Berkeley >Food & Dining > Chez Panisse Restaurant
1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA | Directions 9470937.879591 -122.268862
Neighborhoods: North Berkeley
You can fool some of the people some of the time, but... – can't believe why people fall for this place, I left here feeling completely conned.
I have two theories:
One is the old "King New Clothes" theory that no one wants to be called out as an ignoramus and everyone is pretending that the real basic food they charge a fortune for here, is actually gourmet.
The other (and please don't be offended, American friends) is that 90% of of the people that eat here have never been to France or eaten in a real French restaurant, so think this is worth all this the money to eat in a "French Restaurant".
Believe me everyone, and I speak as a European guy who has family in Paris who is often in France, this has as much in common with even an average Paris restaurant as the imitation Paris in Las Vegas has with the real Paris.
Whoever runs this place seems to think that if you give a restaurant a French name, have some waiters with European accents, make your guests wait forever between courses (in genuine French restaurants you never have to wait this long) that equals a French restaurant, and this allows them to mark up their really poor food by huge amounts. Well, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you are not fooling me.
The service was slow as a glacier, we arrived bang on time for our 6pm table, but it was not ready, so were told we had to wait in the bar. The staff then forgot about us, so at around 6.15 we had to ask them what was going on and were told our table was ready.
After about a ten minute wait, they brought olives, after about another ten minutes they brought bread. It took around another 30 minutes for a really basic starter to arrive. Then unbelievably around an hour for the main course.
Now here was where the biggest disappointment was. Before the main course arrived I was still slightly buying the line that if you wait a long time you get something special. Boy was I wrong! I'm a vegetarian, and was promised a "vegetarian dish". What I got was exactly the same as what my wife got, but minus the chicken and plus more chickpeas. It was actually some vegetables, chickpeas in warm water! I could have done better myself! It was at that point that I wished we had just gone to the really excellent Claremont Diner and paid $20 for their great food.
Towards the end of the evening I was beginning to laugh out loud at the nerve of the people that run this place to perpetrate such a huge con. Our final bill was over $180! For this we got the pleasure of spending around 2 hours waiting around for food and when it came it was chickpeas in warm water!
Now I know there are those of you out there thinking now that I am just a poor ignoramus who does not appreciate good food and the French ambiance. Let me say again I know France, have been there many times, had many great meals there.
I left the restaurant singing The "Who"s "Won't get fooled again" under my breath. Need I say more?
Sans Panisse – I would hazard a guess that it has been a while since Alice visited her restaurant. If she came, I doubt she would recognize some things. First of all, the maitre'de was officious, making us go upstairs because our table wasn't ready, even though upstairs was overflowing. (By the way, only one bathroom for all those people is a little strange, no?). He wasn't there when we left, for good or ill, so we learned how to use the revolving coat hanger system, which was pretty cool (why it got 3 stars instead of 2).
Although the leek salad was very tasty, the ravioli in a weak soup was similar to a common wanton without soup. Very strange. The pork was not too bad, but certainly nothing to write home (or anywhere else) about. The service was also common, making it obvious why they force a 17% gratuity on all the checks--one gets the feeling that we were not the first to question what kind of tip we would have to give them.
Interestingly, one of the servers spoke with a heavy European accent--until, that is, he started talking with one of his bros from a nearby town, when suddenly the accent vanished.
It seems some regulars get good treatment, but we will not be among them...
I recommend Alice come visit her restaurant, in disguise, to get a real view. Then again, maybe she would not need a disguise.
Still good; some choices unsuccessful – Aperiti:, because we don't drink, they poured us a Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer grape juice, a pleasant surprise, if dubious for a recovering alcoholic, which one of us was.
The service was not slow as some have complained, though at times it obtrusive.
The caviar and smoked fish (steelhead in both cases, we guessed) with the watercress salad all tasted quite fresh. The buckwheat blinis--why does Chez Panisse always have buckwheat something on every menu and has had that for decades--were soggy; but still went with the caviar. And there was creme fraiche ( not mentioned.)
This was a decent crab cake, but it broke up too easily. The braised Belgian endives with Meyer lemon--they called it Meyer lemon ?salsa,? an odd use of words-- had an acrid taste; an unusual but not happy choice.
The duck breast slices came with a tiny, loose patch of risotto--again with Meyer lemon, and too lemony. . The duck breast slices with a light "reduction sauce," a sort of nouvelle cuisine effect, were not miraculous, but freshness without interference.
The desert was conventional, but delicious, delicate yet rich. The vanilla-walnut ice cream came with the "chocolate fondant," which one of my companions said was the wrong word. The young girl who made up the deserts said "fondant" was used on this menu just to mean warm cake.
There was some spice with the cake and ice cream, like cardamom, that was lovely, just a dash, a surprise. And then, afterward, candies: a chewy caramel, and??Meyer lemon thumb prints.? But this time, the Meyer lemon read only as lemon, and was not acrid or invasive.
I found the waiter?s insistence on our touring the kitchen made me feel treated like a tourist.
Alice Waters has been a great spokesperson for slow food and fresh food, but she steals all the credit for things she did not invent, and that includes Chez Paniesse itself, of whichw she has never been the principal chef.
Top flight resto – Definitely a Berkeley legend... I heard Bill Clinton always stops by here whenever he is in town. Anyway, the menu is always different, menu du jour french style... wine is excellent. Pricy yes, but it is worth memorializing your special moments.
Our Hat's Off to the Staff!! – This was a first time visit to the Prix Fix upstairs dining room and it was a dining experience all around. I had friends in from Los Angeles and this was the choice. We made reservations 1 month ahead which was Necessary! The ambiance was warm, inviting and a blend of coppery tones. The open firehearth inside the kitchen was splendid. Although the plates weren't overfilled we still all felt satisfied by the end of the meal. Everything was excellent. We had these little Gruyer Cheesepuffs to start which were unique, delicate and melting in your mouth. Fresh crostinis with sardines that weren't fishy served with fresh figs and prociutto ham, a super tender dish of squid in Romesco sauce that was killer and lamb ribs cooked to perfection. The fresh apricot tartlet was flaky, buttery and full of apricots. I took a tour of the kitchen and was amazed how little room there was yet nothing and no one seemed pressed for space. The walkin refrigerator had sheetpans full of fresh berries and they were dauntingly delicious. (we got a few bites) The staff was super friendly and very very attentive. Our little guest from LA even got a going away gift of Alice Water's daughter's book to take home on her drawings and writings from the years! Talk about Nice! We were all very impressed and very happy with our meal, the service and the restaurant. It was a completely memorable meal worth the wait and even the late 8:45 dining hour.
Sorely Disappointed – After waiting many years to visit Chez Panisse, since we live on the East Coast and don't get out that way often, we finally got a reservation -- or so we thought. After calling to reconfirm, we were told that we did not have one because we never gave a deposit (which was never requested) and found out that they had taken our phone number incorrectly, which is why we were cancelled. After much conversation, we were accommodated and our reservation was reinstated. We probably would have been better off if it had not been.
The food was average at best, the decor very, very tired. The best part of the meal was the aperitif. The service was very good, but that does not make up for the lackluster meal that followed. The meal was prepared with so little imagination, that it almost felt like I could have made it at home if I wanted to.
We visited other "exceptional" restaurants during this trip -- Gary Danko in San Francisco being one -- and enjoyed them immensely.
Would not recommend Chez Panisse nor would we ever return.
Great ambience, warm service...fresh ingredients – Being a foodie, I do great research prior to visiting restaurants...knowing the philosophy of Alice Waters - to provide customers (if I am not mistaken, to her customers are her house guests) with the rustic, unpretentious meals with freshest ingredients. I went there with my parents and my wife...I felt like I was dining at my friend who is a chef. Very heart warming and satisfying. The servers were unpretentious and friendly. I would not expect the super-creative and whimsical presentation...because it's not meant to be that way. I would definitely come back when I feel overwhelmed with dining at so many SF restaurants with too much creativity - when I feel like to dine and wine...and actually taste the flavor of chicken or meat or a piece of artichoke without so much added personalities to them.
Surprisingly dissapointed – Pointed out worm in salad to which the manager stoicly and proudly pointed out that it meant "it was organic". Told her she had some nerve and was off her rocker and if I needed worms I'd order worms. Wine selection decent. Food alright. Not worth going. Over hyped restaurant. They try and put on airs about keeping demand high and supply limited for the restaurant seats that they sell/fill. Contrary, to hype can easily get seated. Not really worth going to, though.
So disappointing – I had heard great things about this restaurant but left feeling very, very disappointed.
My wife and I were in a group of 4 people. My wife is a vegetarian (though fish eating) and our friends do not eat red meat.
When we asked if substitutions were possible from the vegetarian menu the waiter said he would have to "negotiate" with the chef..... he then lef t us in limbo for 10 minutes and replied in a very offhand way when we asked for an update that he had managed to get the chef to agree to substitutions... Normally at gourmet/fine dining restaurants there is no problem with substitutions.
When the food finally arrived the first course was a rather bland fig and parma ham salad.
The second course was a fish course with possibly the worst buerre blanc sauce I have ever had. In the sauce were capers; I have never had capers with such little flavour before.
The main course was hugely disappointing: massively overcooked vegetables - which actually tasted unpleasant rather than merely bland as a result of overcooking - and a duck au poivre that was so heavily salted and with so much pepper that the flavour of the duck was totally overpowered.
By this stage I had lost my appetite and didn't have any dessert. My dining companions soldiered on but having been similarly disappointed by the preceding courses they reported that the desserts were mediocre at best.
It amazes me that this place is ranked so highly - there are many far better restaurants in the San Francisco area.
Totally not worth it. Like a bad meal on Top Chef! – This place is was an utter disappointment and rip-off. We went for lunch on a Friday, a la carte menu but very few choices, We were expecting some innovative, delicious food with some unusual ingredients. Instead, we got bland greasy, uncreative, poorly cooked food. I could have easily prepared these dishes on my own at home for about a tenth of the price, The portions were tiny and not filling. We were thinking about where to go afterwards for some real lunch. The price just doesn't make any sense. $10 for two pieces of eggplant and ricotta cheese?!?! The only dish that came close to satisfying was the dessert, which seemed like some time and effort went into it. If you still want to check this place out I would start off with one appetizer and see what you think. Don't get fooled into ordering your whole meal in the beginning cause then you won't get to walk out like we wanted to. $90 lunch for 2 appetizers (aforementioned eggplant and halibut-fennel tartare, 1 entree- stringy overcooked not-tender lamb with greasy green beans, and desert-fig tart and creme fraise ice cream (which should have been vanilla.) The drinks were also bad, pear cider and kir royale neither of which we finished. There are many better and more sensible places to dine in the Bay Area.
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