We celebrated our 20th anniversary of living in San Francisco at Chez Panisse last week. We were looking for a San Francisco restaurant with a view, but once we read Michael Bauer’s review article in the San Francisco Chronicle, giving Chez Panisse a perfect 4 for food, we just had to visit Chez Panisse again. (As you’ll see in Mr. Bauer’s article, all of the photos have a yellow hue. This is because of the lighting in the restaurant.)
You can read all about Chez Panisse here, but to break it down for you, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971. Alice’s strategy was to offer what is now called farm-to-table, seasonal food. Her efforts at Chez Panisse were recognized immediately nationwide, even worldwide. Alice Waters started the trend, and today, sustainable, seasonal food is a requirement if you hope to succeed in the high-end San Francisco restaurant scene. Mr. Bauer explains that there are two head chefs. Each works six months at the restaurant, and they are paid the other six months to go and discover food. Alice Waters is a food icon for a very good reason. Not only is Chez Panisse famous, her efforts to promote fresh, sustainable food is unparalleled, including a growing program with the Berkeley School District.
I love Spanish food, and we were fortunate to enjoy a fabulous Spanish-influenced menu the night we visited Chez Panisse. Dinner is prix fixe at $85 with a 9% tax and 17% service added automatically to the menu. Corkage is $25. Wine pairings are a reasonable $40.
The meal started with a small dish of house-cured olives and baby radishes. Asparagus and grilled calcot onions with romesco sauce was then served. Everything was perfectly cooked. We were later told by the chef that calcot onions have only a small two or three week harvesting period. Romesco sauce is made with pimientos and bread pureed with spices. We chose a bottle of Albariño which is my favorite wine to drink with oysters. This Spanish wine was light and crisp and worked with all three of the beginning courses.
Fideus pasta with Dungeness crab, tarragon and allioli followed. Fideus is a traditional Spanish pasta. It tasted really smoky, in a good way, and we were told that the pasta, short spaghetti-like sticks, were roasted extra dry, thus the smokiness, and then cooked like a risotto would be. The addition of the Dungeness crab made the Spanish dish more San Francisco-like.
The main course at Chez Panisse this night was Roasted Salmon Creek Ranch duck breast and duck leg braised with sherry and green olives; with fennel puree and wild greens. The duck was cooked perfectly with small slices and a piece of leg meat. I was surprise that it wasn’t crispy, but it really didn’t take away from the wonderful flavors. The fennel puree was actually a mixed of potatoes and fennel – what a great idea for an alternative potato dish. I loved the savoriness of the green olives added. We opted to use the corkage fee and opened a bottle of 2007 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon that we have been saving for a special occasion such as this. I’m happy we did, as the wine list at Chez Panisse, customized for this meal, was light on cabernets.
Completing the lovely Spanish meal at Chez Panisse was a Valencia orange sherbet and almond parfait with candied kumquats, and perfect combination of sweet, savory, crunchy and sour.
The restaurant has survived through two fires, the most recent one last year, causing Chez Panisse to be closed for a few months. A lovely, quaint room was added to the front of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the yellow lighting made the picture of the room unsuitable to post. I guess you’ll just have to go to Chez Panisse and see for yourself. Allow extra time for parking. There is no valet.
Chez Panisse Wrap-Up
- Fabulous, creative food
- Outstanding service
- Beautiful atmosphere
- Reservations are difficult