Lunch at Chez Panisse Café [Berkeley]
We thought there might be some kind of celebration at Chez Panisse when we arrived at 2 for a late lunch. Perhaps we missed it when they opened but I thought the very business as it always has been atmosphere was even better. We were seated in the porch area which was the only part of the cafe that stood out as having been rebuilt: bright new wood beautifully milled and joined. Service was friendly and professional as always. Wine list excellent as always. We began with a soupe au pistou a la Panisse, a light but highly flavored version, and little gem lettuces with green goddess dressing also light but flavorful. My wife and her friend each had the duck confit on very spring-like Romano beans, fennel and olives. I opted for grilled chicken breast, a dish I never have when eating out--but this came with fried onion rings and those I could not resist. They had a light batter, like the most delicate tempura, coating onions cooked just enough to bring out their sweetness. I thought of the dish as onion rings with a chicken accompaniment. Also with it was a fine sweet corn and sage combination with yellow sweet corn that did not overdue the sweet. I frequently do not eat dessert, not being very fond of sugar, but had a raspberry sorbet with peaches which was more up my alley than the chocolate pave with caramel ice cream which my wife enjoyed. I mean really enjoyed. While she was finishing hers I thought about Chez Panisse and how it sometimes is looked down on as being old hat or having lost its cutting edge, even in Chowhound postings. It could only be the attitude of them young folk, I thought, people who don't think about Acme bread or Cowgirl Creamery or chefs of numerous other current restaurants (Zuni and Camino come quickly to mind) as having come from Chez Panisse. Or of artisanal pizza, or local sourcing of foodstuffs and identification of those sources which seem so common now but were innovative when started at Chez Panisse. I was happy to be back with excellent food products excellently adn straightforwardly prepared. Whaddya want, deconstructed poule au pot with sweet mustard foam? Hmmm. Well, that might be good too I guess, but very not Chez Panisse. Welcome back to them.