i first heard about chez panisse when christina raved about the food from her last visit to san francisco last year at this berkeley restaurant, founded by alice waters. both her and her bf received alice water cook books for christmas after their dinner at chez panisse.
from my quick lil research on chez panisse, i found that it was one of the top fifty restaurants in the world from 2002 to 2008, peaking at 12 in 2003 as listed by Restaurant magazine. michelin guide echoed the sentiment by awarding its one star rating in its guide for san francisco bay area dining from 2006 through 2009. ryan and i definitely wanted to try the cuisine and were determined to fit a dinner reservation at chez panisse which we made a month ahead in our one day trip to san francisco last weekend.
there are two levels - the top level is the cafe and the restaurant located downstairs. the restaurant serves a four course prix fixe menu but if you prefer ala carte, the cafe might be a better choice. we wanted to try the restaurant where its menu is updated weekly to reflect the use of seasonal ingredients. we looked at the offerings on our dinner menu ($95) and was quite excited with the set menu which sounded really promising and delicious.
chez panisse's decor leaned towards the vintage old school look, clad in wooden panels all around the room. the room was dimly lit but we could still see the chefs working hard in the brightly lit semi-open kitchen which i thought was cool. dress code is smart casual, just so you know if you ever decide to try this place out :)
this was such a lovely presentation of salmon carpaccio. ryan was particularly excited cos he hasn't had good salmon for a while now. when he saw this photo, it said it reminded him of a sea of salmon. hehe. garnished with slices of radish, diced cucumbers, capers and nasturtiums which are edible flowers then topped with a creamy aoli and drizzled with olive oil. the salmon was fresh and paired with the other ingredients it was really very good. i have to say the best bites were with the capers (classic pairing). it was an awesome light and yummy way to start the meal.
this might have been my favorite dish of the night surprisingly. the gnocchi was featherly light but didn't really have a big flavor on its own but it pairs so well with the sweetness of the pureed peas and the pesto. we can't quite remember what the white puree was but it had a savoriness that contrasted the sweetness and rounded the dish so well. such a lovely dish. yummm!
third course | spit-roasted becker lane farm pork loin with rapini greens and spring onion rings
the main course. when the dish arrived, the pork loin was succulent and moist although a tad salty which i think was from teh jus. it still had good flavors all around that we finished the slices of tender meat despite us being stuffed (totally our fault for snacking on donuts three hours before dinner). the rapini or better known as brocolli rabe was probably the weakest link on the dish cos it was close to being dry and almost stringy but the onion rings were light and crispy. but we had to save some room for dessert!
fourth course | bittersweet chocolate fondant with kirsch ice cream and roasted cherries
the waiter promised us this was the best course of the meal to which ryan concurred. at first, when i read fondant, i was imagining that icing-like substance for decorating cakes but it actually means lava cake. the moist and warm bittersweet cake had a depth of flavor contrasted by the kirsch vanilla ice cream. kirsch is brandy distilled from fermented juice of cherries. the cake itself had a good balance of bitterness and sweetness. my favorite part was probably the cherries which our waiter said was the first pick of the season. it was sweet and uber tasty. ryan was so kind to offer me some of his cherries which made me very happy :)
the service was friendly and prompt. our waiter was more than happy to let me take photos of the food and at the end of the meal offered to take a picture for us.
chez panisse features yummy classic french food which are solidly executed with precision and finesse. there was hardly any misses in the food. however, it was missing that special wow factor that excites the taste buds and the price was quite steep. nonetheless, it was still a tasty food experience.
disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others