Gooney Bird is the word
Original Albatross owners return with a new restaurant
Goony Bird Bar and Grill3312 The Esplanade
Chico, CA 95973
Henri had been hearing raves about the original Albatross restaurant since he first arrived in Chico several years ago, about the huge salad bar, the great food, the wonderful service and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the original owners had sold the place, and by the time I ate at the restaurant—a lovely older home converted into three or four separate dining rooms, an outdoor patio and a small bar—it was in its second post-Albatross incarnation, and I found it sadly lacking. In fact, it closed shortly after I visited.
So I was delighted to learn that the original owners, Dana and Louise Ward, had decided to return to Chico and re-open the restaurant, this time as the Gooney Bird Bar and Grill—a clever move, gooney bird being another name for albatross.
Colette and I attended their pre-opening open house on a recent Friday evening and found the new restaurant delightful in every respect. A pleasant and knowledgeable wait staff in island garb delivered large samples from the menu—delicious appetizers and tastes of entrées—and there were two buffet tables with salads, french fries and onion rings). On the outdoor patio, a guitarist and a conga player performed soft Polynesian music, perfectly befitting the menu and the balmy summer evening.
Dana and Louise circulated among their guests, evidently excited to be back in town and among old friends. And everything was clearly greatly appreciated by the large enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were evidently fans of the original restaurant (advertising for the open house had been strictly word-of-mouth).
Among the highlights of the samples: coconut shrimp, baked salmon, prime rib, huge wedges of crab cakes (with chipotle-aioli sauce), quarters of aloha burgers (with pineapple and teriyaki sauce), and large sections of pulled-pork sandwiches. We left more than satisfied and very impressed. In fact, we agreed that it was the best appetizer-only meal we’d eaten in Chico, so we anticipated trying the Gooney Bird for dinner soon after its official opening, which was scheduled for the following Monday.
Gooney Bird’s menu features more than a dozen appetizers ($6.95-$11.75), including steamed clams, garlic mushrooms, calamari, breaded artichoke hearts, plus New England-style clam chowder ($2.95, $4.50, or $6.50 for a bread bowl) and several salads ($6.50-$10.50). Entrées include teriyaki top sirloin with mango relish ($14.50), prime rib ($17.75-$24.50), baked halibut with dill ($21.50) and scampi baked in white wine ($17.50). There are also several pasta dishes ($15.50-$17.50) as well as burgers and sandwiches ($7.95-$11.95). The extensive wine list ranges from Kenwood house reds and whites ($5/glass, $18/bottle) to Cake Bread Chardonnay ($60), a Toad Hollow Pinot noir reserve ($65), and a Cake Bread Cabernet Sauvignon ($105). The salad bar is gone, the lounge having been extended into that room.
I ordered a half Caesar salad and a cup of soup for starters, as well as the breaded calamari to share, and the barbecued chicken ($10.50). Colette ordered the Lahaina chicken salad, with a variety of greens, rice noodles and sesame-ginger dressing.
The calamari was excellent—crisp and meaty, with a good tartar sauce on the side, and Colette’s chicken salad was also quite good and satisfying. My Caesar was good, too—simple but tasty—but my clam chowder was lukewarm at best. Of course, it was graciously returned to the kitchen to be heated up, but it didn’t come back out until I was nearly finished with my entrée. Additionally, my chicken was overcooked, and neither her salad nor my chicken came with the sourdough bread indicated on the menu—nor was there any explanation as to why.
It was a pleasant evening, though, out on the patio, under a sliver of a new Chico moon. The staff is gracious and clearly grateful. We wish the best for the Gooney Bird—and the new/old owners—and, trusting it will soon work out the few small bugs, we look forward to trying it again very soon.