Chez Panisse: La cuisine du marché

It has arrived. The post in which we talk about an experience we had been anticipating for years. A culinary adventure many aspire to, but few accomplish. The pilgrimage of foodies the world over.

Chez Panisse.

In 1965, a young student named Alice Waters traveled to Paris to study abroad, but instead found herself enamored with the cuisine. Despite an abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, Alice gravitated towards small rustic restaurants where menus changed daily depending on what the cook discovered at the market (La cuisine du marché).

Alice’s love affair with French cuisine swept her off her feet, and she abandoned her studies for the South of France.  One night, Alice found herself savoring a fresh, simple meal in a old, stone house. Alice has described this particular meal as life-altering in its stunning simplicity of flavors: sauteed garden vegetables with olive oil, fine herbs, and local wines.

Desiring to honor the use of fresh, simple, locally grown food at a restaurant of her own, Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California in 1971.

On July 29th, 2010, Daniel and I found ourselves celebrating our Four-Year Anniversary at Chez Panisse.

We were kindly greeted at the door by an older gentleman, and were seated in a room with sturdy wooden furniture and hammered copper lamps.  After overhearing conversation between the table next to us and a group of waiters, we quickly realized that we had been seated next to a table of food critics from the LA Times(!).

As the posh LA Times food critics tasted a variety of wines, one of the writers kindly treated their waiter to a glass of Pinot Noir. After toasting the table, the waiter inhaled the wine’s aroma, closed his eyes, and took a sip. A smile crept across his face, and he left to enjoy the rest of his glass in the kitchen, passing another waiter who shook his head and laughed as though jealous.

We giggled, and returned our attention to the menu. Oh, the menu!

For our first course I ordered an avocado and beet salad with citrus vinaigrette; Daniel had the Baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces. I hardly know how to describe food this good…so I won’t.

Behold, our entrees: Fried Devil’s Gulch Ranch rabbit with shell beans and tomatillo salsa; California white sea bass with green beans, tomatoes, saffron, and aioli.

For dessert, Daniel (of course) ordered the Bittersweet chocolate pave with Cognac-hazelnut praline cream. Despite the Lundgren love affair with chocolate, we both agreed that the star of the meal was my dessert: a Frog Hollow Farm Flavor Top nectarine and black raspberry tart with vanilla ice cream. Just stare at that for a moment, will you?

Of course, we paired it with a Blue Bottle Coffee Company cappuccino.

Before we left the restaurant, I kindly requested that we purchase the new cookbook from Alice Waters (“Daniel! Look! Signed copies! Can we get one? We HAVE to get one!!”). I couldn’t care less to have the Taylor Swift’s or that new kid with moppy hair’s autograph, but  the autograph of Alice Waters?

I kissed it. Right there in front of the Pastry Chef.

We left Chez Panisse with stomachs full, palates enlivened.

With gratitude for all good food and distractible students like Alice Waters,


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