January, 2007. It was my then-boyfriend’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to take him to the infamous Chez Panisse? For those of you unfamiliar with Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto or the infamous Alice Waters, Chez Panisse is the historical epicenter of the sustainable, seasonal, local, French-inspired food with which California cuisine is most associated.
When it first opened in 1971, Chez Panisse served a prix fixe menu for less than $10. Nowadays, a five-course meal on a weekend evening will set you back $95, but there are more economical options during the week ($60 for 3 courses). I opted for the Cafe (instead of the restaurant) which serves an a la carte menu, is more affordable, and has a more forgiving reservation policy.
I don’t remember what my companion had, but I had the most marvelous pork chop EVER, pictured above. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly. Accompanying the pork chop were perfectly doubly-fried and crispy potatoes, along with a mix salad with apples. I think there was some delicious and savory-sweet glaze as well. All of it was recognizable, comforting, and heavenly.
On top of this, we drank nice wines and enjoyed ideal service from our waiter. He even brought us a free dessert after we told him it was my boyfriend’s birthday. For two appetizers, two entrees, and wine, plus tip, I think the bill came out to $130. No, it’s not what I can afford on a regular basis, but worth every damn penny.