Chez Panisse is a Berkeley, California restaurant known for using local, organic foods and credited as the inspiration for the style of cooking known as California cuisine. Well-known restauranteur, author, and food activist Alice Waters co-founded Chez Panisse in 1971. From the beginning, Waters advocated a style of cooking that uses the freshest, most delicious local food available, often prepared and presented simply and/or traditionally. The restaurant prides itself on relationships with producers, and buys through its established network of local farmers, ranchers, and dairies. [wiki]
It is not often my foodie buddy Erik makes a special trip to sunny California. We start his first day with Chez Panisse, a famous restaurant he has wanted to visit for so long. For our visit, we were greeted with this 4 course prix fixe menu at $100/person:
An aperitif – served with a light wine.
Local Dungeness crab cakes with radicchio, fennel and Meyer lemon salad and paprika mayonnaise
The crab cakes were light and crispy. The paprika mayonnaise supported the dish with a dash of spiciness.
Gold turnip and celery soups with black truffle butter
A unique soup with complementing flavors. The soup lacked depth though in texture and flavor.
Wolfe Ranch quail grilled with green garlic and marjoram with spinach and winter squash caponata
The quail was quite good — quite possibly the only dish that was salted enough to bring out the flavors. The spinach/cauliflower were fresh and crisp, however oddly contrasted by the winter squash’s soft and mushy texture.
Noyau ice cream profiteroles with clementines and kumquats
Noyau is a French liqueur using pits of apricots, but having an almond/hazelnut flavor. This was surprisingly good with the profiterole and citrus flavors.
The rest of the restaurant:
The kitchen is right next to the dining room:
The meat fridge has full bone-in meats for making broth.
Hungry Cactus’ Verdict: B
To appreciate Chez Panisse, one needs to have the right expectations going in. First, the food may seem bland. I think this is Alice Waters’s intentional style. I will contrast this with Thomas Keller’s style — while both use the freshest ingredients, he brings out the flavors in a bolder way (I’m guessing with salt and fats where appropriate without overdoing it), which I prefer. Second, the price runs $100 (or $140 with wine paring) per person, which compared to other restaurants in Yountville (~ double that of Ad Hoc), does not seem to bring enough to the table, literally.
Having said that, there were a few things that stood out to me: the turnip and celery combo soup flavor — I found those flavors complementing each other, and hope to use that in some future dish. The other was the Noyau liqueur flavor — it’s a great dessert flavor!