When I was little, I had a colorful children's cookbook called Fanny at Chez Panisse. It tells the story of Fanny, a seven year old girl growing up in the restaurant of her mother (renown chef and slow food activist, Alice Waters), playing in the enormous stockpots and snoozing on sacks of potatoes. The stories and recipes always captivated me.
I think I was ten or twelve when I stirred up my first batch of risotto from Fanny's cookbook, learned about Alice's time in France, and read about her important work pioneering The Edible Schoolyard Project. Ever since, it has been one of my dreams to eat at Chez Panisse. Being so close to Berkeley, the home of the famed restaurant, I decided it was time.
After a disappointing visit to Tartine, I was a little wary about going to the famed restaurant. After all, how could some place I'd mythologized since I was a little girl actually measure up to my imagination? Would it be a waste of money? Surely, I was bound to be disappointed. It turns out, I needn't have worried—our trip to Chez Panisse was truly memorable.
We were welcomed warmly into the fancy restaurant and treated like royalty despite being distinctly under-dressed. Our waiter, a debonair man Tyler dubbed "Gaston", presented our menus and wine with class and style. His deep passion for good food and gracious hospitality was palpable. Later in the evening, we learned that he used to work on one of the farms that grows the food we would eat.
And then the food, oh the food. Our dishes, though simple, were fresh and delicious. Crusty bread and creamy, farm-fresh butter was followed by Soupe au pistou and duck breast with mashed potatoes and spinach. All was washed down with red wine thoughtfully recommended by our waiter, and finished with a decadent dessert of bittersweet chocolate mousse. Tyler's note: I am no foodie, but the greens in our salad had so much flavor as to be wholly indistinguishable from any I've tasted my entire life!
So. Good. Totally worth it.
A huge thank you to reader Mel (who we ran into at dinner!) for all of your thoughtful Bay Area recommendations, and for your generous donation to splurge on a bottle of wine at Chez Panisse. It was wonderful to meet you and Jean, if only for a few moments.
I'd like to extend another thank you to reader Carol— we used your donation for this dinner as well! Thank you for following along on our journey, and for helping make my childhood dreams come true.