1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709 | 510.548.5525 | website
I met my friend TK for a long overdue lunch at Chez Panisse last week. She and I go way back, to the shrouded mist of our teens. She has an unfortunate tendency to bring up embarrassing memories of me that I have conveniently repressed and forgotten, such as the one of me wearing the gaudy rhinestone necklace that spelled out the word bitch that I borrowed from my older sister in the 70’s. But I digress… Chez P was as lovely as ever and hopping on a Tuesday afternoon. It is still wildly popular and business does not seem to suffer from the loss of their Michelin star. It’s been 5 years since my last visit, and I felt a subtle difference in the overall experience as I felt as if our waitress was giving us attitude, which cast a slight pall on our happy reunion.
I can never resist raw fish when I see it on the menu, especially when prepared in a non-Asian manner – sometimes it’s nice to break away from the traditional soy sauce and wasabi… I began with a dish of local King salmon crudo with fennel, grapefruit, meyer lemon and capers ($14). The thick slices of salmon melted in my mouth with a wonderful velvety texture, brightened with the flavors of citrus and fruity olive oil, and topped with thin crisp slices of fennel and fresh herbs and sprinkled with briny and acidic capers.
TK had the baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces ($11). The salad greens are so fresh and tender, tossed with a bright lemony vinaigrette that is complemented by the rich creamy flavor of the goat cheese which is softened by baking and coated with crunchy breadcrumbs.
The Fazzoletti Pasta with basil pesto and sweet peas $12 was buttery and decadent topped with a generous mound of grated parmesan cheese. The handkerchief shaped pasta dish was so flavorful and soothing, like eating billowy clouds of pesto soufflé.
TK had fried gulf shrimp with cress and artichoke salad with Full Belly Farm new potatoes and a rich lively aïoli ($22). The shrimp were gigantic and coated in a light batter that was fried to a crisp, but tender, juicy and sweet inside. The aïoli was like gold and added a rich decadence and bright lemony flavor to everything it touched. It is a traditional Provençal sauce made of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and egg yolks. I enjoyed reading former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz’s wonderful reminiscence and recipe here.
And then we went on to desserts. I had the Strawberry rhubarb shortcake with chantilly crème ($10). It was excellent, the shortcake was tender and moist and coated with cinnamony sugar. The chantilly crème is named after a beautiful castle near Paris, is simply whipped cream infused with vanilla and sweetened ($8). It is absolutely delicious and I wished there was more.
TK ordered the Neopolitan Ice Cream bombe with bittersweet chocolate sauce ($10), expecting a round bomb shaped treat and was a bit disappointed by both the appearance and the miserly, single line of chocolate sauce ringing the bowl. I liked the shaved chocolate on top, but have to agree that the desserts are always a bit too restrained for my sweet tooth.
Such a lovely relaxing lunch, such a bummer to find a $50 parking ticket on my car….