Panisse Passé? Alice Watery Applewood

Here's a new idea....Chez Panisse is passé


I took the train to Berkeley, less than two hours from Davis towards San Francisco. I checked in at the French hotel and dined in the restaurant across the street. We are talking about Alice Waters’ place, Chez Panisse a restaurant well known to the readers of this blog and in-flight magazines.

There is the formal restaurant downstairs (fully booked) and the café upstairs (a late table was available). I had wine made of Zinfandel grapes.

I took the US$29 fixed menu. It had a garden lettuce salad, spaghetti alla Norma with eggplant, tomato, basil, and ricotta salata, and a Concord grape sherbet with roasted Thompson seedless grapes and langues de chat.

These were the variety names on today’s menu: Concord grape, Thompson seedless grapes, and Little Gems lettuce.

And these were the farm names on the menu: Cannard Farm3, Andante Dairy, Soul Food Farm, Marin Sun Farm, Lagier Ranches, and Frog Hollow Farm.

Terroir trumps agrobiodiversity at Alice’s place.

It is a good restaurant. It is very French. The waiter spoke of terroir as if his name were Claude Duchateu. It is very cheap for a famous restaurant. It has a local twist to it. The food is good. But is mainstream now. The menu in the Davis Best Western Palm Court was not that different.

I suppose it is fair what everybody says, that Alice created some sort of revolution. From the wasteland of the American diner to Good Food. Just like her neighbor Alfred Peet transformed mainstream American coffee from diluted sewage to the best coffee anywhere save (perhaps) Italy. But that is ancient history.

But, just for your information, Chez Panisse is passé now. Go look somewhere else. I have heard of an underground restaurant movement in New York.

Chez Panisse is sold out every night, I think. Alice can experiment. But she does not. She chooses the middle of the road. Their produce comes from “farms, ranches, and fisheries guided by principles of sustainability” but the majority of entrees (main dishes) are a fish or meat dish.

Chuck out the meat. Serve different varieties of other veggies than tomatoes (even the Andronico’s supermarket across the street sells heirlooms). Use something locally evolved rather than merely locally grown. The native Californians used hundreds of edible plants.4 But no miner’s lettuce or acorns on the menu of the Queen of Slow Food. Come on, Alice, surprise me!

Source: Robert Hijmans Agricultural Biodiversity Website

Hmmm, so where can slow food and "locavores" go from here? A good point indeed since the restaurant business is so competitive one does need to constantly be redefining ones niche in order to add novelty and therefore value. It is essential to maintain the buzz.....and with more and more restaurants serving Alice Watery style menus.....such as Applewood in Brooklyn I'd have to agree with Robert.


The meal we had here was not astounding. While everything was well cooked and tasted nice it was simple and I must say that aside from the price tag there was precious little appreciation to be had in eating organic local beets and salad. The food was good, or better yet "nice".

Applewood, like Chez Panisse is a farmer to restaurant type deal. There is organic/ fairtrade hand wash in the bathrooms and the tables were adorned with vases of fresh cut thyme which I snapped off "a la Thai style" and added to my under-seasoned beef tartar (I asked for extra chili but they wouldn't give it to me)

The bill around USD$80 including wine.

I had beets, the tartar and "artisinal cheese selection" to finish




I was too busy talking to notice what other people ate....but here are some other photos

Delicious selection of handmade butters and dips to start

Maine Lobster thingy




Chocolate Ding Dong, as Hock likes to call them....always a crowd pleaser

So now that most inner city hipster regions of the United States now have their very own version of Chez Panisse what happens?

How much more "in touch" can this restaurant niche get? Should restaurants of this theme, as Robert suggests, go deeper still attaching perhaps scientific names to the menu and explaining the role your food played in an ecosystem? Should they only allow diners to eat a limited portion of meat? Perhaps they should only be cooking off the menu of under-utilised species in line with the principle that eating endangered species is the best way to preserve them.

With some quarters of food criticism already underway against molecular gastronomy , should Alice Watery restaurants be moving towards more sophisticated cooking techniques or furthering the general populaces' appreciation for quinoa?

Or hows about molecular Khmer food....anyone?


    The whipped butter was frikin yummy.

    I had the veal sweetbreads and the fish (Turbot?). I really enjoyed myself and the dishes.

    They had a good beer selection too.



    hah! funny post. the whole chez panisse thing has always been a bit incomprehensible to me....not being American, I suppose...

    Applewood - the meat, fish and lobster all look quite yummy... the beets, cheeses and tartar look a bit sad..

    golly I love quinoa.... love the weird little tendrils....very tasty


    quinoa's so good... even though they look like birds' feed, it's one of my favorite "minor grains" to mix in with brown rice. when the brown rice/quinoa meal gets slightly burnt on the bottom of the pot, it's very yummy. job's tears are fun to eat too...


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