In my opinion, I don't write very good reviews of restaurants, or well, anything for that matter. Which is part of the reason it's taken me so long to write this one. But I feel I'm doing you a disservice when mentioning I ate somewhere exceptionally nice, saw a great band, or read a book I couldn't put down and then not saying at least a little something about it.
So I'll tell you a little bit about Chez Panisse.
The entrance is almost hidden behind some flowers and other foliage, and if you're walking down Shattuck and aren't looking for it, you'll probably miss it. The restaurant itself is split in two. Downstairs has the fixed menu, and upstairs has the slightly more casual cafe menu. The upstairs decor is fairly minimalist with lots of wood, and some art deco details. It's a very comfortable, warm atmosphere.
The menu isn't large, but everything sounded delicious. It didn't take long to decide on the celery soup, and the beef short ribs with beet salad. Now, I'm not a big fan of celery. I'll eat it, but it's not my favorite. This soup however...cool and creamy, and not overpowering with the taste of celery. It was the perfect way to start dinner on a rather warm evening. In between the appetizers and dinner, our waiter brought over one of the pizzas that had been listed in the appetizer section, saying the chef wanted us to try it. How could we say no? This may have been one of the best pizzas I've ever had. It was simple...just some greens (amaranth) and a sprinkling of Pecorino cheese, but the combination was fabulous, and the crust was amazing. The short ribs were braised, and super tender, and the beet salad was a nice complement. However, I think my favorite thing was the dessert. I ordered a buttermilk panna cotta, which was nothing short of amazing. The tang from the buttermilk cut the sweetness and left you with creamy perfection.
We were all very impressed, and my friend who had made the reservation was ready to make another reservation for next month while we were sitting there (I had plans already, or else I totally would have taken her up on it).
The food was undeniably fabulous, but the thing I really liked about the whole experience was the atmosphere of the restaurant and all the little details. The computer they use to enter your order? Hidden in a section of the bar. The waitstaff accessed it by lifting up a panel. I can't tell you how many times I've been led to my table in a restaurant and I've either walked by the computer, or had a view of it. I really appreciated that it was kept out of site. When one of my dining companions ordered iced tea, they brought over white sugar (which dissolves better in cold liquids), and when the boyfriend ordered a coffee they brought over a different type of sugar (presumably one that either adds to the taste or dissolves better in hot liquids). Not a packet of Splenda in sight. Though I'm sure if I asked for some, they would have obliged.
If you like food, you really should give the Chez Panisse Cafe a try. Heck, even if you don't like food, or you're ambivalent about it, give it a try. Sometimes it's just nice to have a nice dining experience, and the food, well, it just might open your eyes to what all these "foodie" people are excited about.