Blossoming cuisine

New Italian restaurant worth the drive to Durham

Sue and Ken Hancock enjoy the pasta at Femino’s Restaurant in Durham.

Sue and Ken Hancock enjoy the pasta at Femino’s Restaurant in Durham.

Photo By meredith j. Cooper

Femino’s Restaurant 9283 Midway, Durham 894-7832 Hours: Tues.-Fri. & Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; closed Mon.

Femino’s Restaurant

9283 Midway
Durham, CA 95938

(530) 894-7832

Sometimes you just need a good destination as a motivator to get away from things, and the quiet town of Durham, just a 10-minute drive down the Midway from Chico, is a nice option. The short drive through almond orchards and pastures instantly gives the impression that you’ve left Chico.

And while you might not have thought of visiting Durham to get something to eat, there is a new steak, seafood and pasta restaurant, with an ample menu and warm, small-town atmosphere that might just inspire more frequent visits to Chico’s little neighbor.

Femino’s Restaurant opened one year ago, on Valentine’s Day, and on a recent evening, was bustling with customers. Wide booths were full of families and couples, and in the back a banquet room hosted a large party.

The restaurant is decorated simply, ranch style, with brightly lit wagon-wheel chandeliers and a quaint façade at the kitchen entrance built to look like an old shingled house.

Emphasizing steaks, pasta and seafood, Femino’s advertises traditional meals from four generations of Italian ancestry.

Dinners come with a choice of soup or salad, vegetables and pasta or potato. Seafood selections include Petrale sole, battered and grilled ($16.95); pan-fried battered prawns ($15.95) and fiore del mare (“flower of the sea”), a medley of seasonal shellfish and white fish in a light olive-oil-and-garlic sauce served over angel-hair pasta ($14.95). There are also a range of steak choices, from sirloins to rib eyes ($13.95-$20.95), and appetizers such as deep-fried ravioli served with Dijon mustard, calamari rings and antipasto (each $6.95).

The wine list features mostly local wineries, such as Sierra Foothills, Long Creek and Butte County Gale Vineyards, all at $2.50 a glass.

For our dinner, my friend ordered the ravioli and meatballs, topped with meat sauce ($9.95). About 15 large raviolis came thickly covered in a fresh tomato sauce topped with several large meatballs. The sauce was flavored heavily with herbs and spices and was a bit too salty, but not enough to spoil the overall effect when mixed with the pasta.

I ordered the breaded calamari steak, fried in a crust of Italian breadcrumbs, herbs and spices and served in a lemon butter sauce ($13.95). When my plate arrived, I was delighted to see two large calamari steaks and a big portion of pasta covered in the light sauce. The steaks were so thin and tender I could easily cut them with my fork. Sautéed carrots and zucchini rounded out the plate.

The featured soup was New England clam chowder, which was thick with potatoes and tender clams. My friend and I shared a salad and a soup, which we both agreed were delicious and had the quality of being freshly prepared.

When we returned on a Sunday for lunch, the restaurant was quieter. At about 1 p.m., brunch was ending as we looked over the lunch menu, which offered traditional, and inexpensive, dishes such as spaghetti with meat sauce ($6.95) and chicken parmigiana ($6.95).

I ordered Philly cheese steak, with diced steak, grilled onions, mushrooms and green bell peppers, topped with melted provolone cheese and served on a soft French roll ($6.95, with fries). My friend ordered the hot pastrami dip, which was packed with meat, topped with mozzarella cheese on a French roll and served with delicious au jus ($5.95).

I preferred my friend’s sandwich to my own, which was bland by comparison. His sandwich’s pastrami was spicy and tender and the au jus was excellent. I kept dipping my fries into it. The fries were pretty typical and didn’t add much to the meal. However, the lunch included a choice of salad or a large bowl of minestrone, which was handmade and hearty with a thick bean broth. We did not leave hungry or disappointed.

With spring teasing and almond blossoms coming into bloom, and now with an inviting new restaurant awaiting your arrival, a short trip to Durham is an ideal getaway.