I had the great fortune of escaping the Toronto cold last week for a conference in San Francisco. And while I was there, there was no way I could go without a visit to Chez Panisse.
Chez Panisse is a restaurant in Berkeley, California, founded by Alice Waters, who started the sustainable and local food movement in North America. The restaurant has partnered with local farmers and foragers to bring fresh, local, and delicious food to its customers.
So, being a supporter of these ideals, I knew I needed to make a foodie pilgrimage to Chez Panisse as soon as I found out I’d be in San Francisco. I booked myself a table at the upstairs (à la carte) café and had a lovely lunch there last week; I’m still tasting the memories.
All fancy-food-ideals talk aside, the meal was perfect because it was based on simple food, done fresh and done well.
I had a fennel and orange salad on baby greens (picked only hours earlier):
(Please excuse the photo quality, I was shooting furtively…)
Along with the best bread I’ve ever had, courtesy of ACME Bread Company:
And then the best part of my meal came. The jaw-droppingly, astoundingly satisfying and gratifying thin-crust pizza. With grilled radichio. And pecorino.
And flash-fried rosemary, and a dusting of shaved parmesan.
Oh my word. This was not pizza as I knew it.
I have had a couple of disappointing pizzas lately (room service at the hotel, plus a poor-choice delivery night), and you know how people say: “even really bad pizza is still good, because it’s pizza”? Well, they’re wrong. Really bad pizza is disappointing, and sometimes soul-crushing (believe me, you would have felt the same way if you’d been traveling for 12 hours and had this room service pizza).
But this radicchio pizza at Chez Panisse? Divine. Inspiring. And perfect. In fact, the entire meal was perfect – I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Right down to the lovely dessert: a persimmon pudding with pears and the best caramel sauce I’ve ever had — almost burnt, but not quite.
I must admit to coming home with a copy of the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook, so you’ll be seeing some Chez Panisse-inspired meals around the blog in the future. My tummy is rumbling already with an-ti-ci – – – pation.
If you want to read more about Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, I really enjoyed these two articles: this one from the New York Times on making family lunches from scratch and this one about Alice Waters coming to visit a journalist whose pregnant partner made chicken fingers.
What are your memorable travel and food experiences that inspire you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!