Friday, August 22, 2014

Dinner @ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA

I was recently able to go to Chez Panisse, the famous Berkeley restaurant who pioneered using fresh, local, organic ingredients in its menu.  Chez Panisse is sometimes credited for inventing "California Cuisine."

A word of advice for those who haven't been to Chez Panisse and are planning to go in the future.  There is a "downstairs" and "upstairs" at Chez Panisse.

The downstairs has a set price fixe menu, costing $65 for 3 courses on Monday, $85 for 4 courses Tuesday thru Thursday, and $100 for 5 courses Friday and Saturday.  For an additional supplement, you can add a cheese course.

The upstairs has an a la carte menu where you can buy whatever you want off the menu.  Online, this is known as "Chez Panisse Cafe".

So if you're planning to go there, be careful where you make a reservation.  If you weren't planning on spending a lot of money, you may be in for a surprise if you accidentally reserved a table at the downstairs.

We went to the "downstairs" for our tasting, and it was quite delicious.  Unlike other restaurants I've gone to, I wouldn't classify this restaurant as "fine dining."  While some websites say the attire is business casual, there were some folks in jeans and sneakers.

It's more like, "Really really good home cooking."  I think some of these pictures will illustrate what I mean.  Here's an overview of what we had.

1) olives and pickled north coast mushrooms

I hate mushrooms, but these mushrooms weren't too bad.  The pickling took out the horrible texture of mushrooms that I normally hate.

2) slow-cooked king salmon with wild fennel and cucumber salad

This salmon had clearly been sous vided, it was super soft.  The tomatoes were very ripe and delicious.

3) borage agnelotti with North Coast mushrooms

Again, I hate mushrooms but the pickling made these tolerable.  The broth in this dish was crazy delicious.  We loved it so much and dipped the remaining bread we had in it as well.

4) grilled Paine Farm squab with huckleberry sauce, Rossa di Milano onions cooked in the coals, squash blossom fritters, and watercress

I think I read somewhere that squab has the texture/taste of dark meat chicken, in other words it's flavorful throughout.  I totally see that now, these were really tasty.

5) Cheese plate

This was a supplemental course that you can purchase as an option.  All I remember about this cheese plate was the honeycomb.  It was wonderful.

6) Wild blackberry and lemon verbena meringata

This is about the greatest dessert that could ever be constructed for me.  Berries are my favorite fruit on the planet.  They were in season.

7) mignardise, chocolate & grapefruit

Compared to other restaurants I've been to (obviously, there's a wide range of restaurants out there), I wouldn't consider this extremely high end fine dining.  There were no high end ingredients like caviar, truffles, or wagyu beef like Alexander's Steakhouse.  There were no exotic ingredients like abalone or uni.  All the ingredients were fairly common and normal (berries, cucumber, salmon, etc.).  About the most extravagent ingredient here is the squab.

Relatively speaking, the plating of the dishes isn't particularly fancy either (ok, the dessert is probably the exception).  All the plates are simple white plates.  It was just a really good cooked meal with very fresh and good ingredients.

That said, the service was at the level of fine dining.

I'd definitely recommend everyone try it if they're in the area.

Update: I went to Chez Panisse again, see the review.

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