Chez Panisse

(Shattuck between Cedar and Vine) I’ve lived in Berkeley for 4 years and I finally went to Chez Panisse, the restaurant of Alice Waters that supposedly revolutionized California food. We ended up going upstairs, to the Cafe, which is more relaxed and cheaper (but not cheap by any stretch of the imagination). Liz and I split everything and we had, between us,

  • 1 Bottle 2003 Catherine and Pierre Breton Bourgueil “Galichets”
  • Cannard Farm cucumber, chervil, and radish salad with local albacore tuna
  • Baked Sonoma goat cheese with garden lettuces
  • Local king salmon baked in the wood oven with gypsy peppers, summer chanterelles, and roasted potatoes
  • Hoffman Farm chicken al mattone with tomato-potato gratin, corn, and okra
  • Pistachio cake with kirsch cream and blackberries

The dominant impression that I had from each of the dishes was that fresh ingredients are absolutely delicious. None of the dishes struck me as particularly amazing, but the flavor came from the ingredients. That’s one way of cooking, but the herbing and spicing came off a little dull to me. Nothing on the menu looked vaguely spicy to me.

I don’t think I’ve ever had cooked tuna that didn’t taste really fishy, but this fish was mellow, almost buttery, and the cubumbers were nice and sweet. Try as I might, I couldn’t taste the chervil, but it looked pretty. Whatever dressing they put on the garden lettuces was far too salty for my taste. The cheese came in two little rounds covered in spiced crumbs and warmed so it was gooey. Wrapping some goat cheese in the lettuce yielded little crunchy tangy packets of yumminess.

As I learned last night, “al mattone” means cooking the chicken under a brick. What we ended up with was something almost resembling fried chicken, with a crispy skin and firm but juicy meat inside. The gratin was probably one of my favorite parts of the meal — the vegetables’ sweetness complemented the slighly crunchy potatoes, and the okra was just right. The salmon was actually unremarkable, which is where the freshness really came to the fore. The only disappointing thing about this dish was the gypsy peppers, which I thought had no taste and weren’t at all spicy. Of course, I’d never heard of gypsy peppers before.

The pistachio cake was good, but remarkable only for its moistness. In restrospect I should have gotten the nectarine cobbler, but I think at the time we were both too stuffed. The wine is a keeper. I know I can get it at Kermit Lynch, so I’ll try to find it there. I know nothing about wine, so I can’t say it had spicy oaky notes or anything like that.

Will I go back? Probably, but I didn’t feel like the meal was interesting enough for me to try and go there whenever I save up enough spare cash. It was definitely good, and I’ll try and go there one or two more times before I leave.

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