Mangia, mangia!

Chico has a new Italian restaurant, and another has moved down The Esplanade

There was a string of years in my teens when I wanted to celebrate every birthday with manicotti. Sure, cake and ice cream were a given, but to me, it wasn’t truly a special occasion unless pasta was on the table. Thankfully, with Italian roots on my mom’s side, it was a request that was easily fulfilled through an old family recipe.

With pasta central to both my celebratory and comfort cuisine, I’m looking forward to checking out a new restaurant in town, and if you’re a fellow carb lover, you’ll want to head on over, too.

Forcella, meaning “fork” in Italian, opened in February in the old Rico’s Pizza space at 1600 Mangrove Ave. It is the fourth local restaurant venture for Jon Meyer, who previously had ownership in Jedidiah’s, La Cocina Economica and Sol. Together with business partner Aaron Johnson, Meyer has embarked on a new endeavor in Italian cuisine, serving lunch and dinner.

Forcella’s menu features the traditional fare one would expect from an Italian restaurant, but with the added benefit of the pasta being made in-house. In fact, Meyer said one of the other unique aspects is a glassed-in room in the center of the dining area that allows patrons to watch the chefs making pasta from scratch, in addition to homemade mozzarella, ricotta and focaccia bread.

Even though, to me, pasta is synonymous with celebrations, Meyer said his vision is for Forcella to be a mainstay in the lineup of restaurants that one would hit up for a casual dinner on a weeknight. Meyer said there is only one item—steak—priced at over $15. The majority of the menu items range between $9 and $15.

“We want to avoid being the ‘special occasion restaurant,’” Meyer said. “I want to be the weekly restaurant. Where people say, ‘On Thursday nights, we go to Forcella.’”

There are plans to open a deli at the restaurant within a few weeks, too, Meyer said, where customers can buy Forcella’s fresh homemade pasta and sauces to bring home and make their own dishes. The deli also will feature sandwiches made on the eatery’s focaccia bread, and customers can pick up tiramisu and cannoli, all to go.

Being “culinary challenged,” as I like to say about my lack of cooking skills, I’m looking forward to stopping by the deli after a long work day and curling up on the couch in sweats with some handmade pasta. It’s sure to beat my Kraft mac ’n’ cheese ritual.

Speaking of Italian, a few weeks back, I had dinner at Panighetti’s at its new location on The Esplanade. The restaurant uprooted from its previous home farther north and expanded into the old Turandot space, which has undergone a beautiful renovation. There’s no hint of the old Chinese restaurant; a large bar against the west wall greets patrons, and there are wooden booths, a large front patio, and two separate rooms off the main dining area for private parties.

The restaurant was bustling. I personally love the proximity to Big Al’s—a prime location for a post-dinner milkshake. I’m sure the new central location will continue to be popular.