I'm embarassed to say that I had never been to Chez Panisse, which is credited for not only creating California cuisine, but also starting the trend toward eating only fresh, seasonal produce. Because I couldn't book spots for dinner, I decided to go in for lunch in the cafe upstairs instead. We were seated in a little heated covered patio, hence the good lighting.
The bread was pretty good, with a crispy crust. I was disappointed to find that it wasn't freshly baked in CP, but by Acme Bread.
Avocado and grapefruit salad with chervil, picholine olives, and olio nuovo
The avocado was creamy, and the grapefruit was juicy and ripe, but let's face it, this is just avocado and grapefruit. It's awesome that the ingredients come from local farms, which in turn support sustainable agriculture, but this was a bit bland and not too exciting.
Sardinian wild fennel soup with ricotta toast
The soup was quite good! Very brothy, perfectly seasoned, and you could literally taste the freshness. This is the Chez Panisse I came to taste. The cheese wasn't overly salty and went well with the toast. This was a clean and cleansing soup, unlike the thick and starchy vegetable soups I have come to despise.
Pizza with tomato sauce, brandade, and parsley
I was very excited to taste the famed Chez Panisse pizza, as I have been craving good pizza for a while. I am disappointed to say that this was my least favorite dish of the meal. I understand that the topping is brandade, but it was still overly salty--I couldn't even finish it. I tried brushing off most of the fish, but the pizza was salty on its own. The crust was thin and crispy, but it was so salty I could hardly taste the dough. Even when I got to the crust, I could see many salt crystals on the crust. This was intensely overseasoned; what a waste of good pizza dough.
A bowl of Jim Churchill's Kishu tangerines and Barhi dates
Good and juicy. Not really worth the $8 though..
Lindsey's bittersweet chocolate cake and hazelnut praline cream
At the mention of the words "bittersweet" and "hazelnut praline," I became quite excited. The cake had excellent chocolate flavor, bitter but not acidic, with a gentle hint of sweetness. The crusty part was dusted with cocoa powder, which was delicious, and the inside was rich and dense. The chocolate sauce was strong and bitter (85%?), just the way I like my chocolate. Though the cake was good, I enjoyed the hazelnut cream even more. This had just a pinch of sweetness, and I could really taste the hazelnut--no artificial flavors here. The cream was light and smooth, a perfect accompaniment for the rich, bitter cake.
My meal at Chez Panisse didn't live up to my expectations. Oh god, how dare I criticize the name of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse? I almost feel guilty for not loving my meal there, given its great history and fame. There were definitely some great dishes, but overall I must say it is quite overrated. And believe me, I do understand the great revolutions in food this "institution" brought about, not only changing restaurants but also the taste of Americans. I know when I order vegetables, they will be the freshest possible vegetables, and everything is organic and free-range. But just having fresh ingredients is not enough--the flavor has to match as well. I found my meal a bit underwhelming and disappointing.
Labels: SF Bay Area - Other