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Chez Panisse


Verjuice
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the cafe is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere (there is a jet blue flight that leaves long beach at 10, arrives oakland at 11:15 and i can be at the restaurant by 12:45 ... i've got it figured out). i do like downstairs, but not nearly so much. perhaps it's a matter of expectations. the cafe feels so casual and spontaneous that something like a perfect green salad (or a dessert of pixie tangeries and barhi dates, per the set menu you photoed seems like a discovered treasure. downstairs, expectations are quite a bit higher and sometimes that kind of food doesn't quite live up to it. that's my experience anyway.

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The first time I went, I was unaware of the difference between [the restaurant, downstairs, and the Café, upstairs].

That's the issue lately when food enthusiasts visit from afar, and is the reason behind my previous posting here.

I've visited the Café more than the restaurant (as an old regular of both). There is also the larger history, little mentioned so far on eG, of "spin-off" restaurants involving former CP (restaurant) personnel -- Fourth Street Grill, Jeremiah Tower's activities, etc. -- or closely associated with it, like Café Fanny elsewhere in town, and the wine bar César nearby that's relatively new. To some longtimers the upstairs Café is of a part, so to speak, with those other spin-offs, though it is co-located over the original restaurant. Certainly you should seek all of these places if you are interested in CP. (I'm just going to César shortly, in fact.)

Again for orientation of anyone who doesn't know both, the restaurant is a more formal, fixed-menu, dinner venue. (If a place more or less in the format of a good French country inn can be called formal). Another (minor and semi-funny) issue associated with big-city visitors to the restaurant is when they hear all about it but find its country-inn style anticlimactic. I first encountered this reaction in early 1980s, others have written on it at length.

Finally if a journalist does visit just the Café but then writes up something about "Chez Panisse" -- this started happening in the late 1980s after the restaurant was about 15 years old -- it is something of a shibboleth to regulars, or people who know the history well. It may sound reasonable, and even indignantly defensible, to the writer, just as "Avenue of the Americas" sounds reasonable to visitors to Manhattan (it's on the sign, isn't it?) Or "William-ette," sounds fine to Oregon visitors. Or the idea that San Francisco is nicknamed "Frisco," a foreign whim that locals never shared. Maybe not as strong as those, but you get the idea. Just a word to the wise.

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The first time I went, I was unaware of the difference between [the restaurant, downstairs, and the Café, upstairs].

That's the issue lately when food enthusiasts visit from afar, and is the reason behind my previous posting here.

I've visited the Café more than the restaurant (as an old regular of both). There is also the larger history, little mentioned so far on eG, of "spin-off" restaurants involving former CP (restaurant) personnel -- Fourth Street Grill, Jeremiah Tower's activities, etc. -- or closely associated with it, like Café Fanny elsewhere in town, and the wine bar César nearby that's relatively new. To some longtimers the upstairs Café is of a part, so to speak, with those other spin-offs, though it is co-located over the original restaurant. Certainly you should seek all of these places if you are interested in CP. (I'm just going to César shortly, in fact.)

Again for orientation of anyone who doesn't know both, the restaurant is a more formal, fixed-menu, dinner venue. (If a place more or less in the format of a good French country inn can be called formal). Another (minor and semi-funny) issue associated with big-city visitors to the restaurant is when they hear all about it but find its country-inn style anticlimactic. I first encountered this reaction in early 1980s, others have written on it at length.

Finally if a journalist does visit just the Café but then writes up something about "Chez Panisse" -- this started happening in the late 1980s after the restaurant was about 15 years old -- it is something of a shibboleth to regulars, or people who know the history well. It may sound reasonable, and even indignantly defensible, to the writer, just as "Avenue of the Americas" sounds reasonable to visitors to Manhattan (it's on the sign, isn't it?) Or "William-ette," sounds fine to Oregon visitors. Or the idea that San Francisco is nicknamed "Frisco," a foreign whim that locals never shared. Maybe not as strong as those, but you get the idea. Just a word to the wise.

Are there stylistic differences in the food between the two rooms or are the differences simply within the approach to service and the specific dishes offered?

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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Are there stylistic differences in the food between the two rooms or are the differences simply within the approach to service and the specific dishes offered?

Yes, they are entirely different restaurants (not just different rooms). I mentioned some of this upthread, sorry if it wasn't clear. One of them is a full high-end kitchen, the other is build around a wood-fired oven.

Thos. Keller opened French Laundry, a high-end restaurant; then later expanded to Bouchon, a more casual brasserie. A situation paralleling the Panisse case, though the establishments are further apart and differently named. If the more casual of the two were atop the original and called "French Laundry Café" then maybe people would confuse them. (Keller may have learned from the Panisse case ...)

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Are there stylistic differences in the food between the two rooms or are the differences simply within the approach to service and the specific dishes offered?

Yes, they are entirely different restaurants (not just different rooms). I mentioned some of this upthread, sorry if it wasn't clear. One of them is a full high-end kitchen, the other is build around a wood-fired oven.

Thos. Keller opened French Laundry, a high-end restaurant; then later expanded to Bouchon, a more casual brasserie. A situation paralleling the Panisse case, though the establishments are further apart and differently named. If the more casual of the two were atop the original and called "French Laundry Café" then maybe people would confuse them. (Keller may have learned from the Panisse case ...)

Thanks. It isn't readily apparent from the menus they have posted. For example tomorrow night's menu:

Tuesday, April 18  $65    Gordon's menu

Fried Atlantic skate salad with cardoons, fennel, and capers

Chino Ranch artichoke and green pea risotto

Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail with roasted turnips, asparagus, and Cannard Farm chard

Meyer lemon ice cream crêpes

While it may be different in fact, it does not read significantly different from the style or kind of ingredients available 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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Thos. Keller opened French Laundry, a high-end restaurant; then later expanded to Bouchon, a more casual brasserie.  A situation paralleling the Panisse case, though the establishments are further apart and differently named.  If the more casual of the two were atop the original and called "French Laundry Café" then maybe people would confuse them.  (Keller may have learned from the Panisse case ...)

max, i bow to your greater experience with the downstairs restaurant, but it seems to me that the differences between the cafe and the restaurant are not nearly so great as those between bouchon and the french laundry (not a value judgement in either direction). the food at the restaurant always seems to me to be very cuisine bourgeois--the kind of cooking you'd expect to find at a really good home cook or at a good 1-star, perhaps 2, restaurant. they don't try to make the kinds of statements that keller does at tfl.

like i said, this is not a value judgement, i just didn't want people going to chez panisse expecting whimsical tiny portions served on stacks of fine china.

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I find the restaurant and the cafe compliment each other. I love eating downstairs, and actually prefer it to upstairs but I'm just so darn fancy, it's no wonder.

French Laundry and Bouchon seem completely unrelated to me. The French Laundry is its own thing and Bouchon is a bistro, and oddly urban at that.

Maybe I'm missing something.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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French Laundry and Bouchon seem completely unrelated to me. The French Laundry is its own thing and Bouchon is a bistro, and oddly urban at that.

I've not been to any of them - but somehow, they already give me this same feeling. Perhaps it's because the two Panisses are in one building where as Bouchon and TFL are separated (is that right?)...

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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

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I've not been to any of them - but somehow, they already give me this same feeling.  Perhaps it's because the two Panisses are in one building where as Bouchon and TFL are separated (is that right?)...

Yes. But the two Chez Panisses share the same cuisine, even if one is more casual and built around a wood stove. The Keller restaurants have much less in common.

Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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French Laundry and Bouchon seem completely unrelated to me. The French Laundry is its own thing and Bouchon is a bistro, and oddly urban at that.

I've not been to any of them - but somehow, they already give me this same feeling. Perhaps it's because the two Panisses are in one building where as Bouchon and TFL are separated (is that right?)...

I think it is more than physical proximity. I think it is a question of style. The French Laundry is true haute cuisine while Bouchon Bistro appears to be much more of a true bistro style. While the different Chez Panisse restaurants may be somewhat different, I have seen no indication in their current iteration of a substantial difference in the style of food, although downstairs may be a bit fancier than the Cafe. Whatever the case, the Cafe is marvelous and I would expect the restaurant to be as well.

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 eaten at both the Cafe and the downstairs Dining Room. I personally prefer the Cafe - it is more relaxed, and the fantastic ingredients shine through more. The pizzas and salads are always superb, amazing entrees, and sophisticated desserts. I always end up having 4 courses.

The food in the Dining Room is a little more formal and flavors deeper - but it feels a little at odds with the ingredient driven philoshophy.

But I don't think you would be making a mistake by eating at either room. Both are excellent places to settle in and enjoy the best local products handled with care and respect.

BTW - GREAT pictures upthread... makes me really miss living in the Bay Area.

Edited by canucklehead (log)
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I think Rancho Gordo said it right: the upstairs and the downstairs compliment one another. They are somewhat differ in concept, but they have in common the idea that you take the best ingredients available at their freshest and prepare them so they compliment each other and don't destroy their essence. The food tastes like what it is, if that makes sense. Upstairs and down, the whole building is comfortable and quite simple, a handsome craftsman gem, that is totally in keeping with the food and location. The service is friendly, confident and professional.

The upstairs is fairly casual. We took our kids there years ago when they were young, and they seated us adjacent to the kitchen. They set up something for my younger one to stand on so he could watch when they made his special pizza and put it in the oven. On the other hand, you can make a great meal with several courses there, and the past 3 or 4 times we have been there, we have had a very long lunch. The cheese is great if you want to extend the meal. We usually order the olives and/or the anchovies. There is one menu upstairs each day for lunch and dinner as far as I've ever seen. There is a 3 course fixed price meal, although I don't recall ever ordering it. If I l could go often, I probably would sometimes.

The downstairs is one set menu each night. The Monday dinners are three courses and are more casual. The rest of the week, there are four courses, and the prices are a little higher as the week progresses. Fridays and Saturdays, an aperitif and some tidbits (for some reason I can't call them amuses) are included. To me, even though it's a little more formal than upstairs, the downstairs is the antithesis to places like the French Laundry. If you go there execting a large number of little courses, you will be disapponted. If you expect creative cuisine, you'll probably be disappointed. The combinations are usually pretty classic. If you are looking for a wine list is large and flashy, you'll probably be disappointed. However, the wines are remarkably well chosen to go with the food.

As the years go by, I like eating here more and more.

Edited by Carlsbad (log)
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The downstairs is one set menu each night.  The Monday dinners are three courses and are more casual... To me, even though it's a little more formal than upstairs, the downstairs is the antithesis to places like the French Laundry.  If you go there execting a large number of little courses, you will be disapponted.  If you expect creative cuisine, you'll probably be disappointed.  The combinations are usually pretty classic.  If you are looking for a wine list is large and flashy, you'll probably be disappointed.  However, the wines are remarkably well chosen to go with the food. 

As the years go by, I like eating here more and more.

Not to hijack the Cafe thread to talk about the downstairs but...I will. :wink: It feels more home-like to me than just about any other restaurant I go to, and perhaps perversely, this appeals to me despite having "more sophisticated" places to pick from. It's very refreshing to walk in, not have to choose anything but what to drink, and know whatever I get is going to be delicious and beautiful to look at. It's unusual to like giving up choice. And it's blessedly quiet by comparison to most places.

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

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in looking back over the thread, i thought i really needed to be clearer about my deep affection for the cafe. if i had to pick one place to eat, it would be on my short list of less than half a dozen. compared to that, of course, anything else will seem a little less.

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in looking back over the thread, i thought i really needed to be clearer about my deep affection for the cafe. if i had to pick one place to eat, it would be on my short list of less than half a dozen. compared to that, of course, anything else will seem a little less.

I agree. I like the Cafe for what it is:

Informal - Casual is too strong a word as I think it implies a touch of carelessness)

Warm - I love the lighting as the sunlight streams through the windows, providing almost all the light in the room)

Simple - Not much more needs to be said if you know anything about Alice Waters' philosophy. Almost counterintuitively I think fewer places get this simple style right than the more elaborate, showy "haute" style

Happy - I've said it before on this thread but this place puts a smile on my face whenever I sit down.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Thanks. It isn't readily apparent from the menus they have posted. For example tomorrow night's menu:
Tuesday, April 18   $65     Gordon's menu    ...

While it may be different in fact, it does not read significantly different from the style or kind of ingredients available in the Cafe.

Yes indeed, docsconz. That is the sort of thing you can read about from menus, or a casual visit. It's what I meant earlier by information that "meets the eye." My postings in this thread are meant to complement such information, with a much longer-focus view, in case anyone is interested. From long experience rather than current menus. (And some wisdom absorbed from my old buddy Paul B. who was the longest-tenure downstairs chef, I think.) It could also be that what you experience on the plate (not just read) is closer currently for the restaurant and Café than on average. They were always independent, in my experience. Also note I'm posting here about context and background, not preferences or current offerings, which change constantly. (By the way I don't know the story of "Gordon's menu," but the kitchen downstairs has sometimes organized menus around guests or events, and that's the menu offered that day; I've participated in some of those.)

French Laundry was a broad analogy. It's not that the CP restaurant should be compared in any way to the FL experience; that will always obscure the distinctions between CP and CP Café. Remember also -- again this might not be obvious if someone learned about these places at the same time -- Panisse (and its Café and other spinoffs) set the context for novel Bay Area restaurants; FL arrived into that context, much later, and presumably learned from it.

Hope this has been useful to someone. -- M

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Hope this has been useful to someone.  --  M

Indeed it has! Chez Panisse has a lot of history behind it. I can only assume from the quality of the food being served in the Cafe currently and six years ago that the restaurant remains outstanding as well. It is always good to be able to get some additional background and perspective on a place offering such long-standing quality, especially one that produced a revolution in food in this country.

I will try to make it a priority to dine at the restaurant and maybe the Cafe as well next time I'm in 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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(By the way I don't know the story of "Gordon's menu," but the kitchen downstairs has sometimes organized menus around guests or events, and that's the menu offered that day; I've participated in some of those.)

Gordon is one of the long-time downstairs cooks, so that probably just means it's a menu he wrote.

As far as the cafe/downstairs difference, I don't think it's as great as that between FL and Bouchon. Still, there is a greater degree of complexity in the dishes served downstairs, if only because they only have three dishes to focus on each night, rather than 8-9. The plating downstairs is probably also a little more intricate, for the same reason.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Belated follow-up --

I will try to make it a priority to dine at the restaurant and maybe the Cafe as well next time I'm in the Bay area.

Excellent, I hope as many people as possible can try both. (Doc, I will be sure to seek your advice if visiting your home turf in turn.)

In case anyone is interested, link below has observations from Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" neighborhood before it was a Gourmet Ghetto (i.e., before Chez Panisse, the Cheese Board, Pig by the Tail Charcuterie, Cocolat, and other businesses). It's part of a thread about coffee percolators, pharmacy soda fountains, and egg creams.

Before the Gourmet Ghetto

Bonus: Link contains background about context behind the word coinage "yuppie," which coincided with formation of the Gourmet Ghetto and occurred nearby (by Alice Kahn in the parody essay "Yuppie!" in local tabloid East Bay Express, 1982; reprinted with slight edits in 1985 with introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, in Kahn's Multiple Sarcasm, ISBN 0898151481). I thought at the time that Kahn's 1982 essay was so good, I picked up multiple copies of the paper. The word caught on, even if not everyone duly credited Kahn for it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My recent meal at Chez Panisse (dowstairs) was *dreamy.* I was skeptical about the whole "focus on the ingredients" aspect of the restaurant's philosophy (not that I doubted the restaurant's goals, objectives and foundation, rather the ability for me as a diner to really experience such a format). Well, after eating at the restaurant, I know realize how a thoughtful and well-prepared meal can truly highlight/focus on the ingredients used.

Although I loved my dinner, I will have to say that everything (save the dessert) on the set menu was on my A-list of favorite foods... I got lucky. Although I'm sure I would have enjoyed a meal at Chez Panisse any other night, I don't know that I would have been as pleased as I was with the night I visited.

...more to come later.

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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I dined for lunch at the cafe many years ago - and the experience was wonderful. I no longer remember the specifics of what I had (just that it was pasta and vegetables), but I do remember quite clearly that never before had either tasted so good.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've very tardy in this report and apologize. Here's an excerpt from my blog about a meal I had at Chez Panisse Restaurant last month:

As I stated in the beginning, I have thought often about my meal at Chez Panisse since. There was nothing dramatic about it. No molecular gastronomy going on in that beautiful open kitchen and grill. There were no visual wonders to dazzle my eyes and distract my taste buds, no litany of outlandish ingredients or combinations to unravel in my mind. This was food the way people have been eating it for centuries… and maybe that’s how it should be.

A limited peek into the kitchen (which I encourage you to do) will take you back a century or two to a rather dark and unadorned, brick and timbered world. Meat is fired over an open flame. Bread is baked, housed in large baskets until it is ready to be cut and served. It reminded me that food can be great when it’s unapologetically unfussy. Somewhere in our human fussing, the nature of it all often gets lost. I’ve had lamb that is made to taste not like lamb. I’ve had crab made to look like something else (and then at some Japanese restaurants, I have other things that are made to look like “krab.”). To be sure, those kinds of meals are satisfying in a very different way. The reason why the food at Chez Panisse lingers with me the most is because it is the only one of the five that served food that spoke to my soul. It got to me. It made me think about more than just the food itself.

Inside the vine-covered tiny timber house on Shattuck Street is a truly a homey dining experience - almost children story-book worthy. It reminded me of many a rustic family-owned roadside restaurants that dot the Bavarian foothills and throughout the Alps. It’s the type of place you would be happy taking your girlfriend, husband, friends or the grandparents - and maybe altogether - if you promise, as you would have to as a child, to behave...

The full review can be read on my blog if you don't have the patience to wait for me to transcribe it over here. The blog also has a link to all of the photos from that meal.

... more later...

u.e.

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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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  • 2 weeks later...
... does anyone know if Chez Panisse bakes their own bread in house?  I've heard they outsource their bread.

I'm pretty sure they get their bread from ACME, next door to Cafe Fanny on San Pablo.

I believe the founder of ACME is a Chez Panisse alumni. So it's all in the family, kind of.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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