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.