Kitchen Garden Guides

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chez Panisse

Here is my assessment of lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe today.... and why I booked to go again tomorrow! Of course the food was great but so it is at lots of places here. What set this way, way apart from anywhere else I have ever eaten was the service. Here's a detailed run down of how a good restaurant can become great, and famous for many years, even without a view or other amazing setting....

The moment I walked through the door I was greeted and shown to a table, the menu slipped onto the table as I wrestled with my bags.

Seated and sorted, a waitress arrived within seconds, with bread and butter, asking if I would like water; still or sparkling. She then brought a jug of it and a glass immediately, without seeing to anything else. I noticed at least 4 waitresses, for just my end of the cafe, which had about 10 tables of 2 - 4 seats. Maybe the same ones served the other end too, but the open plan kitchen was in the centre, so I could not see. Nice idea, divide the diners in half by putting the kitchen between. Makes a more intimate space.

There were 5 chefs in white jackets, in the kitchen, calmly and quietly doing their stuff. There were 2 other blokes in black t-shirts, seeing to the dishes and stuff, I think.

After a few minutes of my consulting of the menu, she came back and asked if I had any questions about the menu. I said I was just having entree and dessert and ordered the entree. But, I said I would like a few minutes to enjoy the bread and butter first. No problem. Nothing written but all taken in. My entree arrived a pleasant couple of minutes after I finished the bread.... but first she used a nifty tool to remove all the bread crumbs from the table.

I had mixed chicories, with super thinly sliced radishes, torn croutons, a light anchovy dressing (all my words).... In winter, chicories are not bitter and are so colourful, crunchy and wonderful but no-one I know eats them as much as I do and I had never seen a dish offered that was entirely chicories, so I was keen to have it. I really enjoyed it.

By now the cafe was filling fast but never did I receive less than perfect service and never did I notice her watching to see if I was ready for the next bit. She removed my plate and, without asking, left me for just a couple of minutes to think about dessert. I said I would have the almond cake with meyer lemon creme fraiche and huckleberries, as I have never had huckleberries. She told me about the native berries and that these were grown close by (I don't remember where but she did tell me). I heard her answering other people's questions and she (and all the other waitresses) knew everything about every ingredient; pretty amazing since the menu changes every day.

Being a connoisseur of fine desserts, I was ecstatic with this one; so simple a description but such amazing flavours with the hint of almond essence in the light, soft, delicious cake just so good with the sharpish, delicious, poached huckleberries and the meyer lemon creme fraiche. They even made a good latte, a rare treat in this land of drip filter coffee! (But not as good as The Lotus :-)

I was so impressed I booked again for tomorrow, when I will have a main course.... and maybe another dessert. Today they had clams and shrimps with saffron and other things, cooked in the wood fired oven.... I rather hope it is on the menu tomorrow again.

I paid US$40, including tip and taxes. Sure, I did not choose fancy things and that may seem expensive but with at least 10 people working that small cafe, what I received was a perfect, flawless experience and I can't wait for tomorrow!

ps I would have taken more photos but on the menu, in small print at the bottom, it asked for you to please not use phones or computers whilst there... I have borrowed a laptop to write this as it is so hard on a phone. I don't think I will ever travel again without a laptop, when I so love to write!!

The first decent bread I have come across yet in the USA!
Chicories and radishes in a pretty and delicious salad.

Maybe tomorrow I will skip savoury and have 2 sweet dishes, if they are as good as this :-)