Chez Panisse in Berkeley


My sandals broke on a long day of scouting with NatGeo photographer Catherine Karnow. No time to waste when we already had a packed day. The closest savior? A Walgreens. I trudged in, bought a $5 pair of flip-flops and continued working.

The day went on and we were close to Berkeley, where Alice Waters' iconic restaurant Chez Panisse has held court for 43 years. She was the first to really pioneer farm-to-table eating. Catherine had photographed Alice years ago and had raved about the restaurant as one of her favorites.

I have wanted to come to Chez Panisse ever since I first heard about it, which was probably when I was 12 years old, obsessed with reading any and all magazines. We decided to try our luck at getting in to eat on a busy Friday night.

And I was so mad that I shuffled in wearing my $5 Walgreens flip-flops (later promptly tossed into the trash).

Despite the footwear, we were lucky to get seated as walk-ins for the "cafe" upstairs, which just feels like a normal restaurant (albeit one with a gorgeous open kitchen and bustling, happy diners seated at rustic wooden tables). The "restaurant" downstairs has a prix-fixe tasting menu.


To say it was exquisite perfection is not exaggerating - but it was so simple. Dessert? Blueberries and two apricots. The salad lettuces were crisp and earthy; the polenta, sweet corn and tomatoes sweet and salty. It is like you are being hugged by the state of California and everything that represents.


I always thought Chez Panisse was ridiculously expensive. But it's not! It is now one of my favorite restaurants in the world - I could happily eat there again and again. It is an absolute must if you're in the Bay Area (about a 20 minute drive from downtown San Francisco).