A taste of romance

CN&R food critic shares his ideal date spots

Sicilian Cafe’s creek-view dining.

Sicilian Cafe’s creek-view dining.

Photo By Matt Bates

Bienvenue, a mes amis nouveaux. Welcome, my new friends! I am Henri Bourride, and, if you will be so kind as to allow me to do so, I will be your culinary guide to your new domaine. As you pursue new adventures, academic and otherwise, I will help you explore the area’s finest restaurants, its secluded little bistros, its best markets. Along the way, I hope to impart at least une petite portion of Henri’s vast storehouse of knowledge of other matters—especially of the heart—gleaned from my years exploring the world’s greatest and most cosmopolitan cities and, for a heady period in my somewhat distant youth, living life in the fast rue.

Like you, perhaps surprisingly, Henri himself arrived in Chico not so long ago. I had recently ended a wonderfully satisfying but oftentimes painfully tumultuous love affair, and I was ready to commencez anew. I drove into town in my little Renault with not much more than my faithful French poodle Miss Marilyn and a backseat piled high with cookbooks, movies (Some Like It Hot and Yentl on both video and DVD!), and a couple of changes of clothes, including a brand-new pair of darling black loafers by Cole Haan.

After a short period of adjustment, during which I left the house only to rent more movies and buy ice cream, I found myself venturing out, and I became infatuated with the little town of Chico, soon falling under its spell. I loved the abundance of live theater, the town’s youthful energy, its quiet, tree-lined streets and, naturally, its wide range of excellent eateries.

Then, an unexpected and fortuitous turn of events: Henri was hired by the Chico News & Review as a restaurant critic and food writer. This has given me the opportunity to sample most of the area’s restaurants and to share some of my favorite recipes, as well as my many suggestions for living la bonne vie.

Try 5th Street Steakhouse for a carnivore’s dream date.

Photo By Matt Bates

I’ve been asked to share with you my advice for the perfect date in Chico. Now, Henri should make it clear here that he’s never actually had a date in Chico himself—although he’s come close. Once I missed a prearranged downtown encounter probably because I had noted the time wrong. Mon mauvais. I waited three hours before heading home to Miss Marilyn and an evening of Judy Garland videos, making, as they say, citron pressé from citrons.

So let Henri be your go-to homme when it comes to advice for matters of the heart and palate.

Dinner and a movie
Not what you think. While Henri adores dinner at fine restaurants and seeing films at local theaters, he believes the two are such fine experiences individually that they should not be combined. Henri would rather linger over a fine meal than to have to constantly check his watch to make sure he doesn’t miss showtime. Besides, a good meal often makes him sleepy, and he’d much rather curl up on his couch at home—and finish the movie in the morning—than to find himself in a theater seat waking as credits roll.

A far better way to go, then, and one much more likely to impress a date, is a home-cooked meal and a rented movie. In addition to the obvious advantage of being able to start—and pause!—the movie whenever you want, the evening begins with your date already inside your front door! A first step to the most important goal of any date anyway. And while fancy meals such as coq au vin and bouillabaisse are sure to impress, you need not get so carried away. It’s the thought, combined with the presentation, that really counts. A simple two-or three-item pizza with the lights down low or, better yet, candles and the proper music—Henri prefers Edith Piaf or Chet Baker—could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship … and an evening of unbridled romance. Especially with a well-chosen film: Pillow Talk, The Apartment, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Knight’s Tail, The Princess Bride, The African Queen, Dr. Zhivago, Waiting for Guffman or Best In Show; anything of Alfred Hitchcock’s, but especially Rope or Spellbound; anything with Bette Midler, Liza Minelli, or Cher. And, of course, the absolute best date movie of all time, Some Like It Hot.

Picnic in the Park
Another great Chico date would be a picnic in Bidwell Park. There are dozens of splendid little picnic areas, with tables and grills, scattered along Big Chico Creek in Lower Park that are perfect for lunch or dinner picnic dates. But forgo the traditional, the expected—the chips and cold chicken, the plasticware and paper plates. Be original, creative, romantic. A possible menu: baguette slices with brie or pate, dolmas, smoked salmon, grilled sausages, lobster Newburg and for dessert, crème brulé. And don’t forget the linen tablecloth and matching napkins, the wine glasses, the silver and china, and an age-appropriate sparkling beverage. Afterwards, rent one of the most romantic movies of all time, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and watch Errol Flynn and his Merry Men cavorting right here in Bidwell Park, where it was filmed.

A nice dinner out
If you’re set on trying to impress your date with a nice dinner out, Chico has several excellent possibilities.

For Italian food, try Caffé Malvina (234 W. 3rd St., 895-1614), a small bistro-type restaurant right downtown, serving delicious old-world pasta dishes; or the Sicilian Café (1020 Main St., 345-2233), where you can enjoy veal, chicken and other traditional Italian entrées on an outdoor back patio overlooking Little Chico Creek.

5th Street Steakhouse (345 W. 5th St., 891-6328) is a high-ceilinged beef, seafood and salad restaurant with a popular bar and large tables as well as intimate booths—and a back patio.

Recently written up and recommended in Sunset Magazine, the Red Tavern (1250 The Esplanade, 894-3463) specializes in healthful California cuisine prepared with locally grown and produced ingredients. 33 Steaks, Booze, & Jazz (305 Main St., 893-1903) serves excellent steaks, seafood and poultry with soft, live background jazz in a dining room decorated with photos of American jazz artists and other Depression-era icons.

And Spice Creek Café (230 W. 3rd St., 891-9951) serves a wide range of Southwestern, east-Indian, and other spicy cuisine (and also offers cooking classes for that dinner-and-movie-at-home date later on).

Again, welcome to Chico. Bon appetit, and bonne chance.