Alice Waters has long been well-known amongst epicureans, locavores, and Nothern Californians.  But lately she has garnered more widespread attention by calling for the Obamas to plant an organic White House garden and through her increasing appearances on national news and talk shows.  I have to admit that I find Waters’ views on food sort of impractical.  Her breathy, fanciful speeches about organic produce as a fundamental human right and her unwillingness to admit that it might be more important for school districts to spend limited resources on books rather than on fresh, locally-grown, organic white peaches are just annoying.  And not only that, her flagship restaurant, Chez Panisse, has dropped in our favorite international restaurant rankings.  Nonetheless, there are worse things she could advocate for and she still has one of the best restaurants in the world, so Carlo and I paid it a visit during our trip out west.

Chez Panisse includes a fine dining restaurant and a cafe.  The cafe is more casual and offers an a la carte menu and the restaurant offers a daily-changing fixed-price menu.  On the evening of our visit, the menu was as follows:

Warm asparagus with capers, pancetta, and Parmesan

Warm asparagus with capers, pancetta, and Parmesan

Pan-seared sea scallops with wild fennel, hot pepper, and oregano

Pan-seared sea scallops with wild fennel, hot pepper, and oregano

Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork with fava beans, cannellini beans, and rapini

Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork with fava beans, cannellini beans, and rapini

Twin Girls Farm cherry crostata with bitter almond ice cream

Twin Girls Farm cherry crostata with bitter almond ice cream

Supposedly, there is also an optional cheese supplement, but we were never offered it, the only flaw in service for the evening.  We would have ordered it had it been offered, but we were plenty full so we weren’t that upset to miss it.  This was a very nice meal.  Everything was cooked perfectly, the flavors were great, and the produce was in perfect form as promised.  If we lived in Berkeley, I am sure we would happily become regulars.  But it wasn’t a very exciting meal despite the great ingredients.  The kitchen is very competent but not very creative.  Given the same quality ingredients, competent home cooks could easily replicate and improve on these dishes.  Except for the last one.  The dessert was out of this world, fresh juicy perfect cherries on an almost marzipan-y crust with fresh ice cream. I wish I could go back and get that dessert, though there is no guarantee that it would be on the menu, since it changes everyday.  So, all in all, Chez Panisse was a pleasant experience and a good dinner, only marginally over-priced, and worth a visit for anyone in the Berkeley area.

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