Reading a chapter of Alice Water's new book (Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook) in The New Yorker brought back memories. Chez Panisse, the famous bastion of California cuisine, opened in Berkeley in August 1971. This was just about the time that I moved to Berkeley with Uri, my first husband, as he was about to enter the Ph.D. program at the university. We lived two blocks from Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard Cooperative, and Lenny’s Meats. Soon there was also Peet’s Coffee, Pig-by-the-Tail charcuterie, Poulet, the café at the French Hotel, and the Cheeseboard’s pizza shop – the best pizza in the whole world. We lived in the Gourmet Ghetto.
President Bill Clinton ate at Chez Panisse once. I ate there several times. I ate at the more formal downstairs restaurant two or three times. You would be seated and served. There was no ordering of food, everyone was served the same meal. You chose your wine. And whereas the chapter I just read says something about the meal costing $3.50, I only remember that it was expensive. And worth it.
Subsequently, Alice Waters opened a café upstairs and I went there often. It wasn’t as formal and it wasn’t as expensive. You chose from a menu where I always found so many good things that it was hard to choose, although I remember a goat cheese calzone that I was especially fond of. The walls were decorated with posters of Raimu, the French actor who starred in Marcel Pagnol’s films, The Marseille (Fanny) trilogy. One of the characters in those films is Panisse.
The café was where I usually went with my friend Judy. She was one of my best friends for many years until one day when for some reason that she never explained, she didn’t want to speak to me anymore. But when I think of Chez Panisse I usually think of the café and when I think of the café I think of those posters and of Judy.
My last meal at Chez Panisse was downstairs, on my birthday, with Manel. Two days later we left California to go live in Catalonia. We didn’t know what the menu would be that night and were presented with the serendipitous surprise of Catalan food. Chicken (or was it duck?) with prunes was the main dish. I don't remember, but surely Crema Catalana must have been the dessert. What else could it have been?