Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Berkeley: Chez Panisse Cafe

Chez Panisse located in Berkeley, Ca is known to be the birthplace of California cuisine as credited by Chef Alice Waters. I always wondered what California cuisine or California Modern cuisine was. Apparently, it's a style of cuisine of utilizing disparate cooking styles and the use of freshly prepared local ingredients. This style of cuisine just screams "organic". There's nothing wrong with organic. It usually translates to extra $$$'s.

Chez Panisse is located in the northern Berkeley neighborhood known by locals as the "gourmet ghetto". The restaurant consists of a downstairs dining room with a daily prix fixe menu and an upstairs cafe with a less expensive menu and more 'relaxed' atmosphere.

The decor of the restaurant has a modern rustic feel with great attention to detail. From the engraved water pitcher to the charcoal grill and wood-fired brick oven, it feels like you're dining in a home than a restaurant.

The highlight of the room was the open kitchen layout. The kitchen is located upstairs next to the bar area. The atmosphere was like a bustling bistro with servers rushing back and forth to the kitchen picking up entrees. You can walk past the kitchen and see all of the action without any obstructions.

Since it was cold and rainy outside, I decided to go with their selection of tea. Pictured above is Tisane, an herbal infusion of basil and mint ($5.50).

It took awhile to decide on what to order so I eavesdropped selections from other diners. Here is what we ordered:

Bob's Yellow Tomato and Pepper Bisque - $8.00
with creme fraiche

Annabelle's Puntarelle - $9.00
with anchovy, green garlic, and Parmesan

Grilled Local Opah - $28.00
with broccoli di ciccio, Meyer lemon, and black olive relish

Buttermilk-fried Devil's Gulch Ranch Rabbit - $25.00
with green beans, persimmons, chicories salad, and little potatoes

Passion fruit, pineapple, and candied orange ice cream bombe - $8.75
with tangerine compote

Afterthoughts: The food was solid, but there were some incidents that occurred that made my experience less stellar. I'm not going to go into details but a word of advice: Good food but expect the unexpected. For a restaurant listed within the top 100 restaurants in the world, be open to anything in terms of atmosphere. It's Berkeley, the third most liberal city in the U.S.

It's also interesting how a one-Michelin-star restaurant can end up being the 59th best restaurant in the world in 2009. Does this place deserve its merits? The food was good, but not palate changing. At least we can say we've been here.

Things to know:
  • No valet parking available, street parking only. Bring change and adhere to the parking signs. We advise that you arrive 30 minutes prior to your reservation to search for parking.
  • For Restaurant reservations, call (510) 548-5525 Monday through Saturday, between 9 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Click here for the restaurant reservation policy.
  • For Café reservations, call (510) 548-5049 Monday through Saturday, between 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. The Café upstairs accepts reservations for lunch and dinner up to one month in advance, to the calendar date.
  • The cafe is located upstairs. Wait for the host to seat you (near the bar area). A host desk is not available upstairs.
  • Chez Panisse is known to be the first place to make "California pizza". Ask your server about the house made pizzas.
  • If you like to watch the chefs cook, request to be seated in the booths in front of the kitchen. It's not the same as a chef's table but it's better than sitting in the back of the room.
  • Cafe Price Range: $$$
  • The cafe a la carte menu changes daily. It is moderately priced for lunch and dinner compared to the restaurant downstairs. The restaurant is a daily prix fixe dinner menu for $95 while on Monday it is moderately priced at $60.
  • Some of the cafe entrees are large enough to share. We recommend sharing salad and main course dishes.
  • A 17% service charge is automatically added to the bill.
  • Using a cell phone or computer at the table is not allowed.
  • Corkage is $25 per bottle. $45 per magnum.
Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709-1516


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