In a word, Disappointing. Food was pretty good, but not what I would expect for a Micheline restaurant. Service was absolutely abysmal. Glasses were NEVER refilled; guess that was my job. More than one staff member walked by the table, looked at the empty plates on the edge, and kept walking; not their job I guess. They called a day early to confirm the reservations, but did not mention that the bottle of wine we asked to have chilled at the table was no longer available. We were told this long after being seated and offered a poorly chosen substitution. So much for a pleasant birthday dinner. The saddest part is that Micheline's standards have fallen so far. I don't think that will be my benchmark going forward. Oh, and I want my 17% forced gratuity back too.
The whole reservation process requiring calling immediately a month in advance, getting a constant busy signal, and then still getting a reservation pretty late at night is annoying. And then we still had to wait 15 minutes for our table. We also didn't realize that there is absolutely no choice on the menu, which is tough if you end up not liking what they serve that night. Yes the food is very fresh and in season, but the preparations aren't very imaginative or tasty. And the service is very attentive to the point of bordering on being pretentious.
The only thing I liked about this restaurant was the ambiance. The food was awful and the service was the worst I have experienced in a very long time. This restaurant is so over rated, I can't begin to go into all the details of why. In short, its the biggest ripe off in Berkeley. Don't waste your time or money. Food portions are tiny and the help is rude. There are much better values in the city of Berkeley. Boycott this restaurant!!!!
Food was very good but, not the greatest. If you like a fixed menu and making a resevation a month in advance and dealing with a hostest who is doing you a favor then go ahead. Micheal Mena in the city was superior.
While there exists a price point where I would have been totally satisfied with my Chez Panisse (downstairs) experience, that point is well below $120 per person.
The foods were simple though obviously prepared with great care and a great attention to flavors, but few of the dishes seem to aspire to be terrific. Maybe I came in with the wrong expectations, but I thought with its reputation (and price) that it would be a truly outstanding culinary experience and I would be wowed (or at least feel like the restaurant wanted to wow me). The service was fine, but not memorable. And the fixed menu was definitely a drawback since I'm sure I could have a much better experience if I were to put from the different courses served throughout the week. If you are looking to splurge on a tremendous experience, look elsewhere. But if you casually dine at restaurants in this range, then you'll probably be happy enough with Chez Panisse.
The specifics of my experience are below:
The starting apertif was ok, though nothing I wouldn't expect at any bar and for some reason its is served with an unappetizing cheese puff that doesn't combine well with the apertif at all. The first course was better, though mostly in its subtlety and light simplicity. It was a small diced egglplant side, prosciutto, and a small salad. The eggplant side was great, the prosciutto was just prosciutto, and the salad was good. The biggest disappointment was the second course, which consisted of eight very small ravioli without much flavor or interest. They were in a tasty garlic broth, though again, nothing special and watery. The squab main course was much better, consisting of a very succulent squab, terrific mushrooms, and a very enjoyable squab liver on toast pate. The supplementary cheese plate had some terrific cheeses and the house recommended glass of Zinfandel was really great (though also one of their priciest). I already had expected the ice cream bombe to be an underwhelming dessert for such a restaurant, and it was. It was really great ice cream with a nice blackberry sauce, but definitely not close to being a favorite dessert.
I finally made it to Chez Panisse after years in the bay area. The first time I went, we had the most excellent and fun waiter. I also had probably the most delectable onion rings, which I will never forget. It was a perfect experience that met all my expectations.
The second time I went, however, we had such an indifferent and uncaring waitress that it was hard to leave with all the warm fuzzies like the first time. Everyone else who served us, including the woman refilling our water glasses, were infinitely more warm. Everything else was great, although the chicken dish portion was overwhelming- especially if you are also fitting in drinks, appetizers, and dessert.
I still think it is a wonderful restaurant and look forward to many more delicious meals. But, I hope I never get that waitress again. (By the way, I was upstairs in the Cafe both times.)
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