The Gourmet Ghetto and Chez Panisse Cafe

A visit to the farmer’s market the morning of my birthday turned out to be the perfect way to start a day that led to a surprise lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe, the casual upstairs section of that Berkeley institution.

Neither Aron nor I had ever been to Chez Panisse (or its cafe)–which seems crazy now that I think about how close we always were; we had been meaning to go for years. Alice Waters’ influence can be felt at pretty much every one of our favorite restaurants and her kitchen has turned out some of the best chefs and bakers in the country. I was so excited when I figured out that we were headed toward Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto“–a stretch of Shattuck that’s famous for its ongoing contribution to the concepts of “foodie” and “locavore”–though I wasn’t sure if we were headed to Chez Panisse or to the grassy median to share slices of the Cheeseboard’s daily pizza special.

The true Chez Panisse is an intimate restaurant downstairs, but a wonderful way to visit Waters’ kitchen without paying full price (or working quite as hard to score a reservation) is to share a meal upstairs. We also felt less self-conscious about bringing along Hudson–even though there weren’t any highchairs, so babies certainly aren’t the norm. (He did great, btw–and even shared Aron’s anchovies!) It seemed like every bit of seasonal produce we’d spotted at the market had been worked onto the menu–which, if less groundbreaking than it once was, was completely delicious. What a treat!

P.S. A spring soup from our favorite chef, Suzanne Goin, to come out of Waters’ kitchen, and a favorite recipe to try for fall. And check out this picture Aron posted for my birthday a couple of years back: Hudson DOES look like me sometimes.

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