Worshipping at the shrine of Californian cuisine
We were going to the Chez Panisse cafe, which is upstairs and cheaper than the restaurant. Also you don’t have to wait a year for a table: I rang that morning, which was a Saturday, and got a late booking. The man on the phone was so pleasant that I nearly cried. Even though we took the latest available table there was no vulgar suggestion of having to vacate the premises by a certain time.
We were greeted by a very cool-looking woman in her 60s – good jacket, no make-up, great haircut – who whisked us upstairs.
The best word for the Chez Panisse cafe on a Saturday at lunchtime is crowded. My friend felt that we were a little too near a couple and their two adorable young children, who I thought were happily occupied with Chez Panisse crayons, but my friend later said had been kicking her under the table.
There was a circular table in the middle of floor at which a French man was hosting a lunch for six or eight people – which I thought was a Good Sign, even though it looked as if it was on expenses. (Our lunch was not on expenses, in case any of you internet trolls were worried.) In general clothes were low-key – very low-key in our case – although I think I saw a good necklace at the French table.
To start my friend had goat’s cheese salad in which the goat’s cheese was so light, so unchalky and so sweet that it was a complete shock. We didn’t know whether they’d marinated it or whether they’d made it so recently that it just seemed as if it had been marinated.
This was the best dish of a terrific meal. I had green salad with persimmons, which was excellent.
For mains my friend had a pizza with pecorino cheese and nettles – a bit of trepidation here. I had halibut with fennel. I think it was halibut, and I can’t check at the moment, I’m afraid.
For pudding my friend had panna cotta with a red fruit coulis. I had caramel ice cream – to die for. Then I had coffee which came in an amazing brown pottery cup. And I had a beer.
We were terribly happy. It cost more than $100 – the gratuity was included, under some strange system, but my friend didn’t realise that and left a huge tip. We thought it was good value – at least I did, and her husband, a thousand miles away, thought the same. How amazing it must be to be Alice Waters, and to have changed the way people eat. I’m more of a fan than ever.