Alice Waters has been called the mother of American food. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, open in Berkeley since 1971, has been said to have pioneered Californian cuisine. As a supporter of organics for the past forty years, she has had a great influence on the local area and its focus on organic, local produce.
Chez Panisse was consistently ranked amongst the World’s 50 Best Restaurants from 2002 – 2008, and Waters is said to have been one of the most influential players in the food scene of the past 50 years.
We had reservations at Chez Panisse for lunch. We got to the gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright style building, with an abundance of rich woods and a beautiful huge overhanging tree. I got the obligatory tourist photo underneath the Chez Panisse sign, but we then went on to walk in for lunch.
We walked up the stairs from the crisp, cool street to a warm, bubbly dining room filled with the sound of clinking glasses and a mild scent of toasted bread in the air. The woodfire oven and kitchen are right there in the middle of the restaurant – the food production is on show and the chefs are proud.
I started with a D’Arbo Elderflower spritzer and some warmed house sourdough.
We shared a starter of green noodles with wild mushroom ragu and pecorino – it could have done with a little more pecorino, the sharpness of the cheese playing well off the mild, earthy tones of the mushroom.
For main, we had pan-fried Monterey Bay rockfish with marinated beets, cauliflower and meyer lemon relish.
The lemon was pungent and bitter, which worked well in small quantities with the mildly sweet, crisp fish. The cauliflower was romanesque and the green and yellow combined with the red of the beet in an artists palette.
For dessert, a basic galette with quince and pink lady apples, but the highlight was the orange ice cream made in house.
The meal was pleasant, the atmosphere excellent, and the price was not too steep. However I think the restaurant has fallen behind the times a little, as the menu seemed a little tame for current tastes. Good, tried and true recipes and combinations, rather than the current fad for experimentation and diversity. However, they have their loyal client base and as long as you know you are going in for good, simple food, you won’t be disappointed.