60 minutes did a piece on Alice Waters in 2009. I caught it while flipping through the channels. It was about a little Berkeley restaurant know as Chez Panisse, found by Alice Waters in 1971. She was 27 years old. 27 people!
From the beginning, Alice’s restaurant used the freshest local food available, prepared and presented simply and traditionally. She was one of the first to serve antibiotic and hormone free meats and would only procure fresh, organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables. That farm-to-table buzz word we hear now-a-days; she invented it.
Her restaurant has been listed by Restaurant magazine as one of the top 100 in the world for several years. Michelin awarded the restaurant a one-star rating in its guide to San Francisco Bay Area dining. While in 2001, Gourmet magazine named Chez Panisse the Best Restaurant in America.
That night while watching Alice make eggs for Lesley Stahl, I knew this magical place was a place I needed to visit. Right then and there, a bucket list item was born.
Fast forward to 2012. Recently we flew into Oakland for a Wine County visit, driving through Berkeley on our way North. Then it dawned on me. We were so close to the legendary Chez Panisse.
Can we stop here for lunch guys?
I called. Attempting to get a last-minute reservation, but had no luck. In the back seat I kicked myself for piss poor planning.
However, upon our return, we tried again. With fingers crossed, we requested a simple lunch reservation before heading to the Airport. The café upstairs obliged. A happy dance and small tear followed.
They warmly greeted our group and my camera.
The restaurant has an intimate and comfortable atmosphere. It is a true understated legend with its unpretentious wood decorum and an open kitchen, where it all began in 1971, to delight your senses.
There are also fresh offerings from their Sonoma growing fields on display.
The staff is professional and the chef’s are down right serious. No smiling allowed. Come now, they have a reputation to uphold for their stupendous food. Their job is not an ordinary or easy one. The menu changes for each seating. Every day of the week brings a different menu, with lunch being different from dinner. The dishes below will be available again when the local meat and produce are available and are at the peak of their season. To be a chef here your culinary skills need to be in-con-ceivable.
So you can whip up sweet corn soup with lime and marash pepper.
Or Blue Heron Farm Little Gems lettuce with wild fennel and salmon.
How about some northern halibut grilled in a fig leaf with summer squash gratin and new potatoes?
And finally, create a house-made rigatoni with asparagus, spring onions, and ricotta salata, so light that you can hear audible sighs from diners.
Chez Panisse is the closest you’ll ever come to perfect food. The best ingredients you’ll ever find in a restaurant prepared by geniuses. Everyone should have food prepared for them like this. Alice believes so too, she is deeply involved in many projects with that precise goal. The Edible Schoolyard, Chez Panisse Foundation, and the National School Lunch Initiative are all her doing.
Thank you Alice Waters for your integrity and vision for Chez Panisse. We were thoroughly impressed, will spread the word, and be back again very soon.
1517 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA 94709