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California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

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Chez Panisse Holds Onto Its Title

The open kitchen in Chez Panisse is warm and inviting.

Chez Panisse began the “California Cuisine” movement. As one of northern California’s most famous restaurants and a leader in using sustainable, organic ingredients, it wards off any criticism of pretentiousness with delicious, honest food.

The concept of eating local, organic ingredients is still something that is catching on nationwide, but California is really at the forefront of this movement. Restaurants like Chez Panisse helped put these ideals into action. The owner, Alice Waters, opened Chez Panisse in 1971 with the goal of introducing people to the food she thought tasted best—food that was locally grown, in season and organic.

The menu is prix fixe and is between three and four courses Monday through Thursdays, with five course meals on Fridays and Saturdays. The meals at the beginning of the week tend to be simpler and less refined than on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean the taste is lacking. The menu is different daily, depending on what is fresh and in season.

On Tuesday, June 7, the four course meal highlighted a variety of ingredients that enabled the diner to experience a unique combination of flavors.

For dessert they served a lemon profiterole, with blueberries and whipped cream accenting the velvety and tangy lemon curd.

The restaurant was relatively full in the late evening, with guests sitting close to one another in the dining room that only seats 50. The meal began with a house-cured prosciutto platter with pickled vegetables. Fava bean toast and a soft boiled egg gave savory components to an otherwise salty, briny dish. It stimulated the appetite just enough for the second course.

The second course, saffron linguine with Monterey Bay squid, hot pepper and green peas was a spicy delight. Saffron, the stamens of crocus flowers, are diffult to harvest and a rare treat. The organic vegetables might have gone unnoticed by some up to this point, but the crisp, fresh, sweet peas were unlike any peas I have ever tasted. Their flavor was complimented by the basil carefully mixed in. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly and had just enough flavor without being too spicy. The squid looked a little daunting (tentacles and all) but was very tender and mild, which balanced out the heat of the dish.

Lamb racks (above) hang in the refrigerator at Chez Panisse. All meats are fresh and cured in house. This lamb was paired with an olive tapenade, where the saltiness of the tapenade brought out the flavors of the lamb.

The main entrée was a rack and loin of Watson Ranch lamb with rosemary, new potatoes and artichokes. The lamb had a green olive tapenade on top, adding a salty bite with the rich lamb, which created a perfect balance of flavors. The potatoes were cooked just right – a slightly crispy outside with a tender, warm inside. The artichokes married well with the flavor of the rosemary, bringing the earthiness of the dish together.

The dessert, however, took on a whole new type of deliciousness. The pastry chef prepared Meyer lemon profiteroles, a small, delicate pastry with fresh blueberries. They were filled with home-made whipped cream and a lemon curd that was sweet, tangy and so velvety and luscious I couldn’t stop going back for more. There was also just the right amount of blueberries on the plate that made this dish come together perfectly.

Despite the hefty $80 per person price, I would recommend everyone experience eating at Chez Panisse at least once. The food may not be unique to those who are knowledgeable of the “slow food” movement, but the excellent service, unique atmosphere and creative pairings make dining a Chez Panisse nothing short of an excellent fine dining experience.

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California State University East Bay
Chez Panisse Holds Onto Its Title