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Chez Panisse


marcus
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The former. I'm assuming flawless performance for the purposes of argument. Just as a theoretical proposition, I don't see how that style can ever be called the best. To take it to the extreme, it would be like saying a hot dog stand is better than Daniel. There's nothing you can do to make a hot dog stand better than Daniel, even if the hot dog stand performs faultlessly 100% of the time. And that's not to say I don't like hot dogs. It's just one of those fundamental realities of the universe that we all have to live with. It's like when the Soup Nazi showed up in Zagat's top-50 food ranking for New York. Sorry, but anybody who thinks that's the case is lacking in perspective. To take it to the other extreme, I don't even see how you could put a place like Peter Luger in the upper echelon. I love Peter Luger. I think it's the best steakhouse, period. I might on any given day choose to eat there instead of at Daniel. But were the entire restaurant universe composed of eighteen Daniels, one Peter Luger, and one Soup Nazi, the rankings would be Daniel 1-18, Luger's 19 and Soup Nazi 20. Nobody should be saying, "Oh, we have so many Daniels -- let's give one of our top-ten spots to the Soup Nazi."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you analyze Shaw's comments solely from the point-of-view of someone who has a very pure view of the top 50 restaurants in the country, someone who's vision focuses solely on any given restaurant as it exists now, with history and longevity not as factors, then his comments are much more reasonable than they seemed at first. But Shaw has a luxury that the editors of Gourmet don't have: he doesn't have to pander to a clientele, if you want to call it pandering. He can afford a certain ideological purity by excluding factors that they can't afford to ignore. They just have more variables to consider, that's all. Not that there's anything better or worse about that, it just means that their criteria for inclusion and placement are different than his.

So, Shaw, what's your list? I'd like to hear your top 50, for purposes of comparison.

Edited by Deacon (log)
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Hey, I pander to you. That's an audience.

I'm far too lazy to make a top-50 list -- I probably couldn't even do it nationwide. I'm just here to complain about other people's lists.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Gee, I'd hate to see how you treat people you're NOT pandering to.

One of the virtues of not coming up with a list is that no one can criticize your choices. Which makes Gourmet courageous in that respect. Of course, one of their motives is to intentionally CREATE controversy in order to sell magazines. Which in turn affects the list. There should be a thread for everybody's idea of the best 50 here, but it would draw so many posts it would unbalance the rest of the site.

In any case, in the absence of a fair target, I shall continue my target practice at the first available scarecrow. How about a little fire, Shaw? :laugh:

I'm just here to complain about other people's lists. -- Okay, but how many of the fifty mentioned have you been to? If the only proper criterion is food, and rep is irrelevant, you need to go to Highlands in order to say "Highlands doesn't deserve to be #5."

Edited by Deacon (log)
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I don't see how that style can ever be called the best.

Well this is really the Italian food can't be as good as French food argument.

And while I agree with that, I think where the magazine has an out here is that when they say "Top Ten Restaurants," some people can draw the ineference that it means Top Ten Restaurant "Experiences." Then places like Peter Lugar or a hot dog stand can qualify. You and I want to draw the inference that it means food, and if that is the case, a hot dog stand can't trump Jean-Georges no matter what happens. But I think that many people, no most people, include an enjoyment factor into their calculation of what the best restaurant is. And as I said earlier, some places are so good at what they do on an alternate level that I can see them on the list if one infers enjoyable.

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indeed, there are those who prefer the simple cooking over fancy technique

I'm one of those, as you know, Steve, and I wouldn't have it on my top ten or twenty list either.

The entire concept of CP is derivative of Mediterranean cooking and isn't as good as I've had in dozens of casual places in Italy.

Good for Alice Waters for having raised the level of awareness about ingredients in some circles in the US. Good for her for having done it in a demographically felicitous location. She deserves her success. Not a great restaurant.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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If the editors of Gourmet mean to say, "These aren't the best restaurants, by the way -- they're just a few we've selected for your enjoyment for other reasons," then they should say that. Otherwise, they're deliberately misleading any reasonable reader who is going to assume the top ten list is a list of the ten best restaurants.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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How many times do you see a publication set out a clear set of parameters that make any sense when they publish a best of list?

Start a publication, put me in charge, and we'll get that number up to one.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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There's a thread in the Media forum about this year's Gourmet pick of the best - round about here, which notes that the French Laundry is nowhere on the list. In the context of this discussion, it reinforces my sense that the Gourmet list is fairly arbitrary and meaningless. Which is a disgrace.

I couldn't get in to Chez Panisse the only time I've been in the vicinity, but this has been a fascinating thread - eGullet at its best.

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I grew up in Berkeley and have eaten at Chez Pannise many, many times. I am also a Pastry Chef- part of my "road" was being in the little black book- to be called in to work when someone was sick. The ingredients used are really beautiful. Cehez Pannise has built up such a network of farmers and really helped encourage the gowth of beautiful, tasty organic produce. The menus are posted every Thursday for the following week. It is stated that substitutions will be made when the have to be. This is a fresh, seasonal restaurant. I would believe that Alice would call her food Californian in a Medditerraean style.

I have tremendous respect for Alice Waters. She has been a huge force in the community. The (other) junior high school (not the one that I went to), had a huge asphalt playground. It had no cafeteria (long gone) but fast food trucks would appear every day. She helped create the edible schoolyard. Children help grow, and cook their lunches. They learn biology, farming, botany, and how to cook. They learn to cook. This has been going on for many years now. Her passion helped it happen.

I have worked in many kitchens- California, Europe, and Hawaii. The cooks at Chez Pannise are treated with respect and dignity. The service charge is to provide the cooks with a decent wage (and the servers). I have worked in many restaurants where the hosts were walking with $1000, the servers were making 100,000 a year. The line cooks (talented/ experienced/ educated- were making $8- $10 a hour. We couldn't afford cabs/cars. We would walk home etc... at one or two in the morning.

Chez Pannise is not for the people that want Peruvian truffle panna cotta on a tower of triangle chips or, for people who want to be treated like prima donnas. If you want to know what is going on with Californian farmers (where a lot of the food in the US is grown- go to Chez Pannise).

For dessert, you won't get a fondant covered pyramid sprinkled with raspberry dust served with a gelee, a foam, and a panna cotta. You will probably get fresh fruit highlighted in some way (a tart, a sherbet, a cake).

I love eating at Chez Pannise ( Wolfgang Puck used to eat there all the time before he opened Spago- that is where his pizza oven idea came from, plus his love for pizza).

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KarenS -- Overall, your discussion of Chez Panisse reads more like a political statement than a restaurant review. I went to the restaurant fully understanding their style and objectives and looking forward to it. I was not looking for fancy, or avant garde. They just failed to deliver. I wonder whether Chez Panisse today is anything like it was when Wolfgang Puck used to eat there befoe opening Spago. I wonder why, with their focus on California farmers and producers, they served me only French cheese.

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Your response made me giggle. At Chez Panisse, restaurants and food are political!

Ok, without politics....I've been to Chez Panisse 4 times in the last 10 years and once to Cafe Fanny. I always go in the spring and summer, since I'm not a big root vegetable fan. Of the four times I ate downstairs I had one indifferent meal as you described and the rest ranged from excellent to ephemeral. It's too bad you were presented with a bad meal on your first visit. The one that was not so great was not the most recent one. At one of the excellent meals, I had the best wine/food pairing by a server ever. I wish I had written down which wine it was, it had this amazing anise component that complemented the fennel tones in the poached beef perfectly. They've also been very accommodating when we bring our own wine or done 1/2 glass pours so we could have a different wine with each course.

As for the tipping thing, at one meal my father, who was paying, didn't realize that the tip was included because he didn't really examine the bill and added a tip to the tip line. Our server came over to our table, put her hand and his shoulder and said in a low voice "there is already a 15% service charge added to the bill, I don't think you really meant to add this much extra, right?" and showed him the bill. He agreed and changed the amount.

I wonder why you are commenting about being served French cheese but not commenting about all the French wine on the wine list. For that matter, the tea on the tea list is from India, Sri Lanka, China and Taiwan. Do you feel this also goes against the policy of concentrating on local producers?

I ate at Cafe Fanny on my most recent visit. The food was great, in fact, I like the atmosphere better up there then down stairs, where I feel like people are too serious and dressed up and stuffy (different perspective, I guess). My most serious foodie friend who lives in Paris right now makes a point of going there whenever she is in the bay area too.

regards,

trillium

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indeed, there are those who prefer the simple cooking over fancy technique

I'm one of those, as you know, Steve, and I wouldn't have it on my top ten or twenty list either.

The entire concept of CP is derivative of Mediterranean cooking and isn't as good as I've had in dozens of casual places in Italy.

Good for Alice Waters for having raised the level of awareness about ingredients in some circles in the US. Good for her for having done it in a demographically felicitous location. She deserves her success. Not a great restaurant.

Three quick thoughts here. I am also "one of those", preferring simple to elaborated cooking.

But I firmly believe that it is much, much more difficult to create transcendent dining experiences in the "simple food" or Chez Panisse model. There are far fewer outs or options for the day when the right ingredient doesn't arrive, or the line cook is feeling lazy, or a waiter is off form. A top French restaurant can barrage the diner with course after course, doctor weak flavours with complex sauces, disguise poor-tasting fruit in the "fondant covered pyramid sprinkled with raspberry dust served with a gelee, a foam, and a panna cotta" that Karen describes. It is more of a high wire act: either it succeeds brilliantly, or it fails miserably. There are few points in between. And the more experienced a diner is (both at eating and at cooking) the harder it is for a no-choice, simple cooking restaurant to consistently create "wow".

A second point is that the thread illustrates the difficulty of "best" as an operative category for restaurants. Best for what? For me, and I suspect for many of us, Chez Panisse was a wonderful door into a new kind of dining and a deeper appreciation of food. The Grand Vefour was another. Discovering eGullet some 7 months ago was another. For who I was, at the time, and more importantly for the personal development I needed, Chez Panisse was undoubtedly "best". I was smitten with the woman who had taken me to dine at CP; the room was quietly welcoming; and the food was overwhelmingly good. I can still remember the crunch of a perfectly fried squash blossom that our waiter quietly offered as an amuse (or, as he put it, "an appeteaser"). I had my first Chassagne Montrachet with that dinner. So I do think that "best" (whether we are talking about restaurants or French vs Italian cuisine) needs to be qualified. This isn't an invitation to relativism, but to clarity of language.

Finally, I am with FG in rejecting political orientation as a qualifier for a restaurant. Some diners may choose to go to a restaurant because they are anti-fur, pro organic, emphasise local produce, etc. but this shouldn't excuse poor cooking or shoddy service. I hope that Alice Waters would agree with this.

Edited by JD (London) (log)

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I really don't have a hard time using the word "best" in a way that is vague. There are very few things it can mean. Best food, best dining experience, favorite dining experience, best quality/value ratio and most importantly in this case, intangeables regarding the restaurant or the dining experience. Did I miss anything? Anyway, if you assess those things and balance them, you should end up with a analytical reason as to why something came out on top. But it sounds like certain people do not want to take intangeables into consideration. Clearly Gourmet is willing to do that so there will never be agreement on this point. But I have to say that I use similar parlance myself. There was a time I would have told you that Stars in SF and Olive's in Charleston, Mass were "the best" restaurants in the U.S. in spite of the fact that if you only looked at the food, neither would be the top place. Here, CP is being lauded for their approach to the overall dining experience. That they demand the best ingredients and try to prepare them perfectly gis being given extra weight by Gourmet. Just like I gave additional weight to eclective cuisine that derived from multiple yet related sources. Or someone else might say that only a restaurant at the haute cuisine level qualifies. Whatever your reasons, I don't agree with their choice but I don't find the choice to be invalid.

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i don't think we should conflate a restaurant's implicit ideology with the quality of its overall dining experience, which isn't to say that it cannot be another criteria tacked on for consideration when evaluating its worth. gourmet's list appeared to me to be one of those bad syllogisms that appear on the SATs every year: X is to Y, as A is to. . .

to say that chez panisse, l'etoile, highlands, et al., are to daniel, jean-geoges, or charlie trotter's is just fanciful non sequitur, which is fine, because even police line-ups are filled with those other than the culprit. perhaps the biggest indictment gourmet brougt upon itself concerns the criteria they used--which is probably some insanely randomizing algorithm--because it created a top fifty that is beginning to appear as dubious as the oscar's and grammy's. good for them.

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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Are you saying Chez Panisse's place at #1 was motivated by political correctness, equating it with Halle Berry winning the Best Actress Oscar?

Maybe you'd have a point--in both cases. I wouldn't rate Chez Panisse #1 myself, nor would I have given Halle Berry an Oscar. But there are some who'd be afraid not to, for fear of being accused of being "not liberal enough." Politics rears its ugly rear in every field.

Edited by Deacon (log)
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david duke was once governor of louisiana, titanic handily won during its year at the academy awards, steely dan received a grammy last year, and then gourmet magazine--in what can only be construed as editorial license--composed a list of the "fifty best" restaurants in the united states that, in addition to pitting apples against oranges, compared underripe or aged fruits to other fruits that just plain taste better. i cannot attempt to assume that i know the reason behind halle berry's oscar win, nor why gourmet included chez panisse or l'etoile on their list. the best i can do is to try and understand their criteria, which, as i've said before, was probably a randomizing algorithm, because that is the only way to make sense of their choice. certainly ideology was one factor, but maybe not the. who knows?

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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You guys keep saying politics and I think it's more philosophical then politics. To some people, serving the best ingredients prepared the best way is not only as good as it gets, it should be the main purpose of every restaurant. If those are your sensibilities, then I can see putting a place like CP at the top of the heap. My sensibilities wouldn't allow me to say it's the best because I place to much emphasis on dazzling technique. But for people who shun dazzling technique as being "too fancy," what other factors would contribute to a restaurant being in the top 10 or even number 1?

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You guys keep saying politics and I think it's more philosophical then politics. To some people, serving the best ingredients prepared the best way is not only as good as it gets, it should be the main purpose of every restaurant.

clarification: i think it's a question of ideology, not of politics, which can include focusing on artisanal purveyors who hawk foodstuffs that are organic, seasonal, and local.

steve: while i agree that there are many people who prefer restaurants that search out the "best ingredients" and then prepare them "the best way," the people at gourmet magazine cannot be said to be such people. their supposed criteria produced a list that is much too garbled and unintelligible for that, because it cannot be said that all the restaurants in the top ten are committed to quality foodstuffs "prepared the best way"--which i take to mean "simply"--since many favor technical bombast over a chez panissean simplicity. as i've said before, it's not just ideology and not just editorial flourish--it's from a criteria that is impenetrable to the casual reader, and one can only guess that a lot of the choices were at random.

Edited by ballast_regime (log)

"Get yourself in trouble."

--Chuck Close

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serving the best ingredients prepared the best way

Isn't that the implicit mission of every top restaurant, no matter what the style?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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To some people, serving the best ingredients prepared the best way is not only as good as it gets, it should be the main purpose of every restaurant. If those are your sensibilities, then I can see putting a place like CP at the top of the heap.

The minimum number of the highest quality ingredients, combined as simply as possible. That was my food education, and it remains my grail. It is not, however, my wish for every restaurant, nor does my adherence to it place CP on or near any heap of mine. I agree with JD(London) that such heaping tends to be, in my words, Zagat-like and fundamentally of no real interest.

It's nice that Alice Waters made a garden out of asphalt; virtuous, even. But it still has nothing to do with the quality of a visit to her restaurant, which, apparently, can vary a great deal depending on many contributing factors. I'm after consistency, not variation.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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