Chez Panisse

August 16, 2009

MK & NMR Chez Panisse (Cropped) 2009 Jul 18 081

Alice Waters’ Restaurant in Berkeley has been on my list for some time, so I am excited to finally broadcast this review.  Last month my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary and happened to be in town for the occasion.  Michael and I had the pleasure of accompanying them to Chez Panisse to fête the event.  It was a lovely meal in good company.

Apértif of Proseco and Plum Purée

Antipasto of shaved zucchini with prosciutto and ricotta toast


2008 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir


Albacore tuna with capers, olives,
anchovy, roasted peppers and orecchiette


1999 Chateauneuf-du Pape, La Crau, Télégraphe


Grilled Cattail Creek Ranch lamb with
chanterelle mushrooms, wild fennel and fresh flageolet beans


Nectarine and blackberry millefoglie with zabaglione

Chez Panisse has built its reputation – and a groundswell of support for the domestic Slow Food movement – on its use of the freshest local protein and produce prepared with honesty and a devotion to the ingredients themselves.  Some might call this kind of preparation “simplistic” or “unadorned,” which it is, but it is also a great way to get reacquainted with how basic good food should taste.  You won’t find any of the complicated, time-consuming preparations or techniques you’re likely to encounter at other fine dining establishments, but that doesn’t mean you’ll come away wanting.  The evident care and effort dedicated to sourcing the best quality local ingredients is where the restaurant focuses its attentions, while the kitchen does its utmost to preserve the native, natural flavors that blossom on the plate as a result.

The downstairs restaurant (as opposed to the café dining option available upstairs) has a warm, coppery patina with a low ceiling and a wide view of the rustic kitchen and its open fire spit and grill.  The service was spot-on and the wine list featured many quirky boutique options from local California vintners as well as a fair selection of Old World wines in half bottles and by the glass.  All of the courses demonstrated the pure, bright flavors of their component pieces and, while they were not sophisticated, they combined to create a pleasant evocation of summer.  I cannot tell a lie – the tuna in my orecchiette was overcooked; possibly the result of resting a little too long under the salamander, but I found this misstep more surprising than distracting.  The lamb was perfectly cooked and well matched with the mushrooms, fennel and beans.  It was fantastic with the Chateauneuf-du-Pape (for which, I admit, I have a weakness).

We are quite spoiled in the Bay Area for good food and great restaurants, which we owe in no small measure to pioneering chefs like Ms. Waters who care about the food they serve and are staunchly dedicated to doing it in a responsible and sustainable way.  What Chez Panisse lacks in technical pizzazz, it makes up for with refreshing simplicity and honest flavors.  I look forward to going back.

MNR & NMR Chez Panisse 2009 Jul 18 080


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