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Jan 17, 2013 04:57 PM

Chez Panisse 2013 [Berkeley]

The most recent posts are in "Chez Panisse 2012" so I guess I'll start a new topic.

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  1. Ate downstairs on impulse Monday. We were planning to go upstairs to try the after-9:30 steak and onion rings, but stopped to glance at the downstairs menu. The maître d' told us they'd had a cancellation and he could seat us if we liked, so it seemed like fate.

    Amuse-bouche of a couple of little duck liver toasts, really nice, could have eaten those all night. In fact I think I'll go get some somewhere right now. Had a nice sparkling Vouvray or Montlouis by the glass.

    Ramacche, fried Sicilian prosciutto and cheese fritters, were new to me. Light dumplings, reminiscent of gougères. Came with a warm "winter vegetable caponata" of celery, cauliflower, fennel, maybe other things that was sort of in between a salad and a ragoût, also very nice.

    Cuscus trapanese, a great fish stew of I think ling cod with mussels, shrimp, and tiny clams with saffron. Went very well with the Pavese Prié Blanc.

    Cheese course, a perfect crottin from Vermont.

    Dessert was a delicate anise panna cotta with oranges and honey caramel. Went very nicely with a spectacular 1996 Quarts de Chaume.

    $65 for a meal like that is to me really one of the better values around here, and you can't beat the wine list on this side of the Bay.

    1. Had the "late night" steak. Excellent grass-fed steak au poive, juicy, medium rare, good beef flavor (forgot to ask what cut it was). With some nice tagliatelle-size fried potato ribbons, baby watercress, and a glass of house Green & Red Zinfandel, $25, excellent value. I was looking forward to the onion rings but for some reason they were off last night.

      9:30-10:30 Mon.-Thurs.

      1. Went for a late dinner upstairs last night. The only signs of the fire and rebuilding were the new shingles on the outside and a hint of linseed oil in the entryway. We were seated in a booth across from the kitchen so didn't get a close look at the new porch.

        Arrived early for our reservations so drink Lillet and Carpano Antico in the bar, $5 each, were they always that cheap?

        The menu has been redesigned, now it's a colorful trifold (though the web version's still in the old format), room for more beverages.

        Painted serpent cucumber and purslane salad with ricotta and green coriander seed, $9.00: spectacularly good ricotta, nice combination. Didn't notice any green coriander seeds. Was about half and half cucumber and cherry tomatoes.

        Marinated beets and avocado with citrus vinaigrette, $10.00: simple and good, best avocados I've had this year.

        Buttermilk-fried chicken with sweet corn polenta, peperonata, and cherry tomato relish, $24.00: the fried chicken breast was very juicy and only slightly breaded, delicious but more of a delicate French dish than American fried chicken. The polenta (grits) with peperonata was a revelation, never thought of putting those two together.

        Monterey bay squid and clams cooked in the wood oven with saffron, leeks, garlic toast, and aïoli, $21.00: perfect, this is the kind of dish I know they excel at. I wish I knew how to cook squid so that it comes out so tender.

        Drank a Prié Blanc (de Morgex) that went nicely with everything.

        Dapple dandy pluot galette with raspberry ice cream, $10.00, and Bobs apricot sherbet with bing cherry-prosecco gelée, $8.50, lots of intense, pure, tart fruit flavors with only a hint of sugar. Excellent grownup desserts.

        Service correct and polished but not overbearing as usual.

        1. I ate there with a friend about three weeks ago. We had a memorable meal (salmon carpaccio, ravioli with a confit of basil and tomatoes, grilled beef tenderloin with morels and a Meyer Lemon Tart), very good wine (Donkey and Goat Carignane) and terrific service. It ranks as one of the best meals out of my life. It was first time dining there -- the restaurant did not feel at all past its prime. The restaurant had just reopened that week, and everyone seemed to be elated to be back.

          1 Reply
          1. re: weg

            We ate here afew weeks ago. We really enjoyed it. Here is what we ate:

            Frito misto with porcinis squash blossoms green onions new garlic and mint. Excellent. The porcini were creamy the blossoms were just phenomenal and the onions were better than you might think. Great way to start the meal.
            Hand cut pasta with Tomales bay clams gypsy peppers and ginger. I was really looking forward to this dish but felt like it missed the mark. The pasta was a touch too aldente and the clams got lost. It was too subtle for my taste. Could not taste the peppers or ginger at all. The table next to us commented that it could have benefited from some shaved Parmesan. It needed something.

            Grilled quail with roasted eggplant and fig mostarda. Excellent. Maybe the best roasted eggplant I remember eating.
            Blenheim apricot soufflé with noyau creme anglaise. Excellent. Noyau is the apricot pit which has an almond like flavor which complemented the delicate flavor of the apricots.

            Service was very warm. Seemed like it was slightly remodeled and the room had a very warm cozy feel.

          2. got dinner here last night. a few other diners had some halloween accents, but no full-on costumes.

            bread was straightforward but about as good as gary danko (a compliment in my book.)

            smoked cod salad with escarole and beets - simple but excellent.

            ricotta gnocchi with chanterelles - pretty weak. i've had much better gnocchi at farina, one market, or cotogna. i've also made gnocchi, and when it turned out like this, considered it a failure. possible i don't understand this variety of gnocchi, but i don't think that was the problem. the broth the gnocchi was served in was good. the plentiful mushrooms were fine, but didn't complement the gnocchi.

            duck breast and leg with mostarda - excellent. best duck i've had in the bay area, second only to duck i had at chez panisse a few years ago. i found the mostarda to be a bit too sweet, but the duck was nonetheless really great. better duck can of course be had in beijing, or at 3-star french places in paris or tokyo, but i don't know where else.

            chocolate tart - excellent.

            if i were grading on michelin's scale, i'd rank the salad a solid 1-star, gnocchi zero stars, duck mid-range 2-star, and chocolate tart high 2-star.

            we asked them to recommend a bottle of french red wine that would go with everything. they suggested a red burgundy (serpentine or something) at $74. it paired perfectly with the duck, okay with the salad, and not well with the gnocchi. next time i'd probably do a half bottle, by the glass, or no wine. coffee was excellent.

            16 Replies
                1. re: Dustin_E

                  Ricotta gnocchi are usually very soft, but they should be slightly springy rather than mushy.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    yeah, i felt these were too much on the mushy side.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                I ate there last night too! Second meal this year at Che Panisse. My first meal discussed in this thread. I agree with you about the meal except for the Gnocchi. They were my favorite dish. Goes to show how different people like different things.

                Here are my thoughts about the dishes:

                Smoked cod salad with escarole and beets. Excellent. The escarole was delicious. It was especially good to take a bite of the cod with either escarole or beet. Very well composed dish.

                Sheep cheese gnocchi with chanterelles. One of my favorite dishes of the year. I will say that the "gnocchi" were not especially gnocchi like. They were more like Quenelles. The "gnocchi" were lite and fluffy but had a very satisfying texture and a resonating sheep cheese flavor. The chanterelles were very flavorful and perfectly complimented the sheep flavor of the gnocchi. The dish was not heavy but full of satisfying layers of rustic mushroom and sheep flavor. My only complaint was that I wanted another plate.

                The duck was excellent. As in my previous visit I would love to know how Che Panisse makes the accompanying veggies so damn good.

                chocolate tart. I love chocolate but am extremely picky about chocolate desserts. I thought this was good but not great. Biggest complaint was that it came with a side of lukewarm whipped cream but the dessert was screaming for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I liked the orange flavor which complimented the chocolate but I was not crazy about the texture of the chocolate tart itself which was very soft but not in a good way. My husband loved it and said "you're never satisfied with chocolate desserts".

                All in all a winning meal.

                1. re: Ridge

                  Chez Panisse will give you seconds if they have enough.

                  In some cases, it's the farmers that make Chez Panisse's vegetables superior. Even when I buy from the same farmers, sometimes I'm pretty sure that they're giving CP the cream of the crop. I've been trying to find out where they get their hazelnuts for years.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Say what? Is this just at the restaurant, or at the cafe too that they'll give seconds? How do you approach them and is this something you've done late-night or earlier too?

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      We were eating downstairs once years ago and raving about this souffléd crêpe. The waiter said, "Would you like another?" So ever since I've asked for seconds if I wanted them. Usually I don't since there are more courses and I always like to save room for a cheese course.

                      Upstairs you're ordering a la carte so if you want another you could just order another.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        they offer a cheese course downstairs?

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          I think a cheese course is always available by request for an extra charge, at least they've always had it when we've asked, which we usually do. You can also order tisane.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            interesting. thanks. i'll also get cheese next time i go.

                  2. re: Ridge

                    great to hear another post from the same meal!

                    i think i would have liked the gnocchi dish better if they had called them Quenelles. :-)

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      They are quenelles, really. In Italy, they call those "gnocchi."

                      It's kind of dangerous to use that word here, since, as in France, people see it and expect a starchy dumpling. On the other hand, it's an Italian dish, so calling it "quenelles" would also be odd. I think that's why chefs often favor the term "gnudi."

                    2. re: Ridge

                      did you drink? if so, i'd love to hear what you had and what you thought of it with the food.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        We brought a bottle of 98 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon reserve. It was nicely aged but still had lots of fruit and nice tannic structure. It went really well with the meal. Smoked fish generally does not pair well with red wine but I think because the cod was not overly strong and was paired with beets and escarole it worked. But the really amazing pairing was with the Cabernet with the duck.