As far as female chef superheroes go, and yes of course I believe in them, there's only been a few biggies for me. First there was Julia. Paris, French cooking, wine drinking, her joie de vivre - need I go on? Then there's Alice. Alice Waters is a CA native and talked about eating fresh ingredients before farm to table was the phrase of the day. She was a pioneer in promoting locally grown, seasonal food, and created The Edible Schoolyard, teaching kids about the food cycle from planting a sustainable garden to cooking and eating well sourced food.
Alice has one restaurant, Chez Panisse. Opened in 1971, she's been focusing on locally grown, seasonal ingredients for over 40 years. And for some reason, I have yet to dine at her restaurant. Until now.
After my relaxing overnight in West Marin, Chez Panisse was THE stop to make my trip complete. We fit in a lunch before my flight home in her more casual, upstairs cafe.
Chez Panisse is in a two-story craftsman house. The first floor (or second by American standards) houses the more formal dining room for dinner, and a large open kitchen in the back. Upstairs is the more casual and brighter cafe with vaulted ceilings and simple decor and another open kitchen that separates two dining areas. The walls have a cheery yellow stain, framed by dark wood and white clothed tables are flanked by plain amber chairs.
As soon as I walked in, I tried to snap some clandestine photos of the kitchen on the first floor, and once spotted, I was welcomed in and told to ask questions and get close to the food. They were lucky I had a flight to catch or I may never have left. After perusing the cutting, baking and wood firing going on both on the first and second floor, it was time to eat.
Seeing as we're looking at farm fresh food here, we went with some salads to see how the garden was growing. The radicchio was bright and vibrant with shaved fennel and apples tossed throughout. The banyuls vinaigrette was balanced with the right amount of zip. Simple, but better than that.
Seemingly also simple was the King salmon tartare, gently laid on soft butter lettuce with strategically positioned and peeled cucumber and avocado slices. There was nothing overly fussy or fancy about these salads, but they were just, just so good. Fresh, flavorful, balanced.
Continuing on our vegetable journey, we piled on more with a pizzeta topped with crisp broccoli de ciccio, roasted delicata squash and prosciutto. The crust had just the right amount of crispiness and soft chew. It was everything I wanted in a pizza.
We were nearly full when we got the crisply Liberty Farm duck leg, but we dug into the moist meat and swirled it through the rosemary and little turnips before calling defeat.
Then there was dessert. It seemed criminal to come all this way and not sample what we saw some of the bakers working on earlier, so we went with some more fruit, in galette form. Epicenter Orchards delivered the apple and quince for this wonderful dessert, served with a touch of light orange in the ice cream. The crust on the galette was something else. We talked about it for quite some time, wondering how it could be so flaky, buttery and crisp. I suppose we could have gone back downstairs and asked them how they did it, but then again, superheroes do need to have their secrets.
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkely, CA 94709