Anyone who loves eating out in the San Francisco Bay Area has probably heard of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ groundbreaking restaurant that awakened diners to the joys of eating dishes made with the freshest and local ingredients decades ago. The restaurant has won so many awards, including a Michelin star for years, that it’s well-known across the U.S. and internationally. Alice Waters is so highly regarded that anyone who dares make any disparaging remarks about her and her legacy immediately gets bashed. Witness the controversy over Anthony Bourdain’s and David Chang’s statements made in 2009. They basically complained that chefs here are lazy, relying on the awesomeness of the products to speak for themselves. We’re very lucky here to have access to great produce. Living here for most of my life, it’s hard for me to imagine living in a place without great produce year round.
Chez Panisse has a restaurant in the lower level that offers a set prix-fixe menu every night except Sundays. A lower cost option is to dine at the cafe upstairs that offers an a la carte menu. Like the restaurant downstairs, the cafe menu changes frequently. The cafe is no less formal than other upscale restaurants. Dark wood, beautiful flower arrangements, soft jazz and a plethora of attentive servers can be found in the cafe.
We went for a leisurely three-course lunch. Appetizers were, for me: Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces, for Hubby: smoked steelhead with black cod salad. Both were outstanding. I love cheese and never had baked cheese with bread-like crust before so it was a revelation. Hubby’s fish was like eating fresh Sashimi, except that they were cooked. Andante Diary is a small producer located in Petaluma, just north of San Francisco. I don’t remember where the fish came from but no doubt it was local.
Unfortunately the main courses weren’t as impressive. Me: freshly made pasta with clams from Hog Island Oyster Company, also located in Marin County just north of San Francisco and with an outpost in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Hubby: pizza with tomato sauce, olives and anchovies. Both were too salty for our tastes. So that was quite disappointing. Perhaps we got unlucky and went on an off day. The appetizers and service was good enough though for me to perhaps give it another try.
Across from Chez Panisse is The Cheese Board Collective, which sells a pizza of the day. This being Berkeley, the pizzas of the day are of course made from local and fresh ingredients and the business is owned by the workers (hence the “Collective” in the name). I’ll have to go back and see what all the fuss is about. Especially since they also sell cheeses, fresh breads and coffee. As you can see, hoards of students happily consume their slice of pizza in the strip of green between the roads.