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Page history last edited by Mark P 15 years, 6 months ago



Chez Panisse has been visited twice, once an official visit on 2006-03-29 and once an unofficial visit on 2005-06-13. We've also visited the Cafe at Chez Panisse once, on 2006-05-24.


Chez Panisse 2006-03-29 Review


Chez Panisse (restaurant downstairs) served us fairly good food of types we wouldn't normally order. The amusebrioche, quail, asparagus, and desserts drew exclamations but the first two courses didn't thrill us.


The first item to arrive upon sitting down was a small plate of roasted almonds for the table. Definitely a good start to the meal, one person described them as "weird but addictive."


Fairly good slightly warm pre-sliced bread arrived next, of two types (one dark, one white), both with hard crusts and soft spongy interiors.


Our first course, a "northern halibut tartare with pickled cauliflower, artichoke, and puntarelle," was decent. Many attendees said this item was like "a ceviche but a little [more] boring." The dish came with some sliced crispy bread that would be a good bread for a cheese plate but seemed out of place here.


"Brandade ravioli with green garlic and fish consomme" came next. This was an okay dish of ravioli (oddly shaped, having extra noodle the size of the pouch attached to the pouch itself, and the pouch didn't have much fish in it) in a mild, light broth. (Incidentally, Brandade is a French word for a particular dish that involves pounded or pureed salted cod.)


The entree, a grilled quail (from Wolfe Ranch apparently (said as if it meant something to us)), was very good, tender and full of flavor (from a wine sauce). Yet the star of the plate was the side of asparagus: crispy and great and with an unusual not-very-asparagus flavor. Indeed, we realized Chez Panisse knew the asparagus was excellent as they had a basket of them on display by the entryway. (Chez Panisse is known for having an ingredient or two every meal that is just so stunningly fresh and great; this was clearly the one for this meal.) Other sides included good but very buttery fried potato slices and unexciting peas. Tidbit: the quail was definitely better (and smaller) than what we have at Google. Another tidbit: as usual, one person complained quail is too much work to eat.


Dessert was "another winner": a meyer lemon-cardamom souffle. Dusted with sugar, it was wonderfully redolent of cooked eggs and flour. The subtle cardamom and the tiny pieces of lemon zest both added nice nuances. We all enjoyed it and one attendee that normally eats at a stately pace devoured his so rapidly I have to mention this fact.


Like before the beginning of the meal, we got a surprise snack at the end of the meal too. One item on the small plate was a candied orange peel; while good, this was outshone by the other, a really good piece of dark chocolate with pistachio shards inside.


Among drinks, one person had a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice -you can tell it must've been prepared moments before-. I had a nicely fragrant and (too) amazingly sweet white grape juice. (I forget the type of grape, but they certainly said, as they said where the grapes were grown: Varanno Vineyards.) Two people ordered a red wine recommended by the waiter to match the meal; we found its quality debatable. Some of us thought it was a bit sour. And, sadly, it didn't complement the quail as it was promised to do. But on a happier note, the post-dinner coffee smelled really good and (I'm told) tasted pretty good.


We spent the evening talking about the usual (relationships, travels) to the embarrassingly geeky (interviews and interview questions). Naturally, we also talked about food and, this time, debated what the relationship between Californian, continental, European, and French cuisines are. (This conversion stemmed from the observation that one waiter was Belgian and another French but the food wasn't really French (nor was it supposed to be).)


An oddity given how detailed Chez Panisse normally is with its menu and pedigree of ingredients was that we only found out the broth in the ravioli contained crab juices by happenstance as the waiter described the dish as he was serving us. This was lucky, as one person is allergic. Happily, the staff rectified the situation and soon brought a plate of ravioli without the broth. But then the quail in the next dish had little chunks of bacon on top, something else not mentioned on the menu. We all are willing to eat bacon so this was fine, but still surprising.


Original Announcement for 2006-03-29 Visit


We already have plans for next week: Chez Panisse. (I made the reservations a while ago.) Chez Panisse is the embodiment of California cuisine: dishes with simple presentations designed to highlight fresh seasonal ingredients. Our reservations, for 8:30pm on Wednesday March 29th 2006, are for the downstairs section, meaning we'll be served a fixed-price fixed-course menu. Since this is a Wednesday, it means we'll be served a four-course meal for $65/person.



You must tell me if you would like to / plan to come.


Comments from Other Attendees on 2006-03-29 Visit


Feel free to add remarks here.


Chez Panisse 2005-06-13 Review


Monday I visited (the downstairs fixed menu portion of) Chez Panisse


with a different group of friends. At Mochica tonight I was asked to forward along my review:


While quite good, it wasn't exactly what I expected. While the exterior and entryway provide the semblance of a fancy restaurant, with many wood tones and plants beautifully integrated into the outside patio, the downstairs dining room was well lit and had lighter colors and relatively closely packed tables, generating a quite casual atmosphere.


There were two different types of bread, but neither were anything special. Nor was the small plate of olives they gave us as appetizers. But then I tend not to appreciate olives much. (On the other hand, Caesar, next door, has better olives (which I still don't like much). But then Caesar is famous for olives and other tapas.) It was a nice gesture that we got new bread without asking anytime throughout the meal whenever a basket was empty.


The main items included:


  • "Petrale sole in saor with sweet and sour new onions and garden lettuces." As an appetizer this was good but nothing special. The sole was pretty tasty and went reasonably well with the onions. The garden lettuce was with a mild oil sauce: just a basic salad. Certainly nothing like the experience a chowhound had when eating a salad at Chez Panisse that exclaimed that the salad was so fresh and tasty that only then did he understand how a salad should taste.
  • "Osso bucco di agnello: braised lamb shank with gremolata and risotto alla milanese."
    • There was little risotto and it had a very mild flavor and much of it got covered with juice from the lamb, so it's hard to evaluate but I'd say nothing special.
    • The lamb shank, however, was excellent: extremely tender, very juicy and flavorful, and practically fell off the bone. (I wonder if this lamb was "locally grown.") Gremolata is a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon peel.
    • Also came with some decent greens (shredded spinach? chard?) on the side.
  • Strawberry ice cream cassata. Exquisite. Imagine a plate with a slice of a three-layer cake laying on its side, served next to a small pile of cubed strawberries, with the whole plate decorated with strawberry syrup. If my memory is correct, one layer of the cake was a strawberry ice cream; the middle was a strawberry sherbet; the other was creamy (with a flavor I couldn't put my finger on). The strawberry cubes were tiny (half a centimeter on a side or so), amazingly consistently sized, and wonderfully fresh. They were good alone, simply with the syrup, and with any part of the cake, and all parts of the cake were very good alone and went well together. Terrific.


Overall, of the half a dozen-ish items that came, only two were special. While I didn't go to Chez Panisse expecting extravagant food, I did expect a full meal that really reflected fresh produce. And this meal, except possibly for a few small cubes of strawberries, certainly did not reflect it.


Chez Panisse did however reflect one value that I really appreciate and isonly demonstrated by a rare few restaurants: they timed the courses well, and understood the enjoyment of a long dinner with time for rest and digestion and lots of chatting with friends between courses.


They also used small knives to scrape crumbs and other debris off the tablecloth between courses. That's a nice touch, but not as uncommon at high-end restaurants as the previous compliment (about timing).


$75 total with a nice bottle of red wine that went well with the lamb (prices do vary by day of the week)


Original Announcement for 2005-06-13 Visit


Chez Panisse is Alice Waters famous gourmet Californian (i.e., emphasis on fresh seasonal ingredients) restaurant in Berkeley. Their menu changes daily; you can get some idea of the flavors by looking at their web site,



They have two sections to their establishment: a restaurant, which serves only one fixed-price meal an evening (3-4 courses, $50-75 depending on day of the week); a cafe, which actually has a menu to choose from and is more causal and less expensive (a three course meal there will run you ~40, pre-drinks, tax, and tip).


Comments from Other Attendees on 2005-06-13 Visit


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