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Chez Panisse


marcus
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Hmm, I find myself having to defend it's choice as number 1 when all I have done is said I can see the set of sensibilities that would lead one down that road. Even though they don't represent my thinking. So maybe the best thing to do is to describe the intangeables of CP. How much credit does it deserve for starting a trend in food. And if it is performing at a high level, and the trend has influenced countless others, what is that intangeable worth on the scale theu used to rate the top 10?

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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OK...I read through the entire thread and didn't expect to contribute, but I changed my mind.

I had the opportunity to work with Alice Waters in a cooking school kitchen about 4 months ago when she was doing her book tour (Fruit). She is an American icon. I am in awe of her passion for local foods, her knowledge and her respect for food: she handled the vegetables as though they were newborn babies.

I ate at the bistro years ago and, although I don't remember what I had ( hey...it was the 70's...I think) I do remember thinking that it would be an honor to meet her. And it was, nearly 30 years later. She mesmerized her audience. She is unequivocal about the quality of her ingredients. She used only Texas-grown ( preferably Austin-grown) organic veg and fruit in the class.But get this: she hasn't cooked in the restaurant since her child was born, 18 years ago! She said so in class...

Maybe it's time for CP to call it quits. I know it doesn't make her any money. I think it's still open because, like Jim Morrison's grave, it's a destination.

And I'd go back if I could afford it!

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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.

Trillium-

I think you might have Chez Panisse Cafe and Cafe Fanny mixed up. (Unless an upstairs dining room has opened at Fanny in the past year or two.)

Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Cafe occupy the same building (cafe upstairs, restaurant downstairs) on Shattuck Avenue.

Cafe Fanny is down on San Pablo, sandwiched between Kermit Lynch and Acme Bakery. They have no table service, and serve only breakfast and lunch--wonderful cafe au lait, simple sandwiches, poached eggs, etc.

As for CP being the BEST RESTAURANT IN THE US, I tend to agree that Gourmet must be full if it. The food is so simple that it seems inappropriate to call it *the best* restaurant. While I don't believe that is is necessary to torture food with convoluted technique, I don't think serving up a plain slice of perfect melon as dessert should be judged as the apex of the culinary arts! And I tend to agree with Fat Guy--the food is the thing. Great service and atmosphere are important, but great cooking should be the main focus of a list of the country's best restaurants. (Philosophy, politics, and historical value should not influence the decision at all.)

That being said, I do think there is room for CP on the top 50 list, because, when things are going properly (which they usually are, in my experience) the food really is marvelous--often better and more satisfying than some of the more sophisticated stuff I have had.

And, to be even more convoluted, I think I have to say that Chez Panisse (the whole deal--I can't really differentiate between the cafe and the restaurant--they are so similar) is my FAVORITE restaurant. I love it there-the vibe, the food, the philosophy. It all adds up to a special place for me, and maybe Ruth (or whoever) was using too personal a yardstick when the choice was made.

I am very surprised by the number of negative/not-interested comments from folks who have not been to CP. It is a place you just have to go and try and judge for yourself. I am saddened to hear that Marcus had a bad meal, but this place has been around for decades--thriving because the food is good (Berkeley would not support a place for so long based on philosophy alone--too many other good places to eat--and it is mainly a local place). Most spots have bad nights, as we have seen again and again on this board, but they are often the exception, not the rule.

Edit: Foodie 52, you have to go back before you can say this! I have been to the restaurant/cafe 4 or 5 times in the past 5 years, and it has been wonderful each time. (Planning to be in NoCal next week, might have to go again to see if it is all washed up, as many here say...)

Edited by mixmaster b (log)
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I don't think serving up a plain slice of perfect melon as dessert should be judged as the apex of the culinary arts!

Wouldn't it be interesting, then, to think about similarities and differences between the culinary arts and the art of eating, as it has been called? In one way or another, this conversation has been going on here on Egullet for a long time.

There are places and occasions and meals where a perfect slice of melon, or, let's say, a few perfect figs and peaches, some comparable cheese, maybe a few nuts and some broken pieces of good chocolate (brought from Switzerland or Belgium), the last of the wine...For many, that's as good as it gets.

My problem with CP isn't its simplicity or its devotion to ingredients of high quality. On the contrary, these are its strengths. In fact, my sense of unease with it has more to do with the arriviste quality of its "good works" as compared with what I know from my own experience. It's sort of like when a lot of people fell in love with "British Blues" and the Stones in the 60's, but had never listened to Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. At least some went back and listened to the originals.

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

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I agree it deserves its own thread, especially since I take issue with that attempted division of the culinary world. If somebody starts a new thread and points to it from here, that will be a good thing.

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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Okay, the thread is called something like "Ingredients v. Technique" with a subtitle of something like "Must one dominate the other?" The first post says something like, "Fat Guy said to start this thread. Please discuss." Then tomorrow I can add it to Hot Topics in order to trick everybody into posting there.

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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(Philosophy, politics, and historical value should not influence the decision at all.)

Would Chez Panisse have achieved its prominence (especially in Berkeley) if it had been called "The John Birch Society Cafe"? Or "Hitler's Hideaway"? How about "Strom Thurmond's House of Chicken and Ribs"? Definitely not!

Well, maybe in Orange County. . . .

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Okay, the thread is called something like "Ingredients v. Technique" with a subtitle of something like "Must one dominate the other?" The first post says something like, "Fat Guy said to start this thread. Please discuss." Then tomorrow I can add it to Hot Topics in order to trick everybody into posting there.

Steve, done.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Four years and many meals ago I ate at Chez Panisse expecting much. Sitting upstairs in the Cafe on a wooden bench with my eyes swollen with expectations. The server recommended a bottle in our price range and its poured. From that first taste I should have known the night wasn't going to be what I thought. The wine---- was horrible. No depth, No fruit, No balance, No anything to consider not at least an interesting wine. Was to ambaressed to say anything being where I was. My organic hand picked salad wasn't washed. Gritty dirty and not in the way of being overlooked. Leaves showed visual grime. I'm all for terroir but there has to be some limits. The entree and desserts. Were utterly completely forgettable. A complete letdown. A waste of money and time.

Went back a few months later thinking that perhaps it was just the night.

Second meal. Just as forgetable. But my expectations were lower and I enjoyed dinner. It was pricey but at least not horrible. Alice Waters sells her philosophy which has completely changed restaurants and chefs across America. Her food though in terms of preperation, effort, and thought has long since been surpassed.

Would I go again.

Yes! Is the experience going to be any more than a good meal at the beginning of our culinary revolution.

NO!

But sometimes we all want to think a little to much about what we eat.

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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.

Trillium-

I think you might have Chez Panisse Cafe and Cafe Fanny mixed up. (Unless an upstairs dining room has opened at Fanny in the past year or two.)

Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Cafe occupy the same building (cafe upstairs, restaurant downstairs) on Shattuck Avenue.

Cafe Fanny is down on San Pablo, sandwiched between Kermit Lynch and Acme Bakery. They have no table service, and serve only breakfast and lunch--wonderful cafe au lait, simple sandwiches, poached eggs, etc.

snip

You're right, I did. I was referring to Chez Panisse Cafe, not Cafe Fanny. I liked it almost better than the downstairs, but I've only been once. Never made it to Cafe Fanny.

As for who has the best restaurant, I can't really comment, but I enjoyed yours. I hated, hated, hated the upscale food scene in Chicago, so I figure that what I like the best isn't really what other people like. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I could even pick a single favorite restaurant for just myself, but I think Chez Panisse wouldn't be it if I could...I'd never turn down a meal there, though! On the other hand, some of the Chez Panisse cookbooks would make it into my top 10 favorite cookbooks, I couldn't live without CP Desserts.

regards,

trillium

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Chez panisse was pretty clear as to what they're about. In a nutshell: It is what it is."

Well, it was not always "is what it is." Twenty-five years ago, when Ms. Waters was still trying to succeed, it was truly wonderful. Not living in the Bay area, I've only been there 4 times, but it has gone downhill since my first visit. I remember a cassoulet with goose confit that opened my eyes to new possibilities.

By contrast, our last visit had a very unspecial menu featuring lentils with lamb sausage. Nothing I couldn't have made myself for a routine weekday supper, except a pureed soup "drizzled with truffle oil" (am I the only person who can't taste the subtleties of truffle oil? And not to change the subject, but how does one get enough truffles to actually taste them? Even at FL I've felt shorted on truffles. However, at Blue Hour in Portland last month, there was gnocchi with Reggiano Parmesan and sliced white truffles: spectacular!).

Anyway, the Myth is alive and well. Michael Bauer of The Chronicle will hear no evil about Alice Waters; when I wrote about the above meal, he responded that I was simply unable to appreciate great food that didn't have "bells and whistles."

Having been to all three restaurants being discussed in this forum, I have to say that CP no longer belongs in the category. The Herb Farm is an odd duck of a fine restaurant: imagine telling your life story every night, or presenting the kitchen staff in review! But the food makes up for the eccentricity: Wagyu beef tenderloin, for example.

Nothing, however, anywhere we've been, can match FL. Keller is simply amazing. Read Tony Bourdain's "Cooks Tour," and then realize that he does this level of perfection every night, for every customer, and every dish! At her best - a decade or more ago - Alice Waters was not even close to that level of culinary perfection, and HF has miles to go before it should be compared.

One final comment. There have been a few postings complaining about the absence of choices at CP and HF. I don't share those feelings, because I actually enjoy being in the hands of a competent chef. But for those who don't, Thomas Keller LOVES to be given difficult requests. You're allergic to a primary ingredient in one of his dishes? He'll find a way to make it without that ingredient. You don't like oysters (or pigs trotters or snails)? He takes that as a challenge, and makes you something not on the menu! This is not just for pampered celebrities. He will do virtually anything to please his guests. And this attitude filters down through the entire staff. An extraordinary chef, and a restaurant like no other.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think they (FL, Chez Panisse) are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, different restos/culinary philosophies. I wouldn't even begin to compare them. As far as best/better/placing in categories. That is a side discussion taking place here that I am not involved in. My point being that Chez Panisse defies easy placement in such traditional categories.

When I said "it is what it is", I think you misunderstood me within the specific contexts of the parts of the thread I was replying to.

Nick

Edited by ngatti (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay...I read this entire string and I have to say I'm frightenned of what is awaiting me on Friday night when I dine at CP. I am a new Mom and as any new parent know your opportunities to get out of the house for a special evening are few and far between. My husband, friends and I were going to go to FL, but I squashed the idea last minute; too far from SF and the baby, but now I am starting to think that the disappointment from my meal is going to be so great that I should have waited another year to leave the house and go to FL.

I am really scared; this was my idea and now it is going to be a bust. I need help. I checked out the menu for Friday and was very excited (this morning--pre-post reading). I am not a very educated wine person so I usually go with the pairing choices when dining in a fine-restaurant. I am going to be lost and it sounds like there is no one there to rescue me...

I NEED HELP!!! I have a lot riding on this. Wine suggestions from someone who has been there recently would be greatly appreciated.

THANKS,

J.

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If you read the menu and it excited you, then I think you'll be fine. And if you're an inexperienced wine drinker, then you'll probably be happier than someone with 50 years of experience who has their own idea of what goes with what. And remember, it's just food. From what I get is that people either were expecting more or expecting different than what the restaurant does these days and were disappointed.

Relax and enjoy your night out! And report back to us, please.

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Scared??It's food,one meal,for christsakes.The country is on the brink of going to war,for very questionable reasons,all kinds of crap is going on.Are you going to be drawn and quartered if the meal isn't top notch?Try to enjoy yourself,no matter what.As an aside,it seems that Chez Panisse rises and falls with who is the second in command-I don't know who's there now,but everything changes,and good ingredients without someone who handles them well are only halfway there....

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i had a great experience at the cafe last summer.

A number of people on this thread have responded to a discussion of the restaurant with comments regarding the cafe. Althought there is common ownership and an overarching approach, these are different restaurants with different kitchens, cooks and menus. I don't believe that they are directly comparable and that the experience with one has great predictive value as to how one might find the other.

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i had a great experience at the cafe last summer.

A number of people on this thread have responded to a discussion of the restaurant with comments regarding the cafe. Althought there is common ownership and an overarching approach, these are different restaurants with different kitchens, cooks and menus. I don't believe that they are directly comparable and that the experience with one has great predictive value as to how one might find the other.

hmmm, well, in that case, i would recommend the cafe for the simple reason that you can choose what you eat.

mike

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Wingding,

First of all...last I checked I am on a FOOD forum, not a political one. So if I choose to become overly dramatic about my small life and its insignificant problems just ignore me. Obviously there are bigger issues in my life and the world at large than whether a single night out with my husband goes well or not. I was simply responding (one of the few times--if not my last) to a post on a forum that I enjoy very much. Do me a favor don't make me feel badly about it. I read the string because I was interested in the topic. I was asking for help regarding wine choices; yes my question was more of a plea, but it was how I was feeling at the time. So thanks for making me feel small because that must make you feel superior.

J.

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wannabake, I'm sure it will all be fine.

(I'd have chosen FL though. Might as well go to the market as to CP, by comparison. :laugh: )

Oops.

But it'll be fine. :wink:

As was pointed out, if you were excited by the menu, that's a good thing.

Hope baby and all is well.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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wannabake, I'm sure it will all be fine.

(I'd have chosen FL though. Might as well go to the market as to CP, by comparison. :laugh: )

Oops.

But it'll be fine. :wink:

As was pointed out, if you were excited by the menu, that's a good thing.

Hope baby and all is well.

In the introduction to the Chez Panisse Vegetables book, Waters recounts a trip to NYC where they were to cook as part of some charity benefit thing. They loaded up their suitcases with the "freshest organic produce" and at the dinner prepared a simple salad. A well-known NY chef whom they don't identify looked at what they did and said (jokingly) "that's not cooking, that's shopping."

Oh well, I thought it was funny.

And don't let anyone get to you! It's their problem, not yours. If you absolutely hate the food, it'll still be worth it because then you'll have a great story to tell and will get tons of foodie cred points for hating an icon. :rolleyes:

Someday I'll eat at both CP and FL. Oh yes, I shall. :cool:

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First, get baked before you go. The food won't matter.

Second, you'll probably be "evaluating" you meal differently from the standards/experience many people use when the post here. I don't think I'll ever have to worry about cricizing a restaurant because it's not as good as French Laundry. And in fact, if I had wanted to be picky, I could have reviewed FL much differently and with much more criticism.

Third, I haven't read this thread, but I've heard only great things about CP.

Fourth, what Gknl said about the wine.

Fifth, I can't imagine that anything at a restaurant of this ilk will be bad enough to spoil a night out with your husband.

Sixth, did I mention getting baked?

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Well I went to the restaurant last night and in short I LOVED it... :wub: We had a wonderful dining experience. The menu was skillfully prepared. I can say that I have had "finer" (Aqua, Hawthorne Lane, Everest and Trotters in Chicago) dinners, but this one ranks up there. The service was very attentive. And overall it was a very nice experience. I would definately go back :biggrin:

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