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Chez Panisse


Verjuice
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We live on the east coast, but try to make SFO yearly and have eaten in the Cafe twice. We enjoy its informality, to say nothing about the exquisite food and wine offerings. Besides, last time the Goddess herself walked by our table and I kissed her hand!

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the cafe is an almost perfect restaurant (in fact, I like it much more than downstairs, where i only eat occasionally). when i fly north, i literally plan my jetblue departure/arrival into oakland so i can stop for lunch. very simple food, done perfectly. it's the kind of place that reminds you have how incredibly delicious a perfectly prepared green salad can be. wonderful setting. great prices. plan on about $150 for a blow-out lunch for two with a generous tip (three courses, including cheese, a couple glasses of champagne, a half-bottle of something good). they also have a daily set menu that's three courses for $25. it's also a very cool mix of people: it seems like almost every time i eat there there's one table that seems to be a student eating by his/her self, always the economy menu and deeply enjoying it.

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the cafe is an almost perfect restaurant (in fact, I like it much more than downstairs, where i only eat occasionally). when i fly north, i literally plan my jetblue departure/arrival into oakland so i can stop for lunch.

Russ, would you mind elaborating a bit more on why you prefer the cafe to the restaurant? I only have one night in town and was considering changing my reservations to the Cafe (I was going to wait until next week's restaurant menus were posted tomorrow, just in case my evening's fare seems irresistible) based on the replies on this thread. My reservation is a fairly late one, and I'll have just ended a twenty-four long journey, so I'm thinking now that the more casual the better. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep my head upright.

Also, and I realize this is off-topic, do you have any recommendations for a nearby place to stay? All of the Berkeley hotel recommendations I have read on travel sites have been disheartening to say the least. I'll have a car, but won't want to drive for more than fifteen or twenty minutes out of town. I don't mind driving back towards San Francisco, either.

Thanks!

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I wrote about my meal there in February on the Chez Panisse thread. I agree with Russ' sentiments. I went in search of the perfect green salad and found it. It's a truly great restaurant.

Andy, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience when you first posted it. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I became so determined to eat at Chez Panisse during my one night in the area.

However, I started this thread to ask specifically about the Cafe upstairs. I have reservations at the Restaurant, but couldn't find much on eGullet about the Cafe...

so I started a thread!

edited to add:

Oh Andy, I'm so sorry; I confused you with jeffj, who posted the initial review in that thread. A second visit to the thread informs me that you did indeed post a review of the Cafe.

Also, as it turns out, it was your quote about feeling "nourished" that I've been carrying around with me. Very nice.

I'm really sorry about that. Should we merge the threads?

Edited by Verjuice (log)
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Personally, I think if you have only one night in town and you've never eaten at CP before you should stick with downstairs. It will give you a more comprehensive CP experience. Then, the next time you're in town and want a good casual dinner, then you can opt for upstairs.

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I've not been downstairs but the Cafe has become a must everytime I've visited. I prefer the idea of having a choice of dishes rather than the one set menu offered downstairs and I find the casual feel very attractive.

I've said it on other threads but this is a place that makes me smile when I go there.

And that's the point, isn't it?

Bill Russell

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would you mind elaborating a bit more on why you prefer the cafe to the restaurant? I only have one night in town and was considering changing my reservations

i'm sure there are people on this board with more experience of the restaurant than i have (and let me make it perfectly clear: nothing i say here should be read as a slam against chez panisse, it's excellent if, for me, something short of perfect). for me, it may be a matter of expectations. when i go to the restaurant, it's a big deal and while i've always been pleased, i'm rarely in love. to me, the food at the cafe and the restaurant are pretty much the same, in spirit and in execution. and, for me, the style of chez panisse seems to work better in a more casual atmosphere. there's a bustle to the cafe while the restaurant has a more reverent hush. and since what you're eating is, essentially, informal cafe food, the former works better for me.

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Whatever you decide is going to be great. For the past few years, we have gone to the cafe for a (very) long lunch, usually with friends. Russ is right about the cheese- it's like the rest of the food- not a large volume, but just enough and always first rate

A car while visiting SF is something of a burden, but if it's only one night, it's not a big deal. What kind of a hotel are you looking for? Are you driving out of the area the next day?

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Thanks for all the helpful replies.

I ended up cancelling my restaurant reservation and opting for the cafe.

I can't wait. I moved to the Persian Gulf four months ago and I haven't had a salad since I got here. I'm heading directly to Berkeley from the airport, and I have every intention of ordering everything on the menu that is green and leafy. I can't imagine a more appropriate place to do so, either.

*doing happy interpretive vegetable jig in 125 degree heat*

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  • 1 month later...

Had dinner at the cafe about a month ago on the first evening of a wonderful vacation. I can't imagine a more appropriate or enjoyable way to have started out. We had a great time.

I've been living overseas in a place where the imported produce arrives half-rotted wrapped in cling film; when I got to California, I hadn't had a salad in four months.

Naturally, I proceeded to order everything on the menu that contained greens, which was nearly all of the appetizers (six), a pizzetta, a bottle of Sancerre and two desserts. It was an ideal amount of food for the two of us although we were warned that it would be "a huge amount"... :unsure:.

I thought I might burst into tears when I took my first bite of rocket; it was totally life-affirming.

Thanks for all the helpful advice.

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  • 7 months later...

Chez Panisse Cafe - Lunch March 30, 2006

Top quality ingredients prepared to highlight those ingredients and done so with impeccable technique will never go out of fashion even if the specific ingredients in fashion at any specific time change. I am happy to say that even with recent personnel changes in the kitchen Chez Panisse Cafe continues to produce marvelous preparations of impeccable ingredients. To finish off our short Northern California eating binge, Molto e and I decided on lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe prior to his mid-afternoon departure from Oakland airport.

We arrived a bit prior to our 11:30AM reservation to find the restaurant still closed. This enabled a quick exploration of the surrounding area. The line for pizza across the street was already long. As tempting as it was to join that line, we stayed the course and I am glad we did.

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Chez Panisse entrance

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Entry. Up or down? For lunch, always up.

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The setting

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Menu masthead close-up

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A bowl of olives.

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Octopus braised in the wood oven with aoili

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Pizza with tomato sauce, pancetta and egg

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Artichoke and Cardoon Salad with almonds and Marash pepper

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James Ranch lamb leg with roasted parsnips, spinach and pounded marjoram

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Fried Wolfe Farm quail saor with wild rocket and polenta

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Meyer lemon cream puffs with caramel and creme Chantilly

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Hazelnut ice cream with Cognac cream and biscotti

Molto e will provide comments on the individual dishes. I will just say that everything was simply outstanding.

A few kitchen shots:

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Upstairs

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Downstairs

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Chez Panisse was as satisfying a meal that we had on our trip in it's own way. Great ingredients, simple preparation and cooked to perfection all the way thru the meal.

The pizza was great with the proper balence of ingredients on a good crust (see Doc's pictures of the wood burning oven).

The artichoke and cardoon salad was so simple and so good. The salad was perfectly dressed.

The braised octopus was great

If we were going to split hairs then we would have preferred the lamb cooked a little less. That said the meat was succulent and full of flavor.

The buttermilk fried quail was fryed to perfection and the sweet and sour onions were a hit.

Desserts were both good

If I lived near Chez Panisse, I would be a weekly diner.

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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If we were going to split hairs then we would have preferred the lamb cooked a little less. That said the meat was succulent and full of flavor.

It would have to be one of the hairs from the crown of my head! :laugh::raz: I really couldn't find fault with anything. I even enjoyed my iced citron green tea!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I've said this elsewhere but want to make sure people know: The Cafe is not accessible to people with mobility-related disabilities, as far as I know. There's a ramp entrance but it only reaches the downstairs dining room level. You end up having to come in through the kitchen which in most places would piss me off but tickles me here because it's the *Chez Panisse* kitchen. Because the Cafe is not accessible, they will seat you in the downstairs dining room and you'll order off the Cafe menu.

The caveats are that I would imagine being a walk-in (ooh, bad pun alert) is a problem, and not sure about lunch as the downstairs dining room is dinner-only.

Ironic, as Berkeley is a center of the Independent Living movement.

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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Great pictures! Did you order everything a la carte or was that the fixed menu? I don't remember a fixed menu there when we were having dinner.

Here's the link to our pictures: Chez Panisse cafe

I loved Chez Panisse!

We did order ala carte, although there was a fixed menu.

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This was the fixed menu for lunch the day we were there. Dinner downstairs is, I believe, entirely by fixed menu. I don't know about dinner in the Cafe.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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By the way (Molto E?) those recent photos are very impressive for quality!

It could be useful for people approaching this subject for the first time to have access to orientation info or FAQ about the CP complex. A fair amount does not meet the eye, nor appear in response to a random query. (Again by the way, Pasta-Pizza-Calzone cookbook ref: ISBN 0394530942. It's the standard Café cookbook. The restaurant has others.)

For what it's worth, a few other points I'd include as orientation:

- The restaurant is older than the Café. (The latter was set up as an overflow or second restaurant after earlier serving things like coffee, which is how I remember it from the 1970s.) At least one of my relatives used to hang out upstairs in those days and drink coffee (and chat with David Goines or whomever about art).

- The restaurant is fine-dining, prix-fixe, one menu for everyone for the day (at least traditionally). Café is casual and chiefly à la carte. ("Pasta-Pizza-Calzone" -- it was built around a big wood-fired oven.) Independent kitchens, independent personnel and planning, except so far as they share some sources. Which change constantly by the way as the whole point is seasonal local ingredients.

- When food historians or senior journalists refer to Chez Panisse's impact and to "California Cuisine" they mean the restaurant, and its history, former chefs, spin-off restaurants, etc. (That writing began before the Café existed, I think I have some of it.) However, both are very pleasant and I can't imagine only visiting one of them, frankly.

- A huge practical distinction was the restaurant took reservations (opening the book a month in advance and, often, filling it immediately) -- people camped on phones, grumbled it was "impossible to get into," etc. The Café took no reservations, besides special occasions. (It may now take more of them, though all my experiences at the Café, starting circa 1981 and most recently a few months ago, were walk-in.)

Edited by MaxH (log)
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By the way (Molto E?) those recent photos are very impressive for quality!

It could be useful for people approaching this subject for the first time to have access to orientation info or FAQ about the CP complex.  A fair amount does not meet the eye, nor appear in response to a random query.  (Again by the way, Pasta-Pizza-Calzone cookbook ref: ISBN 0394530942.  It's the standard Café cookbook.  The restaurant has others.)

For what it's worth, a few other points I'd include as orientation:

-  The restaurant is older than the Café.  (The latter was set up as an overflow or second restaurant after earlier serving things like coffee, which is how I remember it from the 1970s.)  At least one of my relatives used to hang out upstairs in those days and drink coffee (and chat with David Goines or whomever about art).

-  The restaurant is fine-dining, prix-fixe, one menu for everyone for the day (at least traditionally).  Café is casual and chiefly à la carte.  ("Pasta-Pizza-Calzone" -- it was built around a big wood-fired oven.)  Independent kitchens, independent personnel and planning, except so far as they share some sources.  Which change constantly by the way as the whole point is seasonal local ingredients.

-  When food historians or senior journalists refer to Chez Panisse's impact and to "California Cuisine" they mean the restaurant, and its history, former chefs, spin-off restaurants, etc.  (That writing began before the Café existed, I think I have some of it.)  However, both are very pleasant and I can't imagine only visiting one of them, frankly.

-  A huge practical distinction was the restaurant took reservations (opening the book a month in advance and, often, filling it immediately) -- people camped on phones, grumbled it was "impossible to get into," etc.  The Café took no reservations, besides special occasions.  (It may now take more of them, though all my experiences at the Café, starting circa 1981 and most recently a few months ago, were walk-in.)

The Cafe most definitely takes reservations. I have now been to the Cafe twice, both for lunch. I have yet to dine in the restaurant for dinner due entirely to inconvenient logistics. The first time I went, I was unaware of the difference between the two. This time, logistics allowed for lunch at the Cafe as our best bet. The Cafe is so good though, it may be tough for me to do anything else :laugh: I will need to mke a point of having dinner there when I return next to the Bay Area.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The Cafe most definitely takes reservations. I have now been to the Cafe twice, both for lunch. I have yet to dine in the restaurant for dinner due entirely to inconvenient logistics. The first time I went, I was unaware of the difference between the two. This time, logistics allowed for lunch at the Cafe as our best bet. The Cafe is so good though, it may be tough for me to do anything else :laugh: I will need to mke a point of having dinner there when I return next to the Bay Area.

I've only been for lunch. Both times have had wonderful meals! My friends from the Bay area all claim the Cafe to be favored over downstairs (maybe as a factor of cost and / or reservation availability.) Preferences? thoughts?

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The Cafe most definitely takes reservations. I have now been to the Cafe twice, both for lunch. I have yet to dine in the restaurant for dinner due entirely to inconvenient logistics. The first time I went, I was unaware of the difference between the two. This time, logistics allowed for lunch at the Cafe as our best bet. The Cafe is so good though, it may be tough for me to do anything else :laugh: I will need to mke a point of having dinner there when I return next to the Bay Area.

I've only been for lunch. Both times have had wonderful meals! My friends from the Bay area all claim the Cafe to be favored over downstairs (maybe as a factor of cost and / or reservation availability.) Preferences? thoughts?

One factor may be that dinner upstairs is always a set menu, which may not always be universally appealing. I do not think I would have any problem with that though if the cooking were to be as consistently wonderful as I have experienced in the Cafe.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Great pics doc and MoltoE!

From all the *raves* I've been reading about the Cafe, I'm really tempted to cancel my reservations downstairs. I looked at the Cafe menu and it looks great! :hmmm:

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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