Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dinner at Chez Panisse Cafe.

I could start at the beginning, with Day One. And then, I could continue from there: Day Two, followed by Day Three, and a brief conclusion with, you guessed it, Day Four. But that would just be too predictable and boring and, well, once you've been to Chez Panisse, you kind of want to sing it from the rooftops and brag to all your foodie friends ASAP.

chez panisse.

Except that I don't really have any foodie friends, and most people I'd tell wouldn't even know what Chez Panisse is, or who Alice Waters is, or what the big fuss is over California cuisine, anyway. And I can't really say I blame them, because I'm not one to gush over celebrity chefs or anything. I hate Rachael Ray just as much as the next person does, and I think Bobby Flay is kind of full of himself (though I follow him on Twitter, anyway).

Chez Panisse Cafe.

The reason I'm starting with Chez Panisse, and the reason I'm so excited to have eaten there, is because I love Ruth Reichl's book, Comfort Me with Apples, in which Reichl lives in Berkeley and visits Chez Panisse when Alice Waters and the idea of fresh, local, simple-yet-delicious cuisine just started taking shape in a big way. I love reading about places, and reading about food, and then going to those places and eating that food. It's like getting a peek inside a completely different world, and then someone opens the door and you're there, and instead of just having to imagine the taste and feel and look and sound, you're actually living it. I reread the book on the plane to California, just to keep Reichl's descriptions fresh in my head.

the kitchen at chez panisse cafe.

And, OK, while I'm being honest and all, I'll tell you that I didn't actually eat at the restaurant Chez Panisse. More like Chez Panisse Cafe, which is upstairs from the restaurant, and is Alice Waters' less expensive introduction to her simple creations. The restaurant is for special occasions with a lover perhaps, wearing a little black dress and heels, and ideally, the lover would be wealthy enough to drop $200 on dinner, and that's not even including the bottle of wine, which is optional of course, but highly recommended. Having said that, the Cafe is nothing to scoff at. No, not at all.

spring greens minestrone. chez panisse cafe.
salad with creme fraiche, basil, and tomatoes. chez panisse cafe.

To start, Michelle and I split the spring greens minestrone and salad with creme fraiche, basil, and tomatoes. The soup was fresh, clean, simple, soothing. The salad was like eating a fresh garden. Minestrone and a simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes. Doesn't seem like anything special, but that's the beauty of it, and I realized after just the first course that Alice Waters and those crazy Californians really are on to something: The freshest, bestest ingredients prepared in the simplest way really do shine through in such lovely lights. Who knew?

shoestring fries at chez panisse cafe.

We got french fries for Mira. Michelle and I had to restrain ourselves, after we had pigged out and almost lost our appetites on shoestring potatoes the night before at Zuni Cafe. I really like fries, but she really, really, really likes fries.

Speaking of my sister, here she is, drinking grape juice that tastes just like wine, because she's got another little one on the way. (Yay!)

michelle. chez panisse cafe.

For dinner, Michelle got the mushroom lasagna, which she described as a cream of mushroom soup in lasagna form. It sounds rich, but it was light and creamy and, here's that word again: simple. Are you sick of hearing that yet?

mushroom lasagna at chez panisse cafe

Matt got the lamb dish, and I can't remember exactly how it was prepared, but you can probably tell from the photo that it was hearty and comforting, the meat and vegetables tender, the broth light yet filling.

matt. chez panisse cafe.
lamb dish at chez panisse cafe

I got the yellowtail jack with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and a green olive sauce. Oh. Yes. And that's all I have to say about that.

yellowtail jack, asparagus, fingerling potatoes, green olive sauce at chez panisse cafe.

Dessert was cheese and an apricot tart and, here goes, something I don't say very often about food or drink but this is the truth, people: the best tea I've ever had.

mint tea at chez panisse cafe.

Yeah, that's right. Tea. I don't even like tea, and that's probably why this is the best I've ever had, but really, it's that good. Leaves in a pot -- how much more simple can it get? The mint and lemon leaves brought strong flavors that weren't overpowering, but rather calm and soothing and a perfect way to end the meal.

And now, because it's not a post about California without a picture of my niece, here's Mira, watching the Lion King while we dined on simplicity.

mira (watching lion king). chez panisse cafe.

Thanks, Ate and Matt, for a lovely dinner. And for having such a cute kid.

4 comments:

  1. This was so much fun to read! When I went to California, a year ago now, it was before I had a food blog and before I'd heard of Chez Panisse or Cafe Zuni (if I go back, they are top on my list, so I am SUPER excited you went). I totally agree with the philosophy of simple ingredients, though, I have to say, Californians have it SO much easier than we do. I was eating some fresh raspberries (on sale now) the other night and thinking how happy all the produce that's now available makes me. Winter is a sad, sad time.

    Anyway. I can't wait to hang out on Sunday!!

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  2. I loved your blog post!! I felt like I was there... I could imagine it all. One day I will definitely have to visit (the cafe, like you did!). Are you and your sister twins? I actually finished eating my dinner while reading your post. Another egg on toast that I did NOT drop on the floor. Success :o)!!!
    xox,
    Linnea

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  3. Auntie Jax,
    Thanks so much for your blog and sharing your Chez Panisse experience. Your writing is extraordinary! I love hearing about your niece, sister (not twin), and brother-in-law. I look forward to your new entries every day!
    Ronni Parker

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  4. shanna - thanks for the kind words! i love the food in california, and i'm so jealous of my sister's easy access to it. she has a lemon tree! 'nuff said. and yes, sunday will be a funday.

    linnea - definitely go to chez panisse if you get the chance! it really is a nice treat, and a great way to appreciate delicious ingredients. my sister and i aren't twins (we're actually 10 years apart!). and eggs for dinner? i like your style!

    hi nana ronni! i'm so glad you like my blog and that you dropped by to leave a comment. and there's more posts about my alameda family on the way (with cute pics of a certain little girl), so stay tuned!

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