Chez Panisse Café – Berkeley

1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709
Café Reservations: (510) 548-5049
Restaurant Reservations: (510) 548-5525

April 2001
The odds were definitely not in our favor: Saturday night, no reservations. For some reason, luck was on our side and we got a table.

The menu changes daily according to the fresh garden finds and the deliveries of seafood and organic, free-range meats. Today’s menu looked superb. The main courses were all aimed at carnivores except for one seafood dish (Thon aux artichauts à la Merseillaise: tuna with artichokes, saffron, wild fennel, and aïoli) and being pescatarians, that would be the only dish we would want. Since all the appetizers looked so good though, we opted to order as many of those as our stomachs would allow which turned out to be five.

We started the meal with Tomales Bay oysters. The only time I’ve ever had oysters that were any better was at Chez Panisse about five years ago (and we don’t talk about those anymore!). They don’t require any chewing, they just melt like “buttah.” The oysters were served with a simple mignonette.

The next appetizers are a Belgian endive and leek salad with salsa rustica, and a Pizzetta with spring onions and herbs. The leeks and endive are good: perfect texture, flavorful, but nothing earth-shattering about the dish and it was a bit oily for our tastes. The pizzetta, however, is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had (the other, of course, also being from Chez Panisse about 3-4 years ago!). The crust is paper thin and crisp and somehow not burnt in the least. The spring onions are sweet and tender and altogether, it’s just perfect.

Next dish, Green garlic risotto fritters with rocket salad. The fritters were crisp but not oily, the arugula looks like it was allowed to grow for about 2 days, no time to get tough. It was outshined though by the other dish delivered at the same time: Avocado, blood orange and grapefruit salad. Never have we seen blood oranges that dark—they were the color of blackberry jam—and wonderfully sweet but not overly sugary. The grapefruit had absolutely no bitterness whatsoever, it was all about the flavor. The avocadoes were pure fatty goodness and all together they formed a perfect salad.

The dessert menu was full of irresistible choices but we were too stuffed to get them all so we limited ourselves to two: the Sierra Beauty apple-frangipane tart with Meyer lemon ice cream and the Rio Star grapefruit sherbet with prosecco and zaletti cookies. We got a glass of Vouvray (1990 Coteau les Brûlés, Domaine de la Fontainerie) to accompany the fruity desserts.

The frangipane was a nice augmentation of a classic French apple tart. The combination with the ice cream created a mind-blowing flavor orgasm. The ice cream was heavenly. It was a perfect sugar and lemon balance and actually, I could have just had that as my sole dessert. The only problem with that idea is that then I wouldn’t have gotten to eat the grapefruit sorbet that was also divine. It was actually more bitter than the plain grapefruit in the salad served earlier but not in any sort of negative way. It was topped with candied grapefruit that caught me off-guard. I thought it was candied orange!! After the initial bitter shock, they were great. It was served with orange cookies with bits of currant in them, it added just enough sweetness and starchiness to make the dessert balanced.

Overall, a wonderful dinner, great service and a two full, satisfied people drove home from Berkeley.