Coastal cuisine

Rallo’s West brings the flavors of the New England seaboard and France to Chico

Plates of pork belly with brioche, quail eggs and wilted greens.

Plates of pork belly with brioche, quail eggs and wilted greens.

Photo courtesy of Rallo’s West

Rallo’s West
234 W. Third St.
Open Tues.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.

Rallo’s West

234 W. Third St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 636-4468

Walking into Rallo’s West, which opened a little over a year ago on Third Street downtown, the ambiance immediately conjures that of a hip eatery in San Francisco. More likely, though, it’s recollecting the atmosphere of its predecessor, Rallo’s, which sat right off the docks in Baltimore and served seafood—blue crab, most of all—fresh from the Atlantic.

Being a huge fan of seafood, I gathered some girlfriends together to check the place out shortly after the restaurant opened. Seeing a Maryland lump crab cake for $25 as a main course was both intimidating and enticing. I had to try it. They also had a crab bisque on special, and my cohorts each ordered a bowl. Wine flowed as we admired the rustic décor. Wood floors give the place an urban ambiance, and they’re complemented with distress-painted pillars and Chico-centric wall decorations. Even the bar, with its corrugated metal backing and wood-paneled ceiling, feels both hip and comfortable.

That first visit was fun, to be sure. My crab cake was plump and satisfying, though I’ll admit there were bits of shell inside it that I found unappetizing (the menu has since been amended to include a warning about the shell, which is a byproduct of hand-cleaning the crab). The bisque was to-die-for.

I’ve returned a few times since, mostly for happy hour—$2 off glasses of wine and beer as well as the cheese and charcuterie boards. They offer a nice selection of cheeses and meats, which are served alongside homemade pickled veggies.

Last week, my boyfriend, Chuck, and I decided to spend date night at Rallo’s West. The menu consists predominantly of seafood—including, unsurprisingly, that signature blue crab—and also is quite obviously French-inspired. Where else in Chico can you order escargot (snails) and duck leg confit (cured and then slow-cooked in its own fat)?

We ordered a couple glasses of the house red wine (delicious) and I settled on the duck ($22), while Chuck chose the smoked and braised pork belly (also $22). Our waiter, Josh, was very busy with several tables to tend to, but extremely friendly, helpful and attentive nonetheless. With the bar full and a majority of the tables occupied, in addition to pleasant, upbeat music on the stereo, I can understand why some people have trouble with the noise level of the room. It didn’t bother us.

When our entrees arrived, we were ready to dig in. The duck, skin fantastically crispy, sat atop a mixture of mushrooms, leeks and other veggies cooked in a delicious sherry vinaigrette. Fingerling potatoes rounded out the dish. Duck dries out easily, and there were a few bites that were dry, but overall the dish was amazing, the flavor of the vinaigrette deep and a perfect complement to the meat. I could have done without the quail egg on top—not because it was bad, but merely because it didn’t seem to add much to the dish.

Chuck’s pork belly was just as delicious. It was served with two slices of brioche, each topped with its own quail egg (making it “bacon and eggs”), wilted greens and a black pepper sherry gastrique. At first glance, the plate seemed a bit lacking—$22 for this?—but, with a dish that rich, it turned out the portion was just right. The wilted greens left a bit to be desired, but that could be chalked up to personal taste. The pork belly was divine, the layer of fat that perfect melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

To round out the dinner, Josh brought us dark chocolate custard with caramel and a sweet sour cream, accompanied by homemade almond crisps and a pirouette cookie. We’re not huge dessert people, but we cleaned that bowl. We can’t wait to go back.