A new legacy

Small-plates wine bar is impressive new tenant in old Chico haunt

Tannins wine sampler.

Tannins wine sampler.

Photo By melanie mactavish

Tannins Wine Bar & Bistro
234 W. 3rd Street
Hours: Tues.-Fri. & Sun., 4 p.m.-close, and Sat., 2 p.m.-close.

While the institution that was Caffe Malvina pre-dated Henri’s arrival in Chico by many years, he still had a soft spot in his coeur for the little ristorante and the always-charming owner. So I was sad to see it shut its doors and the Closed sign go up in the window. Buono fortuna, Sal.

And then, on a recent walk downtown, Miss Marilyn and Mr. Theo a-leash and sporting their new sweaters by Prada Pets, Colette and I took notice of a new restaurant/wine bar going into Malvina’s spot. Well! Henri felt more than a bit disaffected. I also knew that the new place had some very big chaussures to fill.

So when the restaurant opened last month, I initially spurned my dear sister Colette’s entreaty to try it.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “Don’t be like that?”

“Like what?”

“Stupid. Stubborn. Pig-headed.”

“Are you through?”

“Close-minded. Inflexible. Obstinate.”

A small plate with smoked-salmon bread points.

Photo By Melanie MacTavish

Moi?” I said. “Obstinate?”

She laughed. “Let’s go. It’s not Malvina, but let’s give it a chance. I’ll buy.”

So off we went, and we’re glad we did. Tannins Wine Bar & Bistro looks like it will be able to carry le torche just fine, merci beaucoup.

Tannins is owned and operated by two former Pour House managers, Nathan Ahlberg and Tori Goble, both of whom, though quite young, have many years of restaurant and business experience. Goble, with whom we talked off and on throughout our first meal (we sat at the bar; she was tending), grew up in Oroville and is adamant about using as many local and seasonal ingredients as possible, as well as buying from local distributors and retailers, including S&S Produce and Natural Foods and Tin Roof Bakery.

In fact, while the restaurant’s current menu offers only small-plate dishes, Goble said that they plan to add dinner entrées on Friday and Saturday nights in the near future—made from whatever strikes their fancy at the Thursday Night and Saturday-morning farmers’ markets.

The only real structural change to the 12-table mostly unornamented dining room is the addition of the bar, with eight stools. The menu, which will change based on what’s seasonally available, currently features 11 small plates running $7-$12, including shrimp ceviche, blackened steak skewers, and garlic and sun-dried tomato hummus. Soups and salads are $6 and $7, desserts $7.

The wine list includes a wide range of reds and whites, with glasses running $5-$9 and bottles $22 (Mezzacarona pinot grigio) and $24 (Simi chardonnay), to $55 (Fess Parker pinot noir) and $65 (Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage). They also serve several draft and bottled beers, including Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad and Pale Ale and Coronado Coffee Stout ($4-$6).

On our first visit, we managed to sample over half of their dishes and were impressed with all of them. My favorites were the steak sliders with caramelized onion, lettuce and horseradish aioli; and the steak Oscar bruschetta—small bites of steak on toast with crab, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce. The smoked-salmon bread points were also delicious, with just the right blend of cream cheese, capers and red onion.

We’ve returned twice, and I think we’ve pretty much worked our way through the menu, never disappointed. Definitely at the top of the list is the spicy Andouille gumbo, deliciously thick and with the right bite, perfect for dipping Tin Roof toast into. Also good: the Margherita pizza—sun-dried tomatoes, lots of basil and mozzarella on thin, light, house-made crust.

We’ll miss Caffe Malvina, but we’ll be back to Tannins. (Who’s obstinate?!)