Change is good
Chameleon Café offers Picasso on a plate
There’s a new restaurant in town that offers not only food with a flourish, but also plates with a painter’s eye for beauty.
When you enter the Chameleon Cafà, you immediately encounter pleasing aesthetics: white-cloth-covered tables, each adorned with a clear glass vase full of white carnations and baby’s breath. Burgundy red cloth napkins folded into flower shapes bloom from each place setting, and smartly modern stemware and utensils sparkle and shine, adding to the casually elegant atmosphere. The industrial-chic interior includes a black-painted factory-style ceiling and impeccably well chosen art in rich shades of crimson.
When we visited, the server greeted us warmly but made the small error of setting our menus on the table; one of the punctilios of good service is that servers should always hand menus to their guests. It was the first sign that the new cafà's service had not quite caught up to either its visual appeal or, as we soon discovered, its delightful dinner offerings.
We perused the intriguing menu, which, we learned, changes somewhat—in chameleon fashion—every three weeks or so. Hey, change is good.
Unfortunately, we’d already made our selections when the server returned to tell us about the evening’s specials, which she’d earlier forgotten to mention.
We then re-examined the fusion menu: a diverse array of “plates"—smaller than an entràe, larger than an appetizer—with cuisine from a variety of ethnicities. The choices all looked healthful.
A recent San Francisco Chronicle survey revealed that Bay Area diners have very distinctive thoughts about “plates"—they either love them or hate them. In Chico, from my experience, most diners find “plates” quite likable, as they allow adventurous eaters to try different dishes without receiving an overabundance of any one item. With a large group, diners can probably sample one of everything on the menu. Why leave even one stone unturned?
We tried the Shrimp Quesadilla ($7.75) and the Skewered Shrimp and Mango ($9.85). The former consisted of Mexican-seasoned shrimp, three cheeses and black beans on a nicely prepared tortilla and served with a pleasant but unmemorable chipotle coleslaw.
While tasty, the quesadilla was on the spicy side. The latter dish, my favorite, manifested as a delectable skewered and grilled shrimp and mango served with an almost ethereally scrumptious curry mango coleslaw featuring a feisty ginger/ lemongrass/mango sauce. The Caesar salad proved crisp to the last bite (and had the best croutons since Cory’s). The zesty French bread arrived with a generous pool of luxurious pesto, balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping.
With no separate small plates, the victuals had to be eaten directly from the plates on which they arrived. Fortunately, the food was the most intriguing I’ve had in Chico since the opening of Spice Creek Cafà. While the flavors dazzled, even more impressive was the clever presentation of the dishes, which arrived at the table appearing almost as small works of art rendered by Picasso or Matisse. Once again, the delightful aesthetics of this newer establishment reigned supreme.
Despite the small glitches in etiquette, our server helpfully fielded post-meal inquiries. “After a good dinner, body and soul enjoy a peculiar happiness,” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin muses in the timeless tome, The Physiology of Taste; and so, without delay, the dessert ordered was the one the server recommended: the (frisson-producing) Mixed Berry Shortcake ($5.50), piled high with blackberries, blueberries and generous dollops of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.
Chameleon also offers a diverse collection of wine flights (combinations of related wines) from which to choose.
Although just a bit of polishing of its service is needed, Chameleon offers a new dining experience of Bay Area-like sophistication.