Chez Panisse Berkeley Reviews
Birthplace of California Cuisine May 27, 2009
Chez Panisse is a Berkeley institution, and the birthplace of "California Cuisine", which placed an emphasis on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. In today's age of organic food, this seems hardly out of place, but when Chez Panisse was founded in 1971, this was nothing short of a revolution in America. The restaurant is regularly named one of the best in America, and in 2001 was named #1 by Gourmet magazine.
I've eaten here twice, once a few years ago, and once more recently. There is an upstairs "cafe" where you can order menu items a la carte, and a downstairs area where there is a prix fixe menu that changes daily. Both times I've eaten here I've been at the upstairs area.
The food has been good both times, but nothing earth shattering or mind blowing. Given Chez Panisse's history, this could just be a case of not being able to reach impossible expectations.
The menu changes daily, but when I was there a few days ago I had:
- wood fired pizza with wild nettle - I had no idea what wild nettle would taste like, but it was delicious. crispy, salty, and completed the pizza perfectly. This was by far my favorite dish I have ever had here.
- polentina soup - the soup tasted pretty simple and plain, the only difference being tangy pieces of parmesan in it.
- crisp fried pork shoulder - breaded pork shoulder with really tender meat. It was good, but nothing too amazing. In fact, it tasted not unlike the carnitas you can find in most mexican restaurants, just more elegantly packaged and displayed.
Overall, it's definitely worth checking out if you are in the area, but your mileage may vary depending on what entrees are being offered at a particular time. Also, I can't speak for the downstairs area, as both my experiences have been at the cafe.
Important note: Make sure to make your reservations WELL ahead of time. The website says that they accept reservations for the cafe one month in advance, but when I called exactly one month before we wanted to eat here, everything was almost fully booked, and we could only get a table for 5:30 or 9:30. The downstairs area was completely booked. I'm not sure what the secret is to getting a reservation here!
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