For the better part of a decade, I have wanted to dine at Chez Panisse, even more so after reading Thomas McNamee's biography 'Alice Waters and Chez Panisse'. The restaurant recently suffered a fire in its front porch and was closed for the better part of three months, but we managed to get a Monday night reservation in the restaurant downstairs, which was a three course meal for $65 per person. We took the Bart from the city and when no cabs were in sight, hoofed the nine blocks north to the restaurant, appetites in hand.
I expect the restaurant decor has not changed much over the years. Downstairs is warm and inviting. The beautiful floral arrangement sits at the entrance but I think it's time to let go of the garlic garlands strung over the walls. They weren't successful in keeping the two or three pesky fruit flies away from our table in any event. Wile some couples dressed for dinner, most patrons were dressed very casually.
In short, the experience was a disappointment. I love rustic cuisine that is well prepared with the finest possible ingredients, so my criticism has nothing to do with the simplicity of the dishes or their presentation. None of the dishes though, made us want to lick the plate clean. We started with a small bowl of delicious olives marinated in mint and Meyer lemon. A bowl of Acme bread was served but really, how hard is it to warm up bread before serving it? The first course was eggplant and red pepper tart with purslane salad. We found the vegetables quite oily and lacking any punch of flavour. The puff pastry was somewhat soggy on the bottom. Overall, a very average dish. Chez Panisse is big on live lettuces and the purslane was unbelievably fresh and delicious but someone was a bit heavy handed with the vinaigrette.
Our main was a Sicilian fish and shellfish stew with saffron couscous. This was an interesting dish with an interesting mix of fish and seafood, wonderfully flavoured. While the saffron flavoured broth was good, the couscous in the broth was very grainy and flavourless. I would be interested to know if they cooked it in a couscousier.
Dessert was a peach sherbet with red wine and raspberry gelee. The best part of the dish were the tiny slivers of fresh peach and the odd fresh berry. We both found the dessert too sweet and neither of us finished it.
Staff was friendly, but there were gaps in the service too.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.