Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chez Panisse in Berkeley

Our monthly Restaurant Club is in full swing with our lunch at Berkeley’s landmark restaurant – Chez Panisse. Brenley and Lynette traveled from Marin to meet me there. While waiting, I enjoyed the wonderful music, admired the busy kitchen with young chefs abounding and the folks checking in at the reception area. It was Lynette’s pick this month and what a wonderful choice she made. Such a historical culinary landmark known all around the world and today was our opportunity to taste the cuisine that Alice Waters is so famous for.

Alice Waters, chef, author, and the creator/owner of Chez Panisse, is an American culinary icon whose philosophy maintains that cooking should be based on the best and freshest ingredients that are produced locally. Alice is the pioneer of “California Cuisine”. Over the course of nearly forty years, Chez Panisse has helped create a community of local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures the restaurant a steady inventory of fresh and pure ingredients. Alice is the author of eight cookbooks, including Art of Simple Food: Notes and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution.

Our waiter had worked there for six years and provided outstanding service. The Chez Panisse signature water vessel came with three small water glasses along with earthy bread and butter for the table to share. After reviewing the lunch menu we made our selections, so we would be able to steal tastes from each other to complete the entire dining experience. I started with a glass of 2008 Rioja Blanco, Ostatu from Spain. (Dry but fruity white wine which was perfect for my lunch choices.) First course was Celery Soup with Crème Fraiche and Chervil. Lynette ordered a glass of 2008 Touraine Sauvignon, Francois Chidaine from France. She began with Avocado and Beet Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette. Brenley was in the mood for coffee and they serve Blue Bottle Coffee – delicious! She started with the Baked Andante Dairy Goat Cheese with Garden Lettuces.

For our main course, Lynette and I chose the Northern Halibut Baked in the wood oven with Green Beans, Sweet Peppers and Aioli. The aioli was made with hints of tarragon and went perfectly with the baked halibut. Brenley selected the Magruder Ranch Pork Leg with Fried Shoestring Potatoes, Broccoli di Ciccio, and Tapenade. The shoestring potatoes were outstanding!

No meal is complete without dessert! We selected the Black Mission Fig Tart with wild Fennel Ice Cream and Donner Trail Peach and Raspberry Shortcake with Vanilla Cream. I was incredibly curious about the fennel ice cream and the slight fennel flavors, along with the creamy custard made this ice cream a complete hit. It balances the crispy tart and earthy baked figs. The shortcake was crunchy but tender and a complete classic.

Would return to Chez Panisse in a heartbeat and recommend that every person have this on their bucket list!

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