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Apr 22, 2012 11:09 AM

Chez Panisse 2012

Went on impulse last Tuesday because the menu was so appealing.

Started with a 2002 Chidane Montlouis, can't remember if it was the Tuffeaux or the Habert. Lovely.

Amuse was a generous serving of little local Delta grass shrimp fried whole. These were fantastic, crunchy with a slight funkiness like Chinese dried shrimp. I wish I knew how to get some. (Old Chronicle article on how CP and other local restaurants source shrimp: <

Spring vegetable salad with coriander vinaigrette, great mix of raw and cooked, baby turnips were particularly nice.

Hand-cut noodles with Georgia shrimp, fresh porcini, leeks, and peas, this was just great. The shrimp were delicate, pale, and sweet, at the opposite end of the spectrum from the ones in the amuse.

Grilled rack, loin, and leg of Trish Elliot Ranch lamb with Lucques olives, cardoon gratin, and wilted greens, excellent. Since the preparation sounded pretty rustic I got a Siguier 2009 Cahors, went very nicely.

Rhubarb galette with Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ice cream, perfect.

This was as classic a Chez Panisse meal as you could ask for.

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  1. About a month ago I got a tray of grass or ghost shrimp at the small supermarket in Japantown. I had no idea what to do with them, but couldn't resist them because they were so fresh, actually jumping around in the container. I'm a little embarrassed to report that I ended up using them in a seafood stock,since they were so hard to peel. Next time I'll know better.

    1. Grass shrimp should be available live at local bait shops--try the North Bay, East Bay, or Delta. Leonard's bait in Petaluma (707-762-7818) has them for $20/#. Discount Mart in El Cerrito and Rodeo Sports Liquors have them at times. I think Leonard trawls their own; not sure about the others.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alfredck

        Now you're making me really sorry I didn't stop by Leonard's on Friday afternoon. I'd read the same article RL linked some time ago and figured a bait shop was the way to go. These are the type of shrimp that the Chinese shrimp boats used to dry. Had planned to check out the live shrimp action but ran out of time. Here's the website,

      2. I think we had the same type of shrimp, flash fried, at Central Market in Petaluma. They were unbelievable!

        1 Reply
        1. re: jmarek

          I had bought some a few weeks ago at Monterey Fish (the first and only time I've seen them there). Half I put in a risotto, and the other half I did a quick deep fry. The guy at M.F. suggested I should not bother peeling, which was what I suspected already. If you deep fry them, there is really no need anyway, as the shell adds to the crunchiness. On the risotto it was a bit more of a problem, and I probably should have fussed with peeling.

        2. >> Went on impulse last Tuesday because the menu was so appealing.

          And they had tables available? they usually seem to be pretty solidly booked -- or do tables often open up day before / day of as people cancel or fail to confirm their reservations?

          It is frustrating because some menus look a lot better than others.

          Do you know if chez panisse has had better years and worse years as certain chefs / sous-chefs come and go?

          11 Replies
          1. re: Dustin_E

            I think Tuesday's a relatively slow day. Check for short-notice splurges.

            I've been eating at Chez Panisse since the 70s and never noticed any chef changes having much effect on the quality or style. I suspect Alice Waters's taste and high standards account for that.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              interesting, thanks.

              I visited once and had one of the best meal of my life. visited again and had a so-so meal. my dinner there tonight is the tie-breaker for me.

              any dishes/menus you look particularly watch for? i had really amazing duck there a few years ago.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                Most of my most memorable dishes there I've never had again. Lamb's usually great. Tonight's menu looks like a winner to me:

                Cannard Farm leek tart with bacon and crème fraîche

                Local fish and shellfish soup with sorrel, herbs, and green garlic crouton

                Gigot dagneau à la broche: spit-roasted leg of Dal Porto Ranch lamb with nutmeg and thyme flowers, and artichoke, new onion, and spinach ragout

                Hazelnut meringata with Pixie tangerine and hazelnut ice creams

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Do you have a strategy for what to drink? Do you usually pick a bottle(s) from their wine list, bring your own, or rely on their suggestions? i can't remember if they do pairings or have many wines by the glass. thanks again.

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    They offer pairings which can be interesting (at least to me). The pairings are not listed on the menu. The sommelier comes around and almost offhandedly offers them.

                    1. re: wally

                      On pairing, not CP. The other night at Donato Enoteca, we just asked for pairings (not on the menu), and the chef, sommelier and our waiter put together an excellent and interesting series of Italian wines - essentially they split several different wines-by-the-glass. Excellent. It was easy, good, and they obviously enjoyed doing it, so I'm going to make a habit of asking.

                    2. re: Dustin_E

                      I usually buy from the list as they often have stuff I don't see elsewhere, like the 2002 Chidane I drank last week (which would probably be great with the tart and soup tonight). The sommelier typically has two or three wines by the glass he thinks match the evening's dishes.

                    3. re: Robert Lauriston

                      leek tart - good
                      fish soup - very good
                      lamb - amazing -- probably the best red meat i've ever had in the US.
                      hazelnut and tangerine gelatos - very good - on par with the best i've ever had.

                      bread was very good, and the anchovy on toast first bite was also good.

                      we had the pairing at $25 apiece. very fair price for the wine, though only one (the first glass, a white bordeaux) really impressed us.

                      chez panisse is seriously good, though seriously expensive for its "simple" cooking. dangerous, because i could never get tired of eating here. i will definitely be back, probably many more times.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Making that kind of simple food is harder than it looks. The price usually seems like a bargain to me. I often run up just as big a tab at a la carte restaurants.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          for dishes as memorable as the ones i've had at CP, i'd agree it is a bargain.

                          we usually split plates or order lightly at a la carte places, which puts chez panisse at 2-4x the price of a la carte places in the bay area, at least for us.

                          i'm sure you're right about the difficulty of cooking simple food like that.

                        2. re: Dustin_E

                          I believe The Local Butcher is carrying the same spring lamb right now. I've bought a few leg steaks there that have been outrageous.

                2. My husband and I are having to scale back our fall anniversary plans from a road trip+dinner at French Laundry, to dinner at Addison (in San Diego). As I ran the numbers, I realized we could swing a flight to Oakland and dinner at Chez Panisse for what we would spend at Addison.

                  My question for Northern California Chowhounders; Is Chez Panisse worthy of a special trip? I have been reading about it for years and I appreciate the prices have not spiraled into "$250 person" hell.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Dagney

                    I can best describe it as a "lovely, delicious, not mind-blowing" dinner. Food is always good, sometimes it is amazingly good. I find that the waitstaff tries to get a feel for the guests - if they find you are just out for a comfortable evening, they won't try and play into any perceived notions that the restaurant might be a pretentious place (a desirable quality for some guests). The wine list, given the selection and markups, is pretty reasonable.

                    It is hard for me to say 'worthy of a special trip." But if you spend a lovely day in the area, and then have a lovely dinner, all for what dinner near home would cost, why not? Your pre-CP cocktail at Cesar with some olives on the side will just add to your fun.

                    1. re: Dagney

                      That's a really tough call because expectations are a funny thing and everyone has different criteria. I wouldn't fly up just for dinner, even a special dinner and I'm a fan of CP. However if you really like NorCal and Berkeley and would be happy spending time up here for other reasons, sure. Another big caveat is it's a prix fixe and a set menu and they don't post the menu until a week before. On the flipside of that, CP is a touchstone of sorts for Cal Cuisine so going gives a reference point. Best of luck.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Thank you both for the responses.

                        We have been dedicated foodies for years, though I am more obsessed with the "culture" of food, so CP would be a touchstone. We don't mind not knowing the menu, but want to be reasonably certain the food is generally excellent and the service is solid.

                        San Diego tends to be a desert for places that have the all around level of excellence. Places with great food are pretty casual. Many of our fine dining establishments serve food that is good, but fairly conservative and safe. And the rare places that have both of these practically require a home equity loan.

                        CP struck me as solid candidate because we could combine getting out of town for a day with a great meal. Soooooo, this is a definite possibility.

                      2. re: Dagney

                        If you've been reading about it for years and are aware of its cultural / historical significance, I'd say it's a good excuse for a trip. I'd be surprised if anyplace in San Diego could put out the kind of meal I described above.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yes, we would be hard-pressed to find this meal in San Diego. My trepidation comes from previous experiences with hotels/restaurants, etc.. that were considered "classics" but upon close examination, they were woefully substandard (Hotel Del, Mr A's). Our finances are fairly strict, so we want to be sure our Anniversary dinner will be worth the splurge.

                          1. re: Dagney

                            I've found Chez Panisse quite consistent over many years. To me it's a classic that lives up to its history.

                            It's not the unique experience it was 30 years ago, when to eat that kind of food you either went to Chez Panisse or booked a flight to Europe, but that's not because they've gone downhill.

                        2. re: Dagney

                          Having just eaten at Addison this past week, I can say one thing for certain, Chez Panisse is far better than Addison. Chez Panisse may not be as creative as many more modern places in the Bay like Benu, Coi, Atlier Creen but Addison isn't even in the same league.