As part of a Washington Post profile of new SF Chronicle dining critic Soleil Ho, who is absolutely flooding the zone right now, the paper reached out to Alice Waters for comment on Ho’s critical review of Chez Panisse last week. That review came in a package of five new reviews that established Ho’s critical range and voice.
“My friends called to say, ‘I hope you’re not worried about that,’ ” Waters told the Post.
“I knew, certainly, the old writer, who’s a good friend of mine,” she added, appearing to refer to Michael Bauer, who lavished a four-star review on Chez Panisse last year. “I am not one to shy away from criticism,” Waters said, and she’s taking Ho’s thoughts to heart, the restaurateur told the Post.
But Waters disagreed with the characterization that Chez Panisse has grown “stale.”
“I think it wasn’t fair to say that a restaurant that has a philosophy of food that’s important is maybe getting old and tired,” Waters said. “That can never get old and tired. Supporting people who are taking care of the land is the most important thing we can do on this planet right now.”
Ho, as the Post profile and the suite of new reviews helped explain, is a fresh voice in food criticism, one not beholden to inherited wisdom. “Chez Panisse has pushed the culinary conversation in this country forward, but then seems to have stood still since then,” Ho wrote.
Corey Lee, the chef of three Michelin star Benu, Monsieur Benjamin, and In Situ, also came to the defense of the Berkeley restaurant. Responding to the Chronicle’s question “Does Chez Panise still have momentum, and is it still worth the price?” he wrote “Yes and yes.”
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my answer to both these questions is yes, especially if you consider how much work @alicelouisewaters, at 74, is doing to improve food programs in our schools. i think the better question to ask is, “how has chez panisse survived so long in a relatively young dining culture that often lacks the experience and maturity to be impressed by anything else than the new?” my answer to this question is that their food is nourishing and delicious and their staff care about you and each other, even if you’re not an ideological revolutionary. oh, and karma.
Meanwhile, Ho dropped her latest review yesterday, this time of a new East Bay establishment with lots of momentum, FOB Kitchen. The new Filipino restaurant from couple Brandi and Janice Dulce is “the kind of place where the servers are so personable that you don’t even notice they’re upselling you,” Ho writes — but that’s not a total dig.
“The frustrating thing is that they’ll be right to sweet talk you into ordering those little extras — why not some dessert on top of that while you’re at it? And you’re going to love them for it.”
Menu highlights include ensalada talong (“The textures wrestle with each other so that you’re not sure if you’ll get more snap, squish or sigh in any given bite”) veggie lumpia (“a modest display of precise knife work whose practical application becomes quickly apparent as you eat”) and a non-alcoholic cocktail, the junior, a fizzy mango lassi. She’s also a fan of “the details in the space and on the menu at FOB Kitchen, which made me feel at home even though I wasn’t.”