Chez Panisse. If you are a foodie then this name might probably register with you pretty quickly. Whatever the case is, Chez Panisse is a prominent restaurant in Berkeley that was started by Alice Waters, the so-called mother of Californian cuisine. Several well established chefs have once served in the illustrious kitchen of Chez Panisse, which just goes to show you that the landmark restaurant is an ideal starting point for a fruitful career in the food industry (read: cha-ching!).
Liz K. called to make reservations exactly one month before the date of our much anticipated dinner. Seating is very limited in the almost cottage-like structure of the restaurant and spots are known to fill up fast. To guesstimate, I would say that the maximum capacity of the dining is no more than 40 seats! We sat close to the open kitchen that displayed the dedicated staff in their snug workplace. The combination of the restaurant's construction, atmosphere and lighting created a warm, homey environment--as if you were in fact not dining out but eating a home-cooked meal at your aunt Mabel's country cottage. That is if aunt Mabel also charged you $$$$ for her nightly prix-fixe menu. Yes the meal was not cheap to say the least, so you could imagine my pre-dinner fasting and grand expectations for the food.
To enhance the eating experience (like the bill needs further inflation!), we ordered some wine. I only mention this because we were all amused by the description of the pinot noir given by the server, which included words like "flovuhry" and "urrthy" and "long feeneesh". I should note that he was French and I just wanted to type those words as I phonetically heard them.
On with the food:
From left to right, top row first: savoy cabbage wrapped around some rice concoction (Anuj's vegetarian entree in place of the chicken), poached chicken, smoked trout salad, dungeness crab pasta, and chocolate dessert. My favorite dish was definitely the pasta. Few simple foods are better than fresh pasta and the addition of the crab meat was a fine supplement in both texture and taste. The lemon sauce was refreshing to boot. Our only complaint was the slight bitter taste that came from the presence of lemon pith. To be perfectly frank, as much as I enjoyed the chicken entree, I felt that it could have been more flavorful. Returning to the principle of cooking only with the freshest ingredients in season, the restaurant was in no violation of the rule for preparing the chicken for the way it did. I guess I would have just preferred the dish to be bolder in various ways. The dessert was a classic chocolate souffle served with a scoop of ice cream. The cake was cooked to the perfect degree of doneness (set on the outside and soft within) but the outstanding factor came from the cherry ice cream. After eating the largest pieces of the dessert, I was tempted to hold the plate to my face and lick it to a complete finish. But I resisted. Because I am a lady, godammit.
All in all, I can see all the reasons for why Chez Panisse is as highly acllaimed as it is. As Liz mentioned, you can tell that the food was prepared by people who really love to cook because you can taste it in the dishes. I could not ask for a lovelier meal in a cozier location, really I can't. But sadly, I do not think I can afford the price of eating in such luxury often. So for that reason, I may not return to the restaurant anytime soon.
Rating: 9.2/10 (delicious +)
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709