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San Francisco Bay Area Pizza

Chez Panisse history, pizza memories


Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area Pizza

Chez Panisse history, pizza memories

eatzalot | | Apr 23, 2007 01:04 PM

(Spilled over from a recent, more specific thread on fried rabbit at the Café.)

Unterman and Sesser, in print, brought out both similarities and the differences between the "two restaurants" at 1517 Shattuck. (Locals will recall those writers as the popular longtime Chronicle restaurant critics, after Whitelaw and before Bauer.) Their published reviews when the restaurant was well known, and the Café becoming so, appeared separately (under "Chez Panisse" and "Café at Chez Panisse"), a distinction careful journalists still observe.

They recalled (as old customers do) the original restaurant's evolution from local hangout ($6.50 pix-fixe), to popular, to a phenomenon like the French Laundry much later ("it's impossible to get a table there!" -- $40 prix-fixe) and the Café opening. Unterman and Sesser described the Café as built around a wood-fired pizza oven, open longer hours, and an opportunity to try the "fresh, inventive food" the restaurant is famous for, informally and less expensively. The Café menu of "three salads and other first courses, two or three pastas, three different pizzas" (and the rich Calzone!) and daily specials, typically grillades (grilled or broiled). That exactly matches my experiences of the Cafe over 25-odd years, last visit a year or so ago.

Unterman and Sesser detail some of the pizzas, with fresh herbs and garden ingredients. (I remember wild mushrooms, things like lots of onions and one herb and a little cheese.) Some of the toppings seem more available, years later, but that may be partly the work of the popular Chez Panisse Café.

(Reading this made it necessary to have a good pizza. I thawed a blob of spare dough, and rendered in the preheating oven some already-diced slab bacon from a good deli. Distributed a cooked-down can of chopped tomatoes onto the spread dough, then added the bacon, dried Provence herbs, diced fresh shallot, garlic, and diced small hot "Fresno" peppers now in season. Baked in a very hot oven until browned. Good. The aromas, when these fresh ingredients hit the hot oven air, are a fringe benefit -- an "appetizer.")

Preparedness Tip from one who cooks a lot: For such emergencies, always have on hand frozen bread dough, diced slab bacon, and canned chopped tomatoes. They're easy, they're cheap, and they can deliver results.

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