Alice Water’s restaurant has been a fixture in the Bay Area since its opening in 1971. Alice’s philosophy is that “cooking should be based on the finest and freshest ingredients that are produced locally and sustainable.” Her philosophy has helped spawn the Slow Food Movement which promotes and celebrate local artisanal food traditions. This global movement has continued to grow and now has over 100,000 members in 130 countries.
Through a stroke of luck, and the determination of my step-mother, we were able to get reservations for the Monday night rustic three-course fixed dinner. The restaurant is broken up into two sections: the Cafe and the restaurant down-stairs. The cafe serves similar fare to its more prestigious counterpart, however, at a more modest price.
Our meal started off with a Lobster Salad with belgian endives and Meyer Lemon. The salad had originally been advertised with local dungenesss crab, however due to the fisherman strike lobster was substituted for the dungeness crab. The salad was amazingly fresh and the ingredients popped individually although I felt that the bitterness of the endive overpowered the delicate soft flavors of the other ingredients – especially the lobster.
Our second course was the Maiale arrosto con mostarda di cotogna: spit-roasted Llano Seco Ranch pork loin with polenta, roasted vegetables, and quince mostarda. This dish was absolutely fantastic and really showcased the natural sweetness of the pork loin by simmering cherries and rasins into the sauce. The pork was very juicy and fell apart in my mouth. The polenta and the roasted vegetables provided a subtle backdrop to showcase the complexity of the pork loin and rib. My mouth waters when thinking back on the meal.
The dessert consisted of a pear-pomegranate and orange sherbets with Prosecco gelee. It provided a great finish to the meal as the trapped Prosecco bubbles in the gelee cleansed my palate. The sherbet was delicious as well and its lightness was much appreciated as my stomach was getting close to its limit.
One area the Chez Panisse feel short, surprisingly, was in the communication of their mission to their guests. I would have greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the food and why supporting the slow food movement is important. Had we walked off the street knowing nothing of the restaurant we would have dined and left that way as well. Even the freshly printed menu did not take advantage of the fact that it had the readers attention to plant the Slow Food Movements ideals. The staff really missed an opportunity to expand our food IQ. If Chez Panisse is not openly talking about their food philosophy than who is?
Overall my experience at Chez Panisee was great – from the beautiful kitchen to the friendly staff. Everyone should eat at Chez Panisse at least once – 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709 – as it truly does showcase local ingredients at their most delicious – whether you know the ingredients are local are not.