Chez Panisse

I remember my first time seeing the little house that is  Chez Panisse and how much I wanted to go there, and thinking that when I graduate that is where my family will go to dine. And then there was a fire and it shut down for several months. So much for that.

However, anniversaries being the celebratory occasions that they are, there was no better place to celebrate.

Chez Panisse opened in 1971, with the philosophy that the best food comes from the best ingredients. This was before everyone was talking about local, organic, sustainable food and so Alice Waters can be thought of as a pioneer in the ever growing “food movement” (defined however you see fit). From the beginning the restaurant served a set menu, changing daily based upon the seasons. The upstairs cafe however, offers an a la carte menu, where diners are welcome to pick from a few assorted dishes. It was in the upstairs cafe which we dined.

I have never been treated so well in a restaurant, but again, I am not one to frequent fine dining establishments. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, and I was not talked down to or made to feel ignorant when I asked questions about the wine (and which one I should get since I had absolutely no idea). The vegetarian main option for the night was a Comte Souffle with wild mushrooms, spinach, and celery root. Using this as the springboard of the night, I settled on a grapefruit, fennel and butter lettuce salad as an appetizer since the bright citrus would compliment the rich, creamy souffle.

The three ingredients in the salad, tasted as they should, drizzled in a light olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. The thin shavings of fennel were not to overpowering, and I don’t think I’ve ever had grapefruit quite as sweet and aromatic. Once appetizers were cleared, along came the main course. I’ve never eaten souffle before, and I am generally not one to opt for rich, creamy dishes. But this…was light and airy, cheesy, and slightly browned on top. There was only a touch of cream on the rim of the plate, and under the pile of spinach were a few pieces of celery root, which I think I am now obsessed with. Sweet and earthy. Of course I ate all of it.

Despite my increasing fullness, I naturally had to have some dessert. After our main course was cleared, and the crumbs swept off our table (seriously), I contemplated the dessert menu. I was to full for chocolate cake, but what caught my eye was persimmon pudding with bourbon caramel and creme chantilly. Thats right. I was so sad a few weeks ago thinking I would have to wait until next year for something persimmon-esque to come my way, but here was something! And with bourbon caramel, what could go wrong? Nothing. It was delicious and sponge-y and sweet. The slight bitterness and bite from the bourbon caramel was cooled with a dabble of creme chantilly.

It was worth every penny. Not only the delicious food, but also knowing that I was supporting a place that sources well and pays living wages. Hobbling down the stairs, belly full and happy, I wanted to turn right around and do it all over again.

*unfortunately I have no pictures. I was not about to bust out my phone mid meal. Um, rude. But instead, I offer you a picture of dinner that I made.

not chez panisse

not chez panisse

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The Cheese Board

I’m not a frequent consumer of pizza or cheese because of its generally suspicious place of origin. However, on occasion, I do like to spend some $$ on a hunk of cheese from a reliable source. I was probably a little to excited for the adventure to the Cheese Board Collective in the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley. I have been to Cheese Board before, yes. It was to indulge in soft chewy rolls, or sweet and succulent muffins of sorts. I have also bought small bits of cheese from the bin of rejects that are to small and sad looking to sell at a full price. But being in Berkeley for 2 years and not ever having the pizza is not the least bit acceptable.

The pizza collective rotates between different pizza’s everyday, and the weekly menu is posted on-line, well, each week. Pizzas are always vegetarian (win!) with ingredients coming from places nearby, so its seasonal too. Only having one type of pizza means that when you get your slices, they are extraordinarily oven fresh. Like, you have to wait a moment to take that first bite, which can be torturous. But never fear, since mini pieces line your plate, and these mini pieces are from an older pie which is at good eating temperature.

Being very excited, I took out the surprise factor and looked up the flavor online. It just increased my anticipation because it included 2 types of mushrooms, and mushrooms are one of my favorite things. Here was the daily flavor:

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We got there relatively early (5PM on a Saturday) which meant that the line was short. Not that a long line would have detracted this excursion. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people go somewhere expecting to wait in line, and then complain about the line. Solution: don’t go there? Waiting in line for places like Ici or Cheese Board, or a select Food Truck is part of the experience. You get to people watch and you might make a friend or two while you wait. The Cheese Board also has live music more often than not, which makes waiting in line a pleasurable experience. Within 10 minutes we were at the register ordering 1/2 a pizza with the intention to have leftovers for the next day. Yeah right…

It was delicious. The crust was chewy enough, yet not to bread-y and thick, which tends to ball up in your throat as you swallow it. The mushrooms and 2 types of cheese were complimentary to each other. The asparagus was a reminder of spring. My one gripe however, was the excessive oil that seemed to emanate from the pizza. Not so much the natural oils that come from the cheese, but the excess garlic oil that was drizzled on top. In addition to pizza, they’ve also got beer, bubbly drinks, cookies, and some sauces. As you can see, beer was purchased, but cookies were not.

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Perhaps next time cookies will be purchased, since there will definitely be a next time. I want to try some of the more unique varieties of pizza they concoct, I’ve heard rumors about sweet potatoes and squash and corn, amongst other toppings.

New Fave Food. Kinda

DSCN3044This.

I have never been a fan of the boxed variety of mac and cheese, and I was not subject to it as a small child. Mac and cheese is not generally a food that my parents made or were drawn to, since they are not from here. I vaguely remember tasting the boxed variety at a friends house and thinking it was gross, and since then, I “didn’t like mac and cheese”. But no one doesn’t not like mac and cheese. Rather, one might not like the boxed variety.

My first positive mac and cheese memory was also at my friends house. I was a little suspicious and scared when she told me her mom was making mac and cheese for dinner and that it was “so good!”. I was expecting another meal from a box. But alas, I was very wrong. Her mom made baked mac and cheese, from scratch, with crunchy bread crumbs on top and ooey gooey creamy-ness inside. Since then, I liked mac and cheese, but only real mac and cheese.

Its not a food I make often because the ingredients are rather expensive and I wont buy a 2 lb block of generic cheese. When making it at home, I had been experimenting with vegan versions made of nutritional yeast, silken tofu, and an assortment of spices. I have had some successes. And now, living in the bay area, it is rather easy to obtain vegan mac and cheese that makes my heart sing. Both Homeroom and Souley Vegan have versions of the dish, and the Souley Vegan kind can also be found in the ready to go refrigerator at several grocery stores.

When I found this vegan boxed version on the shelf, my curiosity got the better of me. I had used “chreese” sauce before and I knew it tasted good. So why would this not taste good? Chrees-y sauce AND whole wheat macaroni? Sold! (they also have a gluten free version and a mac and shells kind which is not whole wheat)

Its really easy to make: Boil water, Add pasta, Drain. Make sauce: water +powder+1-3T oil. Combine. I generally add some extra nutritional yeast, and I only use 1T olive oil.

Last night I had the genius idea of making this mac and cheese and throwing in the extra cup of pumpkin puree I had in my refrigerator from earlier this week. I omitted the oil from the cheesy sauce and simply used water+powder+pumpkin+extra nutritional yeast. It was FANTASTIC. The pumpkin made the mac and cheese extraordinarily creamy, and it also had the added benefit of some extra nutrition. And, it turned a brilliant shade of orange, reminiscent of fake cheddar cheese. I like the whole wheat macaroni because of the slightly nutty taste that it adds, and the grainy texture. So, if you are on a quest for a great boxed version of mac and cheese, yet suspicious what exactly powdered cheese contains, I would highly recommend this vegan version (+pumpkin). None of the ingredients are strange, its mostly a combination of spices, nutritional yeast, and cornstarch.

things that are supposed to be eaten out of bowls always taste better when eaten out of cups.

things that are supposed to be eaten out of bowls always taste better when eaten out of cups.