Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy 40th Birthday Chez Panisse & Congratulations Alice Waters!

I finally made it!
I've always dreamt of eating at Alice Waters', the godmother of the organic food movement, remarkable restaurant "Chez Panisse", and I finally had the opportunity to do so last week Thursday.  The week of their 40th Anniversary.  I've read numerous articles, saw documentaries, and heard wonderful reviews of Chez Panisse, so I had very high expectations.  And after dinner, I was very pleased to have my expectations exceeded.

Writing about my experience at Chez Panisse today is very appropriate since I am gearing up for my 2011's Kanu Hawaii EAT LOCAL Challenge for September.  Current challenges like this is a tribute and reflection of Alice Waters' accomplishments with the Slow Food Movement that she started in America back in the 1970s, 40 years ago.

When you buy organic produce from Whole Foods Market, or if you notice the promotion of local produce in the mainstream of restaurants, and if you have eaten at restaurants like town in Kaimuki, or Heeia Pier General Store & cafe, you indirectly have Alice Waters to thank.

When my friend Patty made reservations 1 month before we had all of our travel plans, we were given a choice to eat downstairs or upstairs.  Downstairs featured special preplanned menus and upstairs in the cafe, a menu of different items to order from.  We decided to go with the upstairs menu, so we could try a number of different things.  Since there were 3 of us, we would have 3 different appetizers, 3 different entrees and 3 different desserts = 9 tastes of 9 dishes.

I invited my French Canadian friend Louis Vachon, just in case our waiter was French, but Louis didn't have to bust out his mother tongue - shucks.  I love it when people can speak French - I wanted to feel the whole experience...oh well we were in Berkeley, California.

First, they gave us the best table in the cafe - by the open window and under the tree with vines of greens beans.

For appetizers, we had:
Grilled anchoiade toast with cherry tomatoes and marjoram
Avocado and beet salad with ginger vinaigrette
Tartare of local halibut Tahitienne with tomato, mint, and Little Gems lettuce
For entrees, we had:
Gigot aux olives noires - grilled Watson Ranch lamb leg with little turnips, green beans & black olives

Fried Devil's Gulch Ranch rabbit with corn, romano beans, squash blossoms & tomatillo salsa

Fish and shellfish stew with tomato, saffron, fennel and rouille
For dessert, we had:
Flavor King pluot tart with framboise cream
Bittersweet chocolate pave with coffee-chocolate ice cream
A bowl of Sunny Slope Orchard Black Mission figs and Cal Red peach

We had a bottle of Rose from France for our appetizers and a bottle of Green & Red Zinfindel for our entrees and desserts.

The menu for downstairs was:
King salmon tartare with cucumbers and watercress
Summer squash and squash blossom risotto
Grilled BN Ranch grass-fed Bolinas beef tenderloin with olive sauce and Chino Ranch green beans
Cannard Farm raspberry ice cream vacherin

Every dish was beautifully composed and the flavors perfectly matched and we got to taste 9 different dishes, so we were very happy with our choice of eating upstairs in the cafe.

It is really hard to imagine that Chez Panisse in 1971 was so revolutionary now.  The restaurant is modest and tiny, but it surely is an example that fresh simple food, treated with respect can achieve huge influence.

It was an honor, thank you Alice!