Chez Panisse

by arnold on September 24, 2008

With all the praise and reverence that is bestowed upon Chez Panisse, it’s easy to become jaded about it before even stepping foot in the restaurant. I admit that I had my share of skepticism, but I also knew that the restaurant known for being the birthplace of California cuisine and an alumni list that reads like a culinary all-star team wouldn’t be around for nearly 40 years if it was merely mediocre.

Normally, Chez Panisse takes reservations a month ahead, but I called two days before our Friday night dinner and secured a late dinner reservation upstairs in the cafe at 9:45pm. Both the upstairs cafe and the downstairs restaurant offer different menus every night, but the cafe offers an a la carte menu with several options, while the restaurant has a set menu. We looked up the menu for the day online, so we pretty much knew what we wanted when we walked in the door.

We ordered a pizzetta of squash and squash blossoms, and it was the perfect starter. The toppings were really good, nice and balanced, although I’m more into eating squash blossoms than actual squash. The crust was perfect—crispy but chewy and salty—exactly how I like my pizza crust. I’d even say that the crust rivals that of some of my favorite pizzas, including Pizzeria Mozza and Pizzeria Picco.




My wife really liked her wood-oven baked lasagna with tomato, eggplant, basil and Parmesan, a simple, beautiful rustic dish. I ordered lamb with frisee, sausage, fennel, crispy potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The lamb and potatoes were perfectly cooked and delicious. The sausage was a little bland, but when eaten with its natural partner i.e. fennel, it was really nice. I even ate the chanterelles, and I don’t really like mushrooms.

For dessert, my wife ordered a strawberry and raspberry shortcake, which she loved. It’s a simple formula really… take the freshest fruit and combine it with a sweet, biscuit-like shortcake and a little creme chantilly, and you have a perfect dessert.

I ordered the mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sauce, and I was in heaven. Mint chip is one of my favorite flavors and this iteration was one of the best I’ve had. The mint flavor was great, and I loved the dark chocolate chips embedded in each bite. It was served with what our waiter said were called “Killer Cookies,” which were like chocolate, chocolate-chip cookie slivers and lived up to their name.

Overall, we had an excellent meal and were already talking about a return visit as we walked out the door. If I had any regrets, it’s that I wish I had visited this culinary mecca years ago.

INFORMATION
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709 map
510.548.5049 (Cafe)
510.548-5525 (Restaurant)
Web Site
Chez Panisse on Urbanspoon

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Krista September 27, 2008 at 3:41 am

Being able to secure a table at CP with only 48 hours notice…very impressed. Gives the rest of us hope!

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susannah October 3, 2008 at 12:01 am

I felt exactly the same way when I went there. I was convinced I’d be disappointed, but I wound up leaving entirely impressed.

Reply

Nate October 15, 2008 at 8:30 am

Hi Arnold

thanks for stopping by our blog and commenting! I like your review of the place as well.

When we were done with our meal, we realized that all the competition for seats was for the early seating. The later seatings are pretty wide open. But to drive all the way from San Jose, eat there late, then drive all the way back would be too much.

I also wish we had visited here years earlier, when the prices were a lot cheaper. :-)

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Nate October 15, 2008 at 8:31 am

oh, P.S. did the restaurant mind that you used flash photography?

Reply

Arnold October 15, 2008 at 9:27 am

@Nate: They didn’t seem to care. Also, we were in a smaller room that was empty for most of our meal, so we weren’t really bothering anyone either. I do wish that we could have gone behind the scenes like you guys and watched the kitchen in action. :)

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