Secret Berkeley Shhhh.... It's a secret! ;) <![CDATA[ A sweet little bistro on the edge of downtown Berkeley]]>
Since this was on a holiday, we called in to make a reservation just to be safe.  On the phone, we were informed that in lieu of their regular dinner menu, they would be having a special prix fixe menu that night.  When I heard bubbly, plus crab cakes, seared ahi, filet mignon, and duck l'orange, were some of the options, I was in.

When we got there, it was clear that a reservation was necessary as the place was packed at 8:30 and there were other patrons at the door waiting for seats as well.  Even then, though, I could already tell that I'd like the place.  I was oh-ing and ah-ing over the food that the servers brought out.  The other patrons looked like they were enjoying themselves.  The restaurant itself just looked so cute, rustic and romantic.  Reminiscent of a real Parisian brasserie.

We started out with a couple of glasses of bubbly.  My date and I's plan was to order something different for each course so that we could both taste a little more of the menu, but when we noticed that the starters portion of the menu had a choice of either cauliflower puree, a romaine hearts salad or crab cakes -- well, we both instantly had our hearts set on the crab cake and had to go for it.  No regrets.

Gateau au Crabe
Dungeness crab cake, pickled fennel and citrus salad, sauce remoulade
This was definitely one of the most crab filled crab cakes that I've ever had and the tartness from the citrus salad and the picked fennel was a nice contrast richness of the sauce remoulade and the crab cake itself.

Plats Principaux
The appetizer may have been a no brainer for us, but when it came to the main entree, there was stiff competition between seared ahi, filet mignon and duck l'orange.  Having started off our meal with some surf, we decided to go for the two turf entrees.

Filet Mignon
Roast tenderloin of beef, sauce Bearnaise, celery root potato gratin
I like my meats rare, but about 75% of the time that I order rare, I end up with something medium rare, or worse -- fully cooked.  Well, Bistro Liaison is in the 25% that doesn't mess that up.  The filet mignon was the perfect rare that I ordered it to be.  The celery root potato gratin that came on the side was just absolutely phenomenal.  Even after I finished eating the celery root and potato in it, I just had to lap up the rest of the cream, Emmentaler and Gruyere sauce with the table bread!

Canard a l'Orange
Seared breast of duck, orange gastrique, Camargue rice
The duck a l'orange was just as amazing.  Done to the standard medium rare, the texture was just amazing and the sauce was just perfectly flavorful and tangy.  Don't tell anyone, but I actually scraped the Bearnaise sauce off and dipped pieces of the filet mignon in the orange gastrique sauce.  It was that good.  The Camargue rice on the side was to die for, too, especially since it soaked up so much of this amazing sauce!

Dessert was a mystery to us as all the dessert section said was, "Assorted confections for the Lovers to share!!".  I can deal with that :)  What came out was this beautifully plated concoction.  I love doing food photography and don't usually make excuses for my photos, but this time, I have to say -- I tried as many different photo angles as I could to do this platter justice without annoying the other patrons, but in the end, this is the best that I can do, and no, it does not do this dessert platter justice.

Assiette d'Amour
Everything on this plate was delicious.  It consisted of a mango macaron, pistachio macaron, chocolate fondant, chocolate gelato and raspberry sorbet topped with tuiles, raspberry sauce and lemon meringe tarts.  It was almost too pretty and adorable to eat.

Now I can't finish writing about how impressed I was with Bistro Liaison without mentioning their service.  The host and servers were always just the right amount of attentive, as well as knowledgeable about the menu and were overall personable, fun-to-talk-to folks.  One other thing that I should mention is that when I called in to make reservations, I was mistakenly told that they would take my Living Social voucher even though it was a holiday.  Our host told us that they were told to specifically not accept them on that day, but he spoke with management and they ended up letting us redeem it since someone on the staff had previously told us otherwise, which we thought was awfully nice of them.

Now that I've tasted their special prix fixe menu of off-menu items...
I'm very much looking forward to trying the other French specialties on their menu, like French onion soup, escargot, and croque monsieurs.  Plus, they've got an extensive wine list because did I mention... they have a wine club?!  All in this cozy, warm atmosphere with a romantic and rustic ambiance.  I definitely had a lovely time in this cute bistro with exceptional food, as well as exceptional company :)

While I was dining there, my date and I couldn't help but notice this cozy little nook in the back that looked so closed off from the rest of the restaurant, except it wasn't.  An older couple was sitting there among the bottles of wine, rustic home decor and framed French posters.  They were wearing comfy and relaxed, yet elegant clothing, topped off with berets, looking like they totally belonged there.  I can just imagine them sitting there and sipping on lattes and red wine all day while writing poetry or having some deep conversation or debate about existentialism.  Or holding office hours there as people in France have been known to do at cafes.  They definitely added to our dining experience.

That's the table that I want the next time I'm there.]]> Tue, 1 Mar 2011 07:59:30 +0000
<![CDATA[Yogurt Park Quick Tip by elemental]]> Sun, 16 May 2010 14:31:30 +0000 <![CDATA[Yogurt Park Quick Tip by MeowMeowMeow]]> Tue, 9 Mar 2010 02:50:39 +0000 <![CDATA[Blondie's Pizza Quick Tip by devora]]> Fri, 5 Mar 2010 01:21:15 +0000 <![CDATA[Blondie's Pizza Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 21:18:10 +0000 <![CDATA[Cheese Board Collective Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:38:38 +0000 <![CDATA[Chez Panisse Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:37:16 +0000 <![CDATA[Berkeley Bowl Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:36:38 +0000 <![CDATA[Ici Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:35:12 +0000 <![CDATA[Sufficient Grounds Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:34:00 +0000 <![CDATA[Gordo Taqueria Quick Tip by devora]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:32:27 +0000 <![CDATA[Sufficient Grounds Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:32:25 +0000 <![CDATA[Ici Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:30:31 +0000 <![CDATA[Berkeley Bowl Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:28:11 +0000 <![CDATA[Chez Panisse Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:26:30 +0000 <![CDATA[Cheese Board Collective Quick Tip by Juhnay]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:24:55 +0000 <![CDATA[My Favorite Five Secret Berkeley Places!]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 05:39:43 +0000 <![CDATA[ CA Cuisine Made With Fresh, Local, Organic & Sustainable Ingredients. Bummer About the Service.]]> Chez Panisse actually has two parts to it.  There's the famed Michelin starred (one star in both 2006 and 2007) restaurant downstairs, ya know, the one that always makes it into Restaurant magazine's list of top 50 restaurants in the world, and where Bill Clinton and even the Dalai Lama famously dined at.  And then there's the cozy, low-key upstairs portion, simply called The Café, but most people around here refer to it as "the café at Chez Panisse", "the Chez Panisse café", or "upstairs at Chez Panisse".

The café has a very similar menu to the restaurant downstairs, except instead of a three to four course prix-fixed menu, the café gives the luxury of ordering a la carte to my heart's content.  Not to say that I'll never try the restaurant downstairs, but one of the main reason why I've always chosen to eat at the café over it is because of the a la carte menu.  My friends and I are pretty adventurous eaters, so we like trying different things and don't just want to be confined to a menu with three or four items on it.  This is also great for people with dietary restrictions because it gives them more choices.  Did I mention that the café serves lunch, too, while the restaurant doesn't?  Their menu changes on a daily basis and can be viewed here.

Appetizers are $8-$15, entrees are $20-$30, desserts are around $10 and the cheese sampler is $16.  The last time I was looking at their wine list, there were bottles of wine up to $800.

Another reason why I like the café is because it's much easier to make reservations.  Actually, you don't even need them at all if you just want to drop by on a whim, but I suggest you make reservations if you plan on going and don't want to wait.  I've dropped by several times, though, and only had to wait once.  All other times, my party was seated right away.  The trick is to show up right at opening, 11:30 AM for lunch, and 5 PM for dinner, or show up later in the evening, like 10'ish, then you're pretty much guaranteed a table!

Now onto the food!  As with all foods and restaurants Alice Waters-related, all ingredients are extremely fresh, local, organic and sustainable.  The food at the café is really simple and unpretentious, nothing too fancy, but obviously made with very high quality ingredients.  I'm always amazed at how many people they have in the kitchen.  I wouldn't be surprised if each person specialized in just one or two of their dishes on each day's menu. 

The only thing on their menu that I absolutely LOVE, though, and order every time (I should add that this is one of few items on the menu that is consistently on their ever-changing menu) is their baked goat cheese salad.  It's a lettuce salad lightly coated in vinaigrette and comes with two medallions of goat cheese that have been breaded and baked.  Just imagine that gooey baked cheese oozing out of the breaded crust as you dig into it with your fork -- it's amazing!  The first time I had ever had a baked goat cheese salad was in Paris years ago, and I was absolutely over the moon when I found out that the café had it.

Their pizettas are wood oven fired and they're alright.  The crust is a bit chewy for my taste though.  The desserts are really good!  I love everything that they make with rhubarb in it.  And my drink of choice here would be their pear cider.  @latoya pretty much never drinks alcoholic beverages, but even she wanted to take a bottle home after taking a sip of my glass!

Meh... I only wish that their service was as unpretentious as their food.  It's not like they were outwardly rude, but they definitely weren't nice either.  An air of snobbiness and condescension was definitely felt.  Service is mediocre if you stop in for a full out meal with a bottle of wine and all, but if you stop in for a snack of appetizers and desserts with no entrees, even if it's a $100+ snack for two, they're not going to be so happy.

The last couple of times that I've been to the café, I had stopped in on a whim after 10'ish for late night snacks and was seated pretty quickly in a half-filled restaurant.  Since it was so late, we only wanted to do appetizers, desserts and maybe a couple glasses of wine, not an entire meal.  Both times, both hosts kept asking, "Will that be all?  Are you sure?  The appetizers are pretty small".  Having been there before several times, we already knew that the appetizers and desserts were plenty filling enough.  The last time I was there, the host just wouldn't quit with the upselling of the entrees.  Not only did he ask us if we wanted entrees when we ordered the appetizers, he also asked after the appetizers arrived, and again after we finished the appetizers.  Same goes with the wine.  What the heck???  That's so not classy.  The bussers are really attentive though.

Parting Words
I hate to say this, because I've got mad respect for Alice Waters and her culinary philosophy, BUT, I can't help but think that the Chez Panisse Café is overrated.  I don't mind that the food is simple, that's actually refreshing, but my mediocre rating of the café really lies in the poor, snobby service.  Plus, I think it'd be hard for to rate any French-American restaurant highly after experiencing French Laundry.

Furthermore, there are plenty of places in the area where I can experience food that's just as yummy, if not yummier, and with much better service.  If I want tastey desserts, I'd rather go to Ici on College Ave in Berkeley.  If I want really amazing pizza baked in a wood fired oven, there's Pizzaiolo on Telegraph Ave in Oakland.  They've got amazing rhubarb desserts, as well, plus delicious polenta.  Both of those restaurants are actually opened by former Chez Panisse chefs.   And I'm sure I can find some yummy pear cider at BevMo or something.  Oh, and that baked goat cheese salad?  It's available at Alice Water's other way more low key (I must warn you, though, still pretentious and snobby) cafe, Cafe Fanny on San Pablo in Berkeley.

After my last experience at The Café, I think that I'm better off going on a snacking spree at all those other places.  I'll take out-of-town guests here, just to let them say that they've been to one of Alice Waters' restaurants, but I'm definitely not coming back on my own.  Especially for a snack.
]]> Sun, 5 Jul 2009 06:28:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ One of the best pizza joints in Northern California.]]>
I've always been a fan of their cheese slice, but in recent years, I've gotten addicted to their veggie slice, which they've revamped a while back.  Basically, it's a wheat crust pizza that's light on the cheese, but heavy on the veggies.  As healthy as a real pizza can get!  Okay... not really, but close enough.

Sometimes, when I feel extra gluttonous, I order two slices and eat them both in one sitting.  Yes, I may look small, but I can eat.  My friends keep telling me that I shouldn't eat anything larger than the size of my face (and a slice of Blondie's is definitely bigger than the size of my face), but I can't help it; it's so good!  I mean, c'mon, with most of the food pyramid plopped in the pizza -- cheese, egg, vegetables, bread -- how can you possibly go wrong?  Oh, and I always unscrew the top of the parmesan cheese dispenser ;)

I love their veggie deluxe salad as well.  It's everything that I've ever wanted in a salad (well, except when I show up too late and they start running out of ingredients!).  Garbanzo beans, red beans, beets, long strands of mozzarella, a generous chunk of avocado, and then some.  My two favorite dressings are blue cheese and miso.

Their southern soul food joint downstairs in their San Francisco location is pretty good, too.  They have homemade mac 'n cheese that can be good on certain days.  Their cheese and garlic fries are yummy, and they have sweet potato and yucca fries as well.

Oh, and apparently, they serve froyo now.  I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I'll get back to that once I actually try it.

Stores and restaurants around the area have come and gone, but Blondie's has stood the test of time.  Blondie's, stay awesome!]]> Wed, 31 Dec 2008 06:23:31 +0000