Fresh lunch on the fly
California Pasta Productions keeps things fresh and affordable
California Pasta Productions118 W. East Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
It can be difficult to eat well when one is on a short lunch break from work. If you don’t brown-bag your own sandwich or leftovers from home, your choices for quick meals are pretty limited. Fine dining is rarely quick or inexpensive.
Located on the north side of Chico, California Pasta Productions offers fast and fresh “express lunches,” served until 3 p.m., “ready in 10 minutes.” Each meal includes a choice of entrée (spaghetti with meat or marinara sauce, alfredo, pomodoro, or mushroom garlic alfredo served with your choice of pasta, gnocchi, and meat or cheese ravioli), garlic bread, soup or salad, and a beverage; all for a reasonable $7.50.
The atmosphere is quite nice: The tasteful decorations and roomy tables within the sunny room and a back patio with lots of seating make the restaurant comfortable and spacious.
During a recent lunch, I ordered the mushroom garlic alfredo over fettuccini, while my friend chose the meat ravioli with marinara. Within moments of ordering, our first course was served. My side Caesar salad featured fresh romaine lettuce tossed with dressing and topped with garlic croutons and shredded parmesan. My friend opted for the soup of the day, a bowl of thick and creamy split pea. Our entrées arrived before I had finished my salad, well within the advertised 10 minutes.
The pasta deserves special mention, as it is made in the restaurant. As with fresh homemade bread, there is no competition when comparing homemade and packaged pasta. The restaurant’s fresh, uncooked pasta can be purchased for takeout at $3 a pound, which serves three ($5.50 for about two dozen raviolis stuffed with meat, cheese, or roasted chicken and artichokes; $6.50 will get you a pound, about 10 pieces, of steak-and-mushroom-filled tortellini).
The sauces, however, were a little disappointing. Although my sauce included mushrooms that were grilled to golden perfection, the consistency of the cream sauce was thin and milky. I barely detected garlic. My friend’s marinara sauce was mildly seasoned with chopped onions and mushrooms. Since every other aspect of the lunch was excellent, I suggested we return for dinner to try the sauce again.
It was getting dark outside as we sat in the large patio facing a green patch of lawn. Again the service was quick and friendly. We ordered wine from the simple wine list, both of us choosing from the Chalone vineyard ($6 a glass). The patio environment was relaxed and cool on a hot summer night.
My friend ordered the chicken parmigiana with spaghetti ($11.50), while I chose the house special of Sicilian prawns and linguine ($12.25). The portions for dinner selections are larger than for lunch and come with two pieces of garlic bread. The presentation was gorgeous.
Our server brought our plates and, with serious looks on our faces, we sampled the sauces first. The baked parmigiana was covered with mozzarella and parmesan over tender sautéed chicken, green and red peppers and mushrooms in marinara sauce. My sauce included chunks of fresh tomato and artichoke hearts, again very lightly seasoned.
While the marinara was good, mine was a bit bland. Sauces get stronger in taste as they age over hours or days. California Pasta Productions makes its marinara and meat sauces in the morning, while all of the other sauces are made individually per order and lack from the time needed to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. Even in the time it took to eat, the sauce had long enough to stew.
We finished off our meal by sharing a slice of chocolate mousse (recommended by our server)—it was a powerhouse of flavor. For lunch or dinner, the servers were attentive, refilling our drinks quickly and cheerfully answering questions regarding the menu. Everything, including the bread and desserts, is made in-house (except for the croutons).
California Pasta Productions is excellent, especially for its fresh pasta. I recommend the express lunch for its value and expediency. However, if you’re not in a hurry, sit down for dinner, and when your meal comes let it sit a few minutes before diving in.