Dining in Berkeley including Chez Panisse wows Jon and Gail

April 26, 2011

Drive to Berkeley in rush hour traffic and head to Peet’s for a latte. Busy place and Peet’s is celebrating 45 years in business. Did you know that Peet’s was the learning ground for Howard Schulta, the founder/owner of Starbucks?...It's less structured than Starbuck's, but just as busy.

Lunch at Slow, a small bright spot on University Avenue and we chow down on two amazing sandwiches – juicy pulled pork and thinly sliced, slow roasted Niman beef with beets and cream cheese (what a great taste combo!), both on fabulous sourdough - just as you expect in San Francisco.

We walk along Shattuck Avenue and re-visit the stops that were on our culinary tour last May, and decide to go to Chez Panisse for dinner if there is room – there is!! This restaurant wasn’t part of our tour last year as our group of 12 was too big, but a reservation for 2 at 5:45 is available and we take it.

Alice Water’s restaurant, Chez Panisse, was one of the first restaurants in the US to focus on seasonl/local/fresh cuisine, back in 1969. School lunch programs and school garden programs across the states have been started through her foundation – thank you Alice. It's a quaint location, with a farmhouse feel -- lot's of wood finishes and low lighting. Staff exude expertise -- our server has been with the restaurant for 14 years. The original restauant is on the main level and has a prix fixed menu. The care above, has smaller plate and entree options. We opt for the cafe.

Dinner at the Café at Chez Panisse is all I thought I hoped it would be. A lovely local/seasonally inspired menu. We each enjoy a Lillet Blanc as a starter beverage (we have some Lillet at home and now I'm inspired to use it before dinner at home). I order the Star Route Farm fava bean salad with prosciutto and pecorino. In my mind, I was expecting cooked from dry fava beans. My dish is a delightful array of fresh fava beans lightly blanched, tossed with arugula in olive oil. The prosciutto adds a sweet/salty touch and the pecorino, just the right about of fatty flavour. Jon enjoys the Marinated beet salad with braised spinach and mustard greens, toast and an egg poached in beet juice. It's a beautiful dish -- my eyes are captivated by the purple colour to the edge of the egg.

Entrees are superior. I have the Northern halibut cooked in a fig leaf with asparagus, potatoes and kumquat relish. What is it about fish that is cooked so well -- this is one of the best halibut dishes I have ever had -- succulent, soft, juicy and sweet with the kumquat adding a light citrus balance. the asparagus stems are turned and the baby potatoes, skins on, are sweet like sugar, dripping in butter. Jon has the Grilled grass-fed rib-eye roast with shoestring potatoes, little turnips and béarnaise sauce. Beautiful rare done beef, thinly sliced, delicate turnips and the most awesome potato frites -- paper thin, not greasy at all!

We're full, but we have to have dessert, which we share (below): Crimson rhubarb, apple and strawberry crisp with lemon-buttermilk ice cream. The ice cream offsets the sweetness of the crisp perfectly!

One of the best food experiences of and highly recommended if you are ever this way.

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