The Restaurant That Changed the Way America Eats
In 1971, eating out meant beef Wellington and iceberg-lettuce salads with thousand island dressing-but that was before a young Alice Waters took an enlightening trip through France, where she was struck by the bold flavors of vegetables fresh from the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight from the sea. Returning to the United States, the idealistic Berkeley grad opened Chez Panisse, in the process creating “California cuisine,” turning San Francisco into one of America’s best restaurant cities, and setting off a change in the way America eats. If it weren’t for her, our local restaurants might never have discovered mesclun salad, wood-fired pizza, wild mushrooms, domestic goat cheese, and organic produce.
Identified the world over with pure, superfresh local ingredients, simple preparation, and gorgeous presentation, Chez Panisse (named for a character in a film trilogy by Marcel Pagnol) is still going strong thirty years later. It’s still as difficult to book, still serves a single prix fixe three – or four-course menu every day, and never offers the same meal twice. Some sixty local farms supply the kitchen, and if a farmer’s got a new kind of pomegranate or cheese, it will show up on tonight’s menu and inspire the entire meal. If you want to remember how food should taste, eat here.
Upstairs, the lively, more informal Chez Panisse Caffe offers the same unfussy sensibility in a less expensive d la carte menu. Elsewhere in San Francisco, you can find restaurants whose owners and chefs were mentored by or took their inspiration from Waters, such as the superlative and ever popular Zuni Caffe.