More than appetizers

Monks’ fine-dining menu lives up to its fine-wine reputation

Both the dining room and the patio at Monks are perfect settings for dinner and a glass of wine.

Both the dining room and the patio at Monks are perfect settings for dinner and a glass of wine.

Photo By matt siracusa

Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro,
123 W. Second St., 343-3408,
Open daily 3 p.m.-close (dinners: 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; wine and beer served as late as 1:45 a.m.)
Mafioso Mondays feature all-you-can-eat spaghettini and meatballs, salad and a glass of wine for $15. On Tapas Tuesdays, buy a bottle of wine and get 20 percent off, plus a trio of tapas, during Happy Hour.

Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro

128 W. Second St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 343-3408

You know you’ve had a really good meal when your imagination can still conjure up the taste of it in your mouth the following day. You know your dinner was awesome when the desire to relive all those delicious moments you spent eating it is strong enough to make you salivate every time you think of it.

As I write this, I am able—like one who relives in her or his mind the next day all the sensuous, blissful moments of a really good date—to make my mouth water every time I think of putting a bite of the dinner entrée I ate yesterday evening at Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro into my mouth and chewing slowly, savoring it.

It’s well known that Monks is a relaxing go-to spot for an excellent glass or bottle of wine, but the dinner special I had—prawns with fresh farmers’ market basil and Cherokee purple tomatoes in a butter-Chardonnay sauce over tagliatelle pasta ($19)—was out-of-this-world and a powerful draw of its own.

Backtrack: I was chilling out on Monks’ back patio in the early evening, listening to a pleasant mixture of jazz standards and Parisian café-style music playing over the sound system as I sat among pretty plants and sipped my San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water ($4.50, for a 25.3-ounce bottle), brought to me and poured into a chilled glass by my welcoming and attentive-but-not-fawning waiter John.

The salad I ordered—Monks’ house salad ($7)—arrived on a square white plate, accompanied by silverware wrapped in a black cloth napkin, on a smaller, square white plate. Every single bite of my salad—a tender mixture of field greens tossed with house-made Chardonnay-Sierra Nevada stone-ground mustard dressing, and topped with shallots, toasted almonds, crumbles of blue cheese and thin slices of firm pear (and freshly ground pepper, courtesy of my waiter)—was scrumptious.

At just the right time, John delivered my prawns-and-tagliatelle dish: Five prawns encircled a nest of tagliatelle noodles, dotted with chunks of tomato and bits of basil and covered nicely (not oversauced) in the butter-Chardonnay sauce. The dish was completed with a sprig of basil leaves and fresh, hot, crisp sourdough bread.

I began by picking up one of the prawns by its tail and biting off its meaty goodness. It’s hard to overstate the deliciousness of a cooked-just-right prawn, especially when enrobed in the delicate, mouth-watering sauce that this one was. Next, a twirl of my fork into the pasta (also cooked just right—a hair softer than al dente) into which I had distributed the leaves of basil from the garnish. Again, divine. Each bite—including ones containing the warm pieces of Cherokee tomato and ones of warm bread dipped into sauce—was wonderful.

I had had a feeling this was going to be the case, having had the pleasure the previous Friday evening of decadently tucking into a to-go order I brought home from Monks. Imagine the pleasure of kicking back at home at the end of a workweek with a plate of pulled-pork ragù with fettuccine ($17) and a side of large, spicy meatballs with hot sourdough bread ($8). Every bite of the tender pork simmered in the ragù’s red-wine-laden tomato-based sauce, which also contained black olives, was supreme. Ditto for the meatballs.

The growing buzz from local foodies about Monks’ food—since it has metamorphosed from wine-accompanying appetizers into a fine-dining menu (at fine-dining prices—entrées range from $15-$21) featuring small plates and entrées made from seasonal, locally sourced, organic ingredients whenever possible—makes perfect sense.

I think I hear Big Vinny (six roasted jumbo prawns and bacon drizzled with a Cabernet reduction, accompanied by lemon potato gratin and roasted local veggies—$19) calling my name next. Vinny and a brûléed, local Meyer lemon tartlet with house-made whipped cream ($8)—sound like a sexy pair.