In the know
Redwood Forest recognized for its wine savvy
“See table seven?” says Tracy Hord, co-owner of the Redwood Forest Restaurant in downtown Chico. “Wine Spectator.” She winks, smiles and nods as if letting me in on the joke.
No, a magazine is not sitting and ordering food, but rather four people are celebrating a recent graduate from Chico State University. Proud parents effusing over a son, yes—but also parents from out of town, parents who are “in the know.”
And what they know is that Chico’s cliquish manger l’établissement has garnered national attention. For three years running the New York City-based Wine Spectator magazine has bestowed upon Redwood Forest the coveted “Award of Excellence.” And, reports Les Hord, the other half of this husband-and-wife cuisine machine, “the phones began to ring. I was surprised when that sort of thing began to happen.”
The award attracts out-of-towners to Les and Tracy’s restaurant in much the same way I’m attracted to their filet mignon, which is bacon wrapped and smothered in a smoked tomato béarnaise. It’s somewhat habit forming. Folks accustomed to fine wines find Les and Tracy’s wine list equally infectious. It isn’t the typical Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and White Zinfandel list. You’ll find Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Malvasia Bianco, even a Rioja Bianco—and that’s just the whites!
“I try to offer as many flavor profiles as possible in as many price ranges as I can allow,” says Les, a former Chico State soccer player and grad. And it’s on price where the story really begins.
What separates the Redwood Forest from other restaurants, other than the award winning wine list, is that its doesn’t charge the seemingly typical three to four times restaurant mark-up rate. Les’s list reveals prices located near the retail zone.
For example, remember table seven? The out-of-towners asked for a bottle of Patricia Green 2000 Pinot Noir from Willamette, Ore. It’s one of those esoteric, hard-to-find wines. It’s also art in a bottle, since Patty Green is considered one of the finest crafters of Pinot Noir in Oregon. A typical restaurant-gouging price for a gem like this might be 50 bucks or more. But Les and Tracy offer it up at a squat 22 bucks.
It’s a philosophy of passion for the Hords: Offer great California cuisine (with an Italian sort of twist) while serving up distinctive award-winning wines at retail instead of restaurant prices.
“It’s a price-value-relationship sort of thing that we want to be known for,” states Les. “We feel we’re right there with the other finer restaurants Chico has to offer. It’s our belief in wine, and wine and food pairings, that separates us.” Already on the food menu, Les and Tracy have taken to offering certain dessert items with selected dessert wines.
“Tracy is our dessert specialist,” explains Les. “Her creations are often matched with what I know about wines. Sometimes the pairings are magic.”
While Tracy shuttles between tables, Les serves a group bellied up to the wine bar. Today he’s pouring a selection of Syrah. The people are oblivious to the awards given to the restaurant but are nonetheless hanging on Les’s every word as he brings passion, education, and fun to this sometimes beguiling beverage.
For nine years Les and Tracy have been at the helm of the Redwood Forest. In a recent Chico State marketing survey, Les was surprised to discover that 90 percent of his customers heard of his place via word of mouth. It’s no wonder. What Les and Tracy have done is to build a cosmopolitan beacon in a town of 100,000. Apparently, it’s a mouthwatering-cuisine and wine-induced laser beam that stretches nationwide all the way to New York City. The readers of Wine Spectator are “in the know"; shouldn’t you be?
Joe Krulder is a certified wine judge, a wine critic and a former wine shop owner. He lives in Chico.