VeganMoFo: Chez Panisse

It’s the last day of VeganMoFo!  I had a great time participating this year, but I’m not going to lie…it was really hard to keep it up with two blogs.  I didn’t quite meet my goal of posting every weekday this month, but this is my 20th post, and that’s pretty darned close!

Dave has been wanting to go to Chez Panisse in Berkeley for quite some time, and he has also wanted to see Beethoven’s 7th performed live, and for his birthday present I set out to make them both happen in one night.  I had heard that Chez Panisse could accommodate vegan diners, but upon calling to inquire I was told that they stick to their nightly menu with no alterations.  They suggested their upstairs cafe instead, which serves the same style of food in a more accessible menu with more choices.  When I called again to make the reservation, they said that they don’t necessarily cater to vegans, but that it would probably be possible to find something to eat on the menu.  Their menu changes daily, so it was a bit of a gamble!

Luckily, my dinner was great.  I asked our waiter right away what he suggested, and he said that the soup that night was completely vegan.

(Horrible photo excuse:  The menu explicitly asked diners not to use their cell phone at the table, so I snapped these as quickly as possible to try to remain inconspicuous.)

This is beet and ginger soup with cumin, turmeric and mint.  The soup was very light in texture, and actually tasted like essence of beet; I couldn’t really taste the mentioned spices.  But, the highlight of the soup was the oil drizzle on top.  I think they cooked green coriander seed in a tiny bit of oil and added it last minute, and those little pops of coriander were delightful.

Our waiter volunteered to ask the chef if they wouldn’t mind preparing a vegan entree for me, and the chef agreed.  I love having a meal made especially for me!  If the chef hadn’t been in the mood, I could have fallen back on a salad or maybe one of the pizettas without cheese.

I was delighted to see this plate.  The base was a variety of shell beans with what I think was cavolo nero, in a delicately flavored olive oil sauce.  Next is a giant crostini with a tangy roasted red pepper spread.  The cherry on top were the eggplant slices, which had to have been slow roasted or braised.  They were incredibly tender.

This little plate was actually on the dessert menu, Medjool and Barhi dates with candied tangerine peel.  I had never had Barhi dates – they were like an amazing caramel custard in a little date package.  The candied tangerine peel was the perfect acidic nibble to cut the sweetness.

Having had such a fantastic experience, I would definitely consider going back to Chez Panisse Cafe.  The staff were very accommodating, and like I said, even if the chef hadn’t made me an entree I could have pieced together a fine meal from the appetizer section.


  1. jessy said

    that’s awesome the chef hooked it up for you, Erin! the plate looks fantastical and the eggplant (and red pepper spread) sounds soooo super delicious! the dessert plate sounds delightful, too – candied tangerine peel?! mmmmmmmm! if i find Barhi dates i’m totally picking some up. you had me at “caramel custard”. awesomesauce!

  2. ameyfm said

    wow! I’ve also always thought it would be fun to go to Chez Panisse. How nice that the cafe is available as a more vegan-friendly option. That entree looks amazing! and Barhi dates really are incredible… so creamy and soft and sugary. Mmmm.

  3. Hi Erin,
    I’ve walked by chez panisse the several times i’ve been in berkeley, but have yet to dine there. I’m always a little suspect of restaurants that are really pricey, since it tends to put expectations really high.
    I’m glad to hear you did well at their cafe, though it’s a shame someone like Alice Waters, who has so much influence, isn’t more vegetarian (let alone vegan) friendly…
    When i’m feeling rich enough, i’ll look forward to one day giving the cafe a try…but the restaurant itself will probably always seem to precious…

  4. Chez Panisse seems almost legendary at this point; I can’t imagine actually dining there. Although, based on your account, I’d sure love to! How very cool that they were accommodating to a vegan diet.

  5. Mandee said

    I’ve never been anywhere that has said not to use your phones/cameras, unless I just haven’t noticed! 😉

    Your meal looks lovely and I always feel really happy when the chef is happy to cook a vegan meal just for me 🙂

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