An Esplanade experience

Service faux pas offset by ambiance, superb coq au vin at Nash’s

NASH’S RAMBLER<br>Nash’s waitperson Sabrina Goff with some lunch, proving that Nash’s isn’t just for dinner anymore.

Nash’s waitperson Sabrina Goff with some lunch, proving that Nash’s isn’t just for dinner anymore.

Photo By Tom Angel

Nash’s Restaurant Nash’s is open for lunch from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., for appetizers until 4 p.m. every day, and for dinner from 4-9 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it closes at 8 p.m. It also serves brunch Sat. and Sun. from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. 1717 The Esplanade; 896-1147.

Except for a few service foibles, a recent dining adventure at Nash’s Restaurant, on The Esplanade in Chico, offered not only food with flair, but also a relaxing atmosphere filled with appreciable small touches: perfect mood music, lit candles on glass tables and a casual-elegant interior ambiance created by well placed strings of white holiday lights.

I hadn’t eaten there in ages, so I didn’t know what to expect. We briefly visited the cozy, Cheers-like bar at the north end of the restaurant complex (there’s a separate breakfast spot on the south end), ordering superbly presented blended amaretto sours. The bartender chatted amiably with us, and we eyed the eclectic, early-evening crowd.

When we headed toward the dining area, we were greeted by a server whose overall energy level suggested she could use some full-spectrum lights or a good shot of Vitamin B-12. Fortunately, the server assigned to our table proved to be quite the opposite; she dazzled us with her high-voltage smile, welcomed us graciously and expertly and enthusiastically presented us with the night’s specials.

After bypassing a sizable appetizer section (with fun possibilities, such as the baked avocado), my dining partner settled upon one of the specials, the sea bass ($16.95), choosing sautàed vegetables and the soup, a tasty tomato-based vegetable, as accompaniments. While I was tempted by many of the alluring dishes on the menu, which blends upscale pedigree with casual sensibility, I finally settled for the coq au vin ($15.95), along with sautàed vegetables and a green salad. (I will have to go back to try the jalapeño chicken.)

I was disappointed in the salad. The lettuce had some brown edges and was included in a dull array of greens, dry carrot slivers and croutons. I felt euphoric, however, with the first bite of coq au vin—sautàed chicken breast drenched in a rich red-wine brown sauce, with pearl onions, mushrooms and pancetta. Voilà! Here before me shimmered the best entràe I had discovered in Chico since dining at The Red Tavern several weeks before. If there’s a meal I’d recommend to my dearest friends right at this moment, Nash’s coq au vin would have that honor. My partner enjoyed his sea bass, which featured a healthy garlic seasoning, although we both found it a bit unremarkable for a “special.”

While our meals validated that Nash’s is a fine place to eat, I must comment on some of the staff’s service challenges. One of the servers (not the one assigned to our table) approached us at one point and asked my dining partner, while gesturing toward his bread plate, “Are you done with this?” I could sense my grandmother, once a Bay Area maven of manners and style, turning over in her grave. “The question to ask, dear,” I could hear her saying, “would be, ‘May I take your plate?’ or ‘Are you finished, sir?'”

Another service issue appeared when this same server approached my dining partner’s water glass (which was half-full and had been refilled previously) and started to pour. “No, thanks, I don’t care for any more water,” my partner said.

“Oh, sorry,” this server hastily replied, whipping the pitcher away. If she had simply asked, “Would you care for more water?” she could have spared us all an awkward moment.

These “service nuances” are the responsibility of restaurant managers, who must ensure that their staffers know the correct words and gestures for every situation. Generous tips are not mandatory, after all; they should be earned.

As I sat in the incandescent afterglow of my French meal, the outstanding server assigned to our table brought us the dessert choices. We went with the carrot cake; the sinfully rich cream-cheese icing offered hedonistic delight.

If you’re feeling French some evening, try Nash’s coq au vin. It’s so delicious, I imagine it’s what Marie Antoinette (of "Let them eat cake!" fame) ordered for her last meal.