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Saturday, May 2, 2015

BEST RESTAURANT IN AMERICA: CHEZ PANISSE?

Well, in 2001 Gourmet magazine named Chez Panisse as the best restaurant in America.  Then in 2007, it dropped to #2, to Alinea of Chicago.  Today, The Daily Meal's top 101 has Chez Panisse as #5, with Alinea now #6.  #1 = Le Bernardin (New York), #2 = Eleven Madison Park (New York), #3 = The French Laundry (Yountville) and #4 Per Se (New York).  However, as there were 630,964 restaurants in the USA a few months ago, #5 is not bad at all.  Internationally, Pellagrino lists Eleven Madison Park at #4, Alinea #9 and French Laundry #44, with Noma of Copenhagen at #1 (left, with Chef Rene and his crew).

I left my hotel room at noon for a 1:30 reservation.  I have a number of recommendations for BART.  For one, color the trains to match the line.  I had to catch a Yellow, and transfer to a Gold or Red.   They're all BLUE. Inside there is no sign of which one you're in nor where you are or where you're going.  When the train is moving, you can't hear the announcements, for there is a strident screechy sound.  The windows are shaded so you can only barely see, and usually can't, the name of the station when you get there.

It was anguishing, for there were constant delays, but I finally got to the Downtown Berkeley BART Station at 1:40.  There are other options.  Roundtrip:  BART ($18), Uber ($70) and taxi ($140).  While BART took me one hour and 40 minutes, Uber and taxi modes are in the range of half an hour, depending on the traffic, and in San Francisco, this could be formidable.  There is no tipping for BART, while there is no need to tip on Uber.  Can you see the writing on the wall for traditional taxis?

The walk uphill for 9.5 blocks took another 15 minutes.  And I got the wrong information so had to backtrack twice. I shouldn't have worried, as Chez Panisse Cafe serves until 3:30PM on Fridays.  To my surprise, waiting for me was Jim Seger, my freshman roommate, who lives here.  He said he first came to this restaurant when it opened 41 years ago because a close friend of his lived next door.  The restaurant was once a home.  He could only stay for a drink, and drove on to Oregon.  I neglected to take a photo, but here is Jim with Kathy Ray during our Stanford days.  Kathy now lives in Napa Valley.

I started with a Kir Royale, and did not take any notes because I was planning to steal a menu with all the details.  I did, but must have dropped it on my way back to the airport.  Anyway, I also had a fine rose with the salad/soup and a Pinot Noir with the clams.  The dessert was an ice cream, dark chocolate and caramel concoction:


The whole meal cost around $150 and was a worthy experience.  Can't say I loved the cuisine, but the adventure was rewarding.  I then took my walk on the Cal-Berkeley Campus.  A lot of purple flowers and a squirrel:


I just had to walk up to the Campanile, which is taller than a football field.  But it was all uphill:


You can hardly see them, but two students are up near the top in the tree to the left.

I might add that, according to Forbes, Stanford is the #2 university in the nation, next to Williams, while Cal-Berkeley is #37.  However, U.S. News and World Report indicates that Princeton is #1 and Stanford is #4, while Berkeley is #20.  Interesting that this same USNaWR, in world rankings, has Harvard as #1, with Cal-Berkeley at #3 and Stanford at #4.  Oxford and Cambridge are at #5 and #6.

On the way to the Berkeley BART Station, I noticed a liquor shop that made subway sandwiches, so I ordered an Italian, and added a Petaluma beer and chips, ate them in my room last night:


Today, on to Napa and Vacaville for one week of golf and other vices.  However, there is an unfortunate postscript.  Walking down the outside stairs of Chez Panisse, the wooden railing left two slivers in my middle left finger, at the exact spot where I grip a golf club.  I was able to remove a splinter, but the area around the other, I noticed this morning, looks inflamed and is sore to the touch.

If you couldn't see those two people in the tree, you won't be able to distinguish this black fragment.  How will I golf for five days in a row?  I hesitate using a needle, for the pain.  I read where you can go to a doctor for $500, or spend a few bucks on epsom salts, chemically known as Magnesium Sulfate.  I'm might try that.

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