Henri’s Odyssey

New Italian restaurant blooms in Chico

CLASS ACT<br>The chef at Fortunatto’s garnishes his female patrons’ dishes, such as this seafood pasta, with a rose carved from a tomato.

The chef at Fortunatto’s garnishes his female patrons’ dishes, such as this seafood pasta, with a rose carved from a tomato.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Fortunatto’s Italian Restaurant
1250 East Avenue (corner of Floral)
(530) 343-1205
Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.

Fortunatto’s Italian Restaurant

1250 East Ave.
Chico, CA 95926

(530) 343-1205

Colette wanted to celebrate being done with Christmas shopping by trying Fortunatto’s, Chico’s new Italian restaurant, and who was Henri to argue? One of his favorite cuisines, one of his favorite countries.

I recalled the summer I spent in Trieste, eating, drinking and reading—mostly James Joyce, who took refuge there after fleeing the provincial closed-mindedness of his native Ireland. A plate of gnocchi, perhaps, some veal Parmesan, and a glass or three of vino sounded molto bene.

The tiny, high-ceilinged dining room at Fortunatto’s is decorated handsomely, the tables set with stiff linen and silver. Our hostess/waitress greeted us warmly, seated us, handed us menus, and took our wine orders, returning promptly with Colette’s Chardonnay and my cabernet—and some fresh bread.

The antipasti ($10.95-$14.95) include fried calamari, steamed clams, prosciutto and melon, and fresh mozzarella with roasted red peppers in a tomato-basil vinaigrette. In addition to the house minestrone ($9.95), there’s a spinach-cheese-and-eggdrop soup ($10.95) and a seafood soup with scallops, shrimp, calamari and red snapper ($15.95). Salads ($9.95-$14.95) include chicken Caesar, Greek and grilled duck in a raspberry sauce.

We definitely needed a starter, and Colette asked for a recommendation. The waitress looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen. “Actually,” she said, “there are some things not on the menu that he really prefers to cook.”

“Really?” Colette said. “Such as …?”

“The best bruschetta in town, for one.”

Colette set her menu down. “Sounds good to me.”

Fortunatto’s offers a dozen or so pasta dishes that range from fettuccini Alfredo ($15.95) and lasagna ($16.95) to linguini with seafood ($24.95). Entrées, with soup or salad, include calamari with olives, capers, and mushrooms over linguini ($16.95); chicken Parmesan ($15.95); veal Marsala ($17.95); and osso bucco ($24.95).

The waitress returned before we’d decided, although we had devoured the bruschetta, which Colette and I agreed was the best we’d ever had—big chunks of tomato on toast with olive slices and about twice as much garlic as usual. We imagined how good it would be when tomatoes are actually in season.

“He’s also got a veal-and-chicken ravioli that’s not on the menu,” the waitress said, “and a blackened fish, either salmon or tilapia.”

I decided to forgo the veal after all and went with scampi with white wine and tomatoes over linguini. Colette ordered the eggplant Parmesan—which delighted her even before she tasted it: Her plate was garnished with a lovely rose, intricately carved from a tomato.

The waitress saw Colette’s look of surprise. “He does it for every woman who comes in.” She set my dish in front of me.

“But how’d he—?”

“I wrote down a ‘w’ next to your order.”

As she walked away, Colette looked up. “It’s beautiful.”

“I guess …”

“Oh, come on!” she said. “Pouting is so unattractive.”

“I love flowers too,” I said.

“I know, I know,” she said, cutting a bite of eggplant with her fork. “You’d love to have the whole place swimming in roses.”

“Well, yes, I would.”

She took a bite. “This is incredible. Here.” She scooped another bite onto a fork and scraped it onto the side of my plate.

Indeed it was, the cheese, herbs and sauces blending into the buttery-soft eggplant. I liked it even better than my scampi, which was also excellent. In fact, we agreed that it was some of the best Italian food we’d ever had.

As we walked out into the night totally satisfied, Colette buttoned up her coat. “We should come back soon,” she said. “I want to try that osso bucco.”

“Yes,” I said. “We will. Yes.”