In the heart of Berkeley, California, there resides a quaint little restaurant called Chez Panisse. You may have heard of it.
Founded in 1971 by food guru Alice Waters, Chez Panisse is world renowned for its French-meets-Cali cuisine, exquisitely prepared from locally sourced produce of the highest quality. My pal Brett of My Boyfriend’s Kitchen is currently interning with the pastry section, so I decided to pay him a visit during a busy lunch service whilst I was in town.
Well, one thing lead to another and before you could say “fuck it, I’ll have a glass of prosecco” Brett’s boyfriend Brendon and I were glass-in-hand and YOLOing our way through a three course late lunch at Chez.
The café, located above the iconic restaurant, was teaming with a cross section of Californian residents, but we were lucky enough to be seated by an open window overlooking the Bay. Happiness is a cold glass of prosecco, a view of the sunkissed San Francisco Bay and the company of a charming gentleman with plenty to say.
We started our meal with a little gem lettuce salad, served with marinated beetroot and sliced boiled egg, coated in a light mustard dressing. I’m not sure I can truly do the flavour justice: if you’ve ever grown your own lettuce, you’ll know how beautiful, simple and subtle the flavour of fresh lettuce is already. The thing with Chez Panisse is that every single ingredient on the plate tastes like it’s just been picked. The emphasis is always on locally grown, organic and – I realised over lunch – orgasmic. Chez Panisse take the flavour of lettuce and turn it up to eleven.
The bright sunlight streaming in through our window made the atmosphere that extra bit delightful, but it ruined the photos. Handy hint: if you hate sunshine, California will not suit your exotic tastes. Anyway, these pictures aren’t great, and I’ve decided to omit the less appetising pictures from this post. Despite that, even dodgy photos from Chez are still high class food porn and who am I to deny my readers? Brendon ordered the house-made pappardelle (that’s frilly pasta to you and I) with chanterelle mushrooms, thyme and finely grated pecorino.
My main course was a personal challenge: I hate aubergine in European cuisine (apart from aubergine dip. I can eat that shit with my bare hands). Moussaka? Get the fuck out of my kitchen. Aubergine Parmigiana? Get the fuck out my face. However, slap on a splash of soy sauce and a bit of ginger – then me and aubergine see eye to eye. So, as I perused the menu, I thought – if I’m ever going to get into European aubergine, Chez Panisse will be the best introduction I could ever hope for. So, I ordered an aubergine dish, baked in a wood oven, topped with Parmesan and served with a fennel and rocket side salad. Reader, I married it.
For dessert, the kitchen sent us a complimentary fruit bowl* of sliced Dashing Ranch Bartlett pear and a small bunch of blushing Bronx grapes. Fruit does not get sweeter, juicier or fresher than that. If we all had access to such beautiful, high quality produce, Cadbury would go out of business over night. Truesay.
*What’s the golden rule? Always eat where your buddies work.
This meal was more than just a casual bite with a pal, though. Firstly, to visit such an iconic restaurant, to sit at such a wonderful table, to enjoy such delicious dishes of lovingly prepared food, was an experience I’ll never forget. It was a pleasure to share such a delightful lunch with a new friend that makes me laugh as much as Brendon.
We ate our lunch on Monday, September 9th 2013, which marked five years since my father passed away. My dad had a particular penchant for French cuisine. I grew up with Julia Child’s The Art of French Cuisine on the bookshelf in our kitchen, slipped between Elizabeth David and Rick Stein. My dad would have loved that meal, that wine, that sunshine. I can say with authority that he would have ordered the Northern halibut with green beans, green olives, capers and a squeeze of Meyer lemon, and I can trust that it would have been cooked perfectly and “unfucked about with”, as he would say. My dad liked his food ‘unfucked about with’, and that’s a gourmet tradition that Chez Panisse holds close to its heart: wonderful ingredients don’t require smoke and mirrors to make them sing. A sharp knife and a chef with a clever palette is all you really need. Here’s to you, Dad. xx