A saucy addition
Italian Garden fills a gap in the Paradise food chain
Italian Garden6929 Skyway
Paradise, CA 95969
Fine dining on the Ridge is a challenging proposition. There’s no problem finding a diner, take-out, Chinese, Mexican or Thai food. For a special evening, though, pickings are slim, which is why the demise of Abbotswood remains so disappointing.
A rumor circulated that a Chinese restaurant would take its place in the portholed A-frame on Skyway (perhaps because the owner of the building also owns Asian Gardens down the street). So, when The Italian Garden sign went up in late spring, it was the granting of a wish.
There’s no garden to speak of, nor olive trees, and it’s not really a cottage, so any parallel to Italian eateries down the hill is strictly incidental.
The sign is about the only change to the outside. The main dining room is much the same, too, just lightened up a bit with an off-tan color scheme, tasteful framed pictures and Italian music from a compact stereo. The bar in the back has reopened, offering live music as before.
Giddily, I took my wife to dinner three weeks after it opened. She and I have very different tastes in food. She’s not a fan of tomato sauces unless they’re on pizza or mixed with alfredo, while I border on vampiric in my love of marinara. She could take or leave Spice Creek, Red Tavern, Turandot and (yes) Abbotswood; are you kidding me?! So whenever we go out, I know she’ll be a hard patron to please.
Actually, she was fairly happy that night, and that wasn’t just the chocolate martini talking. She ordered seafood au gratin ($17.95)—shrimp, scallops and crab baked in a cream base. Truly excellent. The shellfish was tender, and the alfredo-like sauce had a gentle texture and stirring flavor.
My dish was so-so. The server raved about the Venetian chicken ($14.95)—breast meat sautéed with pine nuts, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, garlic and a lemon butter white wine sauce, served over pasta. The sauce was so subtle that I asked for a side of marinara and played Iron Chef at the table.
I liked the salad with Italian and loved the crème brulée ($6.50), and my wife enjoyed the aforementioned martini, so I knew we’d come back after the Garden-ers had a chance to work out the kinks.
That time came a month or so later, for a late lunch/early supper.
I figured I’d go with a staple and tried the chicken marsala ($15.95). It proved a fantastic choice—moist chicken, nice sauce and large, savory mushrooms.
My wife wasn’t so thrilled with her BLT ($7.95), which the menu says comes with melted mozzarella but had none at all. The server brought it back to the kitchen; it came back with cold grated cheese.
Still, she was willing to give the place another chance, which we did. Her dinner: 8-ounce prime rib ($16.95), medium rare, roasted red potatoes, with the soup of the day, cream of artichoke. Mine: scampi ($16.95) with minestrone, and tiramisu ($6.50), which our server—third in three visits—said was made by the in-house pastry chef.
My wife wasn’t too keen on her soup. I really liked it—delicate yet creamy, with a hint of artichoke. I went back and forth between her cup and mine, stopping occasionally for a bite of bread dipped in a balsamic/olive-oil blend.
The prime rib and the shrimp were both fairly flavorful, although a bit overdone. The potatoes were underdone, so it was all the better she got full fast and had a microwave-friendly leftover. I brought home most of my pasta and its light garlic sauce to make room for the tasty tiramisu, served with a coconut biscotto dipped in warm chocolate.
I’m not sure how often I’ll have a companion, but I plan to go back. The Italian Garden is hit or miss. Yet, when the ingredients all come together, the result is a savory dish, so I’m willing to keep exploring the menu in search of superior meals.