Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

May 30, 2007 10:08 AM

Restaurant: Chez Panisse

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709
There are really two restaurants. On the main floor, there is a dining room that on any given day serves only a single meal for dinner. If that meal is not to your liking there are no alternatives. The menus for a whole week are available.

On the night we did not eat there the menu was grilled asparagus with morel cream, Dungeness crab bisque with aioli and crouton, whole roasted Sonoma County Liberty duck with green and black olives, potatoes with pancetta, and Chino Ranch flat black cabbage, and Page mandarin, grapefruit and Meyer lemon sherbet coupe.

Carol and I had dinner with Florence and Peter in the Café on the 2nd floor. The Café is relatively narrow and quite long. As you come off the stairs, dead ahead there is an area of small round tables and chairs on which folks can wait for their party to fill out or until their table is ready. It is the restaurant's policy to not seat anyone until the whole party has assembled.

To the right, there is a table across from the seating area that seems able to seat up to 8 people. It was set for 4, but not used the night we were there. Including that section for 4, there is seating for about 45 people in 2s, 3s, and 4s. One section of this part of the Café is raised about 4 feet above the rest of the restaurant, and seats about 10.

The tables are pretty close together, and covered with white cloths and white paper. To the left, at the top of the stairs, is a serving bar and the open kitchen. There are also two additional seating areas. Across from the kitchen are 4 booths, each of which seats up to 5 people. At the end of the kitchen, there is a room that seats another 20 people in 2s and 4s.

Peter and Carol started with Baked Sonoma goat cheese with Viki's lettuces. Florence and Mike selected the red beet soup with creme fraiche. We also ordered for the table Monterey Bay sardine toasts with frisee and cardoon salad, and a plate of olives.

As her second course, Carol selected hand-cut egg noodles with fava beans, ramps and pecorino; Florence ordered Northern halibut with grilled asparagus, anise hyssop, and shoestring potatoes. Peter and Mike had grilled Hoffman Farm chicken breast, with potato-sorrel gratin and tapenade. Peter also ordered an additional plate of the shoestrings, which were quite good.

For dessert we shared an order of Meyer lemon sorbet with Moscato d'Asti and langues de chat, and a bowl of Jim Churchill's Pixie tangerines and Fly Disc Ranch Barhi dates.

While our principal waiter was a little officious, the service was generally good.

The men's room is small, dingy, and slightly musty. As you enter, there is a 5 small dark stone counter just to the left with a gold colored metal washbasin. Next to the counter is a floor-to- ceiling solid wall that juts out about 2.5-3 feet. On the other side of the wall is a white ceramic commode. Across from the commode, in the relatively small room, is a white ceramic urinal. The floor is covered with large dark tiles, and the walls are painted a tannish yellow wall. Overall this room is not special.

Reservations are essential.

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