her lunch was several weeks ago. While I do agree they should serve the best available at CP given their suppliers, I also recognize that it has been a challenging (and late) year for getting great stone fruit. As for plums, they tend to be tart even when fully ripe, especially Santa Rosa plums.

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                          Locanda da Eva
                          2826 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            If CP is getting its stone fruit from Frog Hollow, I've noticed that this season they've had a lot of high acid varieties. Many prefer them. It's possible that the nectarine in question was a tart variety, though it's also possible that it was not fully ripe. Of course this could have been rectified with additional sugar...

                      2. I have always loved the Restaurant, but have been disappointed in the Cafe to the point that I have not been to the Cafe in years. But the restaurant is my favorite place in either SF or the East Bay

                        1. I live in the Atlanta area and visit the Bay Area often. Last year, I went to Chez Panisse for the first time. We went for lunch, and I don't recall and don't feel like looking up whether it was the restaurant or cafe (cafe, I think?), but it was upstairs. I'd been looking forward to the visit for months. And, it was lovely. The space was beautiful, our server was friendly and helpful and efficient and cool, I was happy with my wine and every course (we were a later seating and they did run out of the entree that most appealed to me, and all but one of the items left featured a prominent ingredient that doesn't appeal to me, so I ended up with most excellent homemade sausages). It felt like a pilgrimage.

                          But I wasn't "wowed" and I wanted to be. When I talked to my travel and dining companion about it, I realized the reason. At the time, I was several months into being very involved in my local food advocacy community and had been fortunate enough to attend many events featuring top chefs from my region putting their best foot forward. Frankly, the multi-chef , all local ingredient dinner at a conference I attended wowed me more than my meal at CP.

                          But it wasn't their fault - CP did nothing wrong. To me, it was just that they're not the only game in town (or in the country) anymore. By doing and promoting what they do so well, they've made it possible for so many others to follow suit. And while that accessibility to fresh, local, lovingly prepared "gourmet" food is a gift to people all over the country, it means anyone who wants to be "wowed" can be in their own backyard, or at least within a short drive, and at a variety of price levels.

                          So, I'd absolutely go back. But I'd also be just as (or more) likely to check out a new restaurant headed by a chef who was inspired by the groundwork laid by CP.

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                          Chez Panisse
                          1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: VallieBee

                            The Cafe is upstairs, and the restaurant serves dinner only.

                            It's true that decades ago, for that kind of food, the choice was between Chez Panisse and getting on a plane to Europe.

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                            Chez Panisse
                            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              True. CP is no longer unique, but the formula of using fresh seasonal ingredients in simple preparations is still a solid basis for a good meal. I had a delightful simple dinner at one of Gordon Ramsey's casual pubs in London (Limehouse), and he has a similar vision. Pork Cheeks over a bowl of pureed roasted turnips - Delicious.....